Category Archives: Understanding Violence

“Make War Illegal”, Says Global Church

International Ecumenical Peace ConvocationAbout 1000 representatives of churches from around the world gathered in Kingston, Jamaica, May 17-25 for the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (IEPC). The event was a celebration of ten years of work by the World Council of Churches on the Decade to Overcome Violence.

The work of IEPC deepens the work of Peacemaking in a Culture of Violence that SCUPE addressed at the 2011 Congress on Urban Ministry. We will use the insights of events such as the IEPC to position SCUPE to continue the work of peacemaking more vigorously.

Dr. Paul OestreicherIn his opening key note address Dr. Paul Oestreicher, a Quaker from New Zealand, reminded the churches of its own history in the movement to abolish slavery:

“Slavery surely was part of our DNA, necessary to every society’s economic survival. The churches were up to their necks in maintaining slavery… In the same way, today many Christians remain wedded to a society that cannot let go of the cult of the good soldier, or even the holy warrior. [William] Wilberforce and his determined friends triumphed against all odds [and] slavery was made illegal. Its defenders withered away. That needs to become the fate of war. If the churches of the world fail to embark on such a campaign, we will have nothing that is uniquely and specifically Christian to say on the subject of world peace.”

The final statement of the Convocation established the work of peace as central to the Gospel of Jesus Christ — meaning that Christians have no option but to engage in peace and peacemaking. Firmly establishing the link between justice and peace, it advocated that a vision for “just peace” replace justifications for “just war.” Confessing that Christians have often been complicit in systems of violence, injustice and militarism, it sought partners of other faiths to cooperate on peacemaking.

IEPC Jamaica 2011

Tarrus Riley performs at the IEPC.

As “followers of the one who came as a helpless infant, died on the cross, told us to lay aside our swords, taught us to love our enemies and resurrected from the dead,” churches are in a position to teach non-violence, they said. It also advocated total nuclear disarmament and control of the proliferation of small arms. Above all it said: “We are united in our aspiration that war should become illegal.”

More information on the IEPC here.

Please know that we deeply appreciate your partnership and investment in SCUPE, as we seek to strengthen our work on Peacemaking in a Culture of Violence particularly as it pertains to cities.

– Rev. Dr. Shanta Premawardhana
SCUPE PresidentRev. Dr. Shanta Premawardhana speaking at the 2011 Congress on Urban Ministry


Why Not Leave Afghanistan Now?

How? When?Afghanistan War

These two tiny words have dominated our national discourse regarding what is now the  longest American war.  With the advent of Osama Bin Laden’s death, this should no longer be the case.  When it comes to leaving Afghanistan, there should no longer be any questions except ‘why not now’?

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For the great majority of the nation, ‘why’ hasn’t recently been an issue.  Even before the death of Bin Laden, polls have been showing that majorities in America (Washington Post/ABC News poll – 2010), Canada (Global News poll – 2010), and the United Kingdom (ComRes poll – 2009) believe that their country should bring its troops home.  Polls in three other countries with significant numbers of troops (Germany, Italy, and France) reflect even more strongly the opinion that it is time to bring the troops home.  Strangely, and a bit shamefully for this Aussie citizen, that number is right at 50% in Australia (Essential Research poll – 2009).  I suppose I could run down the other countries from GWB’s Great Coalition (aka the International Security Assistance Force) but it’s probably a moot point.  Unless, of course, you are concerned with Estonia’s 160 troop contribution.

Oh yeah, and what happened to the U.S. leave Afghanistan date of July 2011?

Obama Afghan Withdrawal July 2011

I won’t take up your or my time trying to reword the already fine arguments put forth for a recall of American troops from Afghanistan.  I will point you towards this petition organized by Rethink Afghanistan and the fine thoughts of a former Congress on Urban Ministry co-chair, longtime friend of SCUPE, and editor of Sojourners: Jim Wallis.

Rethink Afghanistan Petition


Calling Everyday People

Toylee Green-Harris Peacemaking Insight

Toylee Green-Harris, recruiter extraordinaire for the Masters of Arts in Social Justice and Community Development, invites you to be one of the everyday people gathering at the 2011 Congress on Urban Ministry to help change the way individuals, our nation and our world think about violence.

Learn more about how your individual ministry as well as the larger church ministry and community can come together around some practical skills to transform the way we think about the epidemic of violence.


The Call towards Peace

Called towards Peace in a Culture of Violence

[originally published in the 2/11 issue of the Concord, the literary journal of Luther Seminary – St. Paul, MN]
[painting by Alex Roulette]

Driving past that spot became a sort of ritual for me – a litany my body would recite.  An act of devotion to a child who had been gunned down on a sidewalk I couldn’t, for the life of me, distinguish from the others around it.  A sidewalk I couldn’t distinguish from those I had grown up on two states away.

Weeks earlier the evening news had described details more concretely: South Side of Chicago, 15-year-old African American boy, sophomore in high school, robbed at gun point, fatally shot in the chest.  Within hours of the initial report he had a name: Marquell Blake.

In any sensible world these details alone would have been enough to unhinge an average day.  Chicago though, like many American cities, has been awash in tragic details all too similar to these in recent years.  By April, Marquell Blake was the 32nd Chicago Public School student shot and killed in the 2008-2009 school year.  Several journalists had already remarked that the death rate of students from Chicago was 24 times higher than that of soldiers from Chicago serving in combat zones in Iraq.

Even so, it wasn’t until I heard the final detail that something shook loose within me: 7700 block of South Carpenter Avenue.  This shooting had occurred a mere four blocks from the church where I had been doing my internship for a Masters in Urban Ministry through SCUPE and Luther Seminary.  Something about the proximity to a place that had become dear and personal to me through daily work and connections meant that I couldn’t just excuse this as just another tragedy in another part of town.

In Auburn Gresham I had heard the stories of the diligent work of tireless community members to better their neighborhood, had heard the sermons and the press conferences calling city and church leaders to no longer simply provide the vigils and eulogies after acts of violence but to actively work to prevent violence.  This was a community like all of the others I had lived in: people cared for each other and came together to address mutual concerns.

Suddenly, I came to see that I had been sold a false bill of goods.  Since childhood, I had been taught that some neighborhoods were safe and some weren’t.  It was implied that, as long as I stayed within the respectable racial, cultural, and socio-economic borders I would float through life excused from the impact of violence.  This de facto division of the world into safe and not safe, into good neighborhoods and sketchy neighborhoods, was as a veil drawn over my eyes.

In a flood, I recalled the teenager who was shot dead on his bike just up the hill from my childhood home in suburban Minneapolis.  I saw the face of the middle school student in pristine Rochester, MN who had taken his own life with his father’s rifle.  I felt a pang go up my side like I used to get on long runs with a friend who abruptly ended his own life after returning from active duty to civilian life with his family.

Now I am convinced: there is no safe and no unsafe America.  We all breathe the common cultural air of our environment and that air is currently polluted with the toxins of violence.  On streets, in families, in schools, at our borders and across the oceans, America has come to rely on the intoxicating atmosphere of violence often as a pathway to power (individual, institutional, international, etc.) but sometimes merely senselessly.  As a result, we have lost the creativity and hope to imagine a world that doesn’t opt for violence as a first resort.

Prior to the recent shootings in Tucson, Arizona, faith leaders had been wrestling with concerns over an ever increasing tolerance for violent rhetoric, random shootings, domestic violence, and war zones as they prepared for a conference on violence in March of 2011.  The unrest and concerns of these religious leaders have been highlighted by the tragic events in Tucson and the continuing gun and community violence in Chicago and other metropolitan areas.

It is in critical times such as these that faith and community leaders from across the nation will gather at the SCUPE Congress on Urban Ministry to commit ourselves towards Peacemaking in a Culture of Violence.  The faith community is finally finding its collective voice on this issue – teachers, social workers, psychologists, and law enforcement have all weighed in – but the church has not.  Now is the time for faith institutions to join in action and in voice on actively resisting violence in our streets, in our cities, and throughout our nation.

Theologians and faith leaders like Walter Brueggemann, Shane Claiborne, Renita Weems, James Forbes and Michael Pfleger have answered our call to be prophetic voices of peace at the conference.  What is needed now are individuals committed to adding their voice to the growing call for peace by participating in the gathering.

As future and current church leaders will you join leaders from communities all across the nation in taking a stand against violence and discerning a path forward in which our churches can play a vital role in creating a more peaceful future for all people?

We hope to hear your voice at the 2011 Congress on Urban Ministry.

For more information please visit: www.congressonurbanministry.org

Peacemaking in a Culture of Violence


Peacemaking Insight #4 – Bill Wylie-Kellermann

Urban pastor Urban pastor and SCUPE faculty Bill Wylie-Kellermann talks about the Congress on Urban Ministry and how seminary students can get credit for attending through his Congress Course ‘Good News for the City’.

Bill Wylie-Kellermann Peacemaking Insight #4Bill is a United Methodist pastor who currently serves at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in the Corktown neighborhood of Detriot, MI.  He is a committed Christian activist, frequent contributor to Sojourners, and a theologian in the tradition of William Stringfellow and Walter Wink who specializes in the biblical concept of the Principalities and the Powers.

Bill Wylie-KellermannBill is the author of Seasons of Faith and Conscience (Orbis) which explores the biblical and theological bases for non-violent resistance and “liturgical direct action” and has edited an anthology, A Keeper of the Word: Selected Writings of William Stringfellow (Eerdmans).

For the previous decade he was Director of Graduate Theological Urban Studies at SCUPE in Chicago.  Recently he helped create Word and World, a floating movement school for faith-grounded activists.


Peacemaking Insight #3 – Shanta Premawardhana

Incoming SCUPE president Shanta Premawardhana explains how the 2011 Congress on Urban Ministry will give people committed to peace the tools to address issues of violence like gang violence, abuse of women, Islamophobia, and fear-based responses to issues around immigration.
Shanta Premawardhana

Peacemaking Insight #2 – James A. Forbes

A special invitation from Rev. Forbes as he sums up the Congress and how it will play a role in the path of peace:

JamesForbes-PeacemakingInsight

– Pastor Emeritus from the Riverside Church in New York and President and Founder of the Healing of the Nations Foundation James A. Forbes

Correction: the Congress dates are March 1-4, 2011