By Janné Grover
Apostle, director of Formation Ministries
While serving as a mission center president in Europe, Joey Williams put together a Peace and Justice Team. One goal was to define the church’s role in pursuing peace in Europe.
The issue of nonviolence quickly became part of those conversations, so the question became, “What role does nonviolence play in our pursuit of peace?”
Exploring that question turned into a resolution received by the First Presidency. It considered the resolution, contacted the Peace and Justice Team in Europe, and collaborated on a substitute resolution that the team presented to the World Conference in 2019. The Conference adopted it, and it became World Conference Resolution 1319 on nonviolence.
Williams shared the following from the International Leaders Meeting in 2019:
International delegates come together a week before World Conference to prepare for full participation in the business sessions. We also take time to learn together and to talk together and hear testimonies together. One of the most powerful parts of that experience for me was hearing personal stories in response to the question, “What is violence?”
As people shared, my heart just began to open, and it was liberating. It was something that I never expected, to hear the different contexts and types of violence that people were living all around the world. It came out of a discussion on four approaches to violence presented by Andrew Bolton and Elray Henricksen, both members of the European Peace and Justice Team.
In his closing sermon of World Conference 2019, President Stephen M. Veazey shared the following, which became a guiding framework for conversations in response to WCR 1319:
Scripture testifies that all creation waits “with eager longing” (Romans 8:19 NRSV) for peaceful humanity to appear on the world stage to turn the tide of hate, agony, and destruction…Are we moving toward Jesus, the peaceful One? Or are we retreating from Jesus by reverting to our old humanity and its destructive ways of interacting with others and creation? As Barbara Brown Taylor observed, “as long as we go on poisoning the planet of our birth and slaughtering one another…” we still have a lot of transforming to do!
The church was invited to explore who Jesus the peaceful One was and how that informs our discipleship and our journey as a people today. It provided an important framework for developing resources and experiences for individuals and groups across the church’s fields.
In response to WCR 1319, the First Presidency asked the Council of Twelve to engage fields in conversations about nonviolence. The initial thought was that these conversations might inform a statement about nonviolence. As plans developed, the focus shifted to education, considering the topic through lenses of scripture, history, pragmatic and principled nonviolence, discernment, and creating Zionic community.
It was important to bring everyone to the conversation on the same footing and to provide opportunity for sharing perspectives and hearing personal stories from diverse contexts.
The First Presidency, after consultation with the World Church Leadership Council, then provided preliminary definitions of violence, nonviolence, and nonviolent action to stimulate conversations, and it solicited feedback from the church to further develop the definitions.
Engaging equitably in conversations about nonviolence across diverse contexts is challenging. This complex and sensitive topic demands safe space for sharing perspectives, particularly in places where free speech is not protected.
It is important to amplify voices of those living in circumstances of violence, but it must be done in a way that protects the most vulnerable. Part of this process recognizes there is not equitable access to technology or travel, allowing everyone to engage in these conversations. So, the reality is that we don’t have all voices at the table.
In planning conversations, it was apparent they needed to start locally, recognizing a broad diversity of perspectives within any local context. Apostle Catherine Mambwe shared a personal experience of being told, “You don’t have a place here. You’re a woman; let a man speak about this.”
The community where this occurred was experiencing a great injustice of having congregational properties bought by those who wanted to exploit mineral-rich land. This circumstance reveals multiple layers of injustice and violence toward persons and the Earth that shape perspective and limit ability to respond.
A colleague asked, “How do you tell a person who is considered ‘untouchable,’ who lives in circumstances of violence and oppression, that they need to be part of conversations on nonviolence?” This highlighted the reality that some people have the privilege of talking about nonviolence, while others live in circumstances of violence daily. An important part of our response to WCR 1319 is to listen deeply to the stories and circumstances of people from diverse contexts while we individually and collectively discern a faithful response as disciples and communities.
Kuzma Brudsky shared this perspective on violence as part of the final session in the USA conversations on nonviolence:
I fully believe that violence as a solution to problems should be eradicated in the society of the future. And we, as a community that promotes peace, should be one of the forerunners of this change. As a member of the World Church Peace and Justice Team, I have pondered the questions of nonviolence and peace and their applications for the church.
As a Ukrainian national, the recent events made me not only think about it, but also feel what war brings. As I was concerned about the safety of my family and friends, the images of human pain, violence, destruction, and despair will forever stay with me as I think about war and the importance of being able to protect oneself.
The issue of nonviolence is complex, and there is no approach that could fully navigate the problem. However, I find that World Conference Resolution 1177, which contains our core statement on peace, provides relevant and ever important insights on this complex issue. In it we proclaim as a church that we oppose all forms of destructive violence. We believe that such violence will exist as long as selfish interests, materialistic desire, or other forms of special privilege are valued above human needs, rights, and dignity.
We also admit that there are instances where resorting to force is deemed unavoidable. We deplore the situation and recognize this as a dilemma that intensifies our pursuit of peace. As a church, we emphasize that peace is not attained by mere nonparticipation in violence. We try to remove the cause of aggression by the application of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the lives of individuals and the community. We continue to declare that we in no way condemn those who choose to work from within the military establishment to bring the love of God so that the cause of world peace is promoted.
The understanding that violence is a dilemma that should intensify our pursuit of peace gives direction and meaning to our work and the world to bring forth the nonviolent future. We are to continue to find the relevant ways to embody God’s Shalom in the world and remove the cause of violence.
It pains me to realize that the safety of my family and friends, our dear church members in Ukraine, is only possible because of the violent actions by the Ukrainian army to defend the country. It also pains me that the peaceful protest in Russia is unable to change the dictatorship regime, which seems can be taken only by power.
Violence is a dilemma that can be solved only by nonviolent action. We are called to promote God’s Shalom through constructive and peaceful activities addressing the root cause of war and violence and working toward the elimination of this evil.
In response to a question about hope for the church as we participate in nonviolence conversations, Williams shared:
Beloved community might be the most recent words that really touch and pull at our hearts when we talk about what this Zionic community might look like. I want people to become committed and engaged fully in what it means to be part of building that beloved community that they want to be a part of, and that God visions for creation.
If we are to be a movement dedicated to the pursuit of peace, then that has ramifications in our personal and collective actions as communities. We are called to advocate for and with those oppressed, who have no voice in conditions of violence. As a movement that honors the daily practice of praying for peace, it is important to name injustices of violence and listen to the Holy Spirit as we take meaningful steps in responding.
I hope we will not be limited by our context and personal perspective, but that we will allow the Spirit to breathe new understanding and renewed commitment to our call to embody and generously share the peace of Christ—to love our neighbors and the Earth effectively.
These resources and tools are available to support ongoing study and conversations:
- World Conference Resolution 1177
- World Conference Resolution 1319
- Living Jesus…Living Peace
- “Toward the Peaceful One” multimedia series
- Let Peace Dwell Here
- Definitions of violence, nonviolence, and nonviolent action
- From a Warlike People to Considering Nonviolence
- Additional resources on nonviolence