Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Life in Ideas: Seeking a Peace Church

I am a Christian Pacifist, but I'm also Lutheran, which has in its doctrines acceptance of Just War Theory. This does not mean that all Lutheran congregations support war in general or particular wars in particular, but simply that it can, and some do. The church I attend (because it is my wife's church) is rather pro-war, in my opinion.

But I've been loathe to leave Lutheranism because of my understanding of the sacraments: I share with Lutherans (though not Lutherans exclusively) similar belief of the meaning and understanding of Baptism and Communion. The historic peace churches have a different theological belief. And the sacraments are for me very important.

But I feel I may be reaching a point that Christ's message of peace transcends for me the meaning of the sacraments. I don't want to be a part of a church where it is open for debate whether one should support a war or not. I want to be a part of a church which proclaims a message of peace, and a part of a group that takes action for peace.

In my ideal, I'll become half-Lutheran, half-Quaker. My wife and child (and future children) would be members of a Lutheran congregation, and I could still attend with them part of the time to receive the sacrament. But I would attend Quaker meetings, and participate in Quaker actions. I'm not sure that's entirely possible.

I'm sharing this as a part of life in ideas. In "Human Morality and Animal Research: Confessions and Quandaries," Harold Herzog refers to animal rights activists as "people who change their lives because of an idea." I am one of those people: I have changed my life for an idea, becoming a vegetarian. Because of an idea, there are concrete changes in my daily meals, my social interactions, and my purchasing decisions. Ideas are for me not abstract concepts: they are guiding forces in concrete, real behavior (which might be why I am drawn to Dostoevsky, whose characters are so radically motivated by ideas).

And now an idea, an understanding of Christ's peace message, has been guiding another change in my life. For me, Christian pacifism needs to go beyond merely saying "I am a pacifist," for in day to day life in middle America, the pacifist and non-pacifist may not behave terribly differently (though I've tried to take pacifism deeper than opposition to violence, and into forgiveness of trespasses, respect for the dignity of all creatures in other ways, and avoidance of conflict). I want to join a peace church, and be a part of a peace community that proclaims peace to the world.


  1. I admire that you actually try to put ideas into action. As you probably know, few people do. I come from a different perspective than you--I'm no longer a Christian in theological terms--but I'm still an enthusiastic proponent of Christ's teachings.

    I wish you well in your search for a community in which you can do work for the cause of peace.

  2. I'm still advocating the Unitarian church for you. It's all -embracing, and, depending on the congregation, some of them are more focused on social action. Of course, you don't get the Sacrament, though.

  3. I'm going to throw out a thought here that probably isn't a good fit. But you may think about Eastern Orthodoxy. If the cultural issues are a put-off then try the Orthodox Church of America (oca.org). They are a bit more intense about the sacraments than the Lutherans and probably not as pacifistic as the Quakers. But they do take the sacraments seriously and do not affirm just war theory strictly speaking.

    Now, I do say all this as a Director of Youth and Young Adults in a United Methodist Church in NC. Though I did attend an OCA parish in seminary for 3 years.

    I'm sure you're fine where you're at, but if you do feel like some exploration I have come to love most parts of Orthodoxy. But obviously for various reasons I have chosen to remain Protestant. I guess I'm just a person without a fitting ecclesial home.