Remembering Glen Harold Stassen (1936-2014)

Editor’s Note: Information regarding service times and memorials has been updated since the original post.

image1

Fuller Seminary Professor Dr. Glen H. Stassen passed away at his home in Pasadena early Saturday morning.

Dr. Stassen was a tireless advocate for social justice and peacemaking; participant in the 1963 March on Washington, DC for Jobs and Freedom; prolific writer and international speaker about topics related to ethics, peace, and discipleship; son of Harold Stassen, Governor of the State of Minnesota, and President of the University of Pennsylvania.  He was also highly honored and beloved by his many students during a university and seminary teaching career of more than a half-century.

“Our expectation of the passing of Dr. Glen Stassen (who had battled cancer for several months) does not make the loss any easier,” said Fuller President Mark Labberton. “We are deeply saddened.  Yet, as we mourn his passing we also celebrate his life!”

“Dr. Stassen has left an indelible imprint on the field of ethics, on faculty and staff, and on the lives of his many students,” commented Dr. Labberton. “His energetic, passionate, intense, eager commitment to ‘just peacemaking,’ to thought and action, to faith and reason, to the individual and the community were constantly apparent.  Glen’s influence truly changes how people see and engage the world as followers of Jesus Christ.”

Since 1997, Dr. Stassen served at Fuller Seminary as the Lewis B. Smedes Professor of Christian Ethics.  For 34 years prior to this, he taught at Duke University, Kentucky Southern College, Berea College, and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Dr. Stassen graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in nuclear physics, and he studied theology, Christian ethics, and political philosophy during graduate work at Union Theological Seminary and Duke University, where he earned a PhD.

While at Duke University, Stassen was a co-organizer of a Christian interracial association that worked with other civil rights groups.  He also coordinated two buses that traveled to the 1963 March on Washington, DC, where Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his powerful “I Have a Dream” speech.

“There was a lot of anxiety about whether the march would come off nonviolently,” Dr. Stassen recalled in a recent interview with Religion News Service.

“As we were arriving in Washington in our bus, (we saw the streets) just loaded with buses.  It was such a celebration. It was gonna happen! People would be there!”

“I was right in the front of the crowd, sitting there when Martin Luther King gave his address,” Stassen continued.  “It so much lifted our spirits.  We had been preparing for it, organizing for it, and wondering – Would it come off and would it be nonviolent? It was totally nonviolent. It was such a moving event!”

image2Dr. Stassen shared that his primary research and teaching focus areas – during his long career of teaching and advocacy – were theological ethics, incarnational discipleship, peacemaking, and social justice.  In the classroom, Dr. Stassen received Fuller’s “Faculty Award for Outstanding Community Service to Students,” as well as the Seabury Award for Excellence in Teaching at Berea College and the Weyerhaeuser Award for Excellence in Teaching.

“During his years at Fuller,” commented Dr. Howard Loewen, dean of Fuller’s School of Theology, “Dr. Stassen powerfully shaped a generation of students, especially doctoral students, through his effective teaching, rigorous scholarship, transformative mentoring, and public witness.”

Among his many writings, Stassen’s book called Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context (coauthored with David Gushee) received Christianity Today’s Award for Best Book of 2004 in Theology or Ethics. Other books included Just Peacemaking: The New Paradigm for Ethics of Peace and War (coedited, 2008, 3rd ed.), Peace Action: Past, Present, and Future (coedited, 2007), Authentic Faith: Bonhoeffer’s Ethics in Context (edited, 2007), Living the Sermon on the Mount (2006), Authentic Transformation: A New Vision of Christ and Culture (1996, with D. M. Yeager and John Howard Yoder), Just Peacemaking: Transforming Initiatives for Justice and Peace (1992), and he coedited John Howard Yoder’s War of the Lamb: The Ethics of Nonviolence and Peacemaking (Brazos Press, 2009). His most recent book was A Thicker Jesus: Incarnational Discipleship in a Secular Age (2012).

An American Baptist layman, Stassen served in leadership positions within the Council of the Societies for the Study of Religion, National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion, American Academy of Religion, and Society of Christian Ethics. He was a member of the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign and of the Strategy Committee of Peace Action, the largest grassroots U.S. peace organization.

Jim Wallis, founder and director of Sojourners in Washington, DC, and editor-in-chief of Sojourners Magazine, shared this about his close friend: “It was Glen Stassen who introduced the church and the nation to the powerful vision of just peacemaking, both going deeper than – and transcending – the old concepts of pacifism and just war. Just peacemaking guides us toward the faithful and effective actions that both prevent and end wars through the creative and critical practices of conflict resolution. More than any other voice on the political scene, Glen moved us beyond peace loving to peacemaking.”

Reflecting on the core value that shaped his unwavering commitment to justice and peace, Dr. Stassen recently commented: “My faith is in Jesus Christ, who challenged the injustice of his times…(and took) constructive action to try to heal the causes of injustice.”

image3

A memorial service will be held at the First Baptist Church at 75 N. Marengo Avenue in Pasadena on Saturday, May 3, at 4:00 pm. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that gifts be given to either the Just Peacemaking Initiative at Fuller Theological Seminary or to TIAA-CREF with “Special Needs Trust for David Stassen” in the memo line, 2030 Casa Grande Street, Pasadena, CA 91104.

See also these tributes (and there are many more):

Some of Glen’s most popular posts on JustPeacemaking.org:

There to be Destroyed

Syria’s chemical weapons are on their way out to sea, there to be destroyed.

Near the climax of his State of the Union Address on January 28th, president Obama said, “American diplomacy, backed by the threat of force, is why Syria’s chemical weapons are being eliminated.” (Applause.)

Getting rid of Syria’s poison gas weapons peacefully is a huge accomplishment; Syria had one of the largest stores of poison gas weapons in the world, and those in control of these weapons had demonstrated the will to use them even on their own people. Not to mention that Syria borders Israel as well as Lebanon and could have used that poison gas in devastating ways. Now it is all being eliminated; the world is much safer.

Near the end of August, the United States was intending to bomb Syria because of its use of poison gas against its own rebels, thereby crossing president Obama’s announced “red line.” Congress was resistant.

So on September 2, 2013, I posted a blog entry on the Just Peacemaking website that argued as follows:

We all agree that after US bombing, Syria would still possess this huge supply of illegal, people-killing poison gas. Even if the regime itself would never use it again, some of it could fall into the hands of terrorists.

Here is a constructive alternative: remind Syria that the U.S. has destroyed most of its own supplies of poison gas weapons. The U.S. has experts experienced in how to destroy these weapons safely. Ask Syria to let U.S. experts guide the destruction of Syria’s dangerous supply of poison gas weapons. If they do so, then there will be no retaliatory strike.

I named three realistic Syrian interests that could persuade them to accept the offer:

  • Otherwise, Syria will experience a hurtful punitive US bombing attack.
  • Otherwise, Syria needs to worry that rebels could gain possession of some of the poison gas and use it against the regime.
  • Otherwise, Syria is an international criminal, to be opposed by most all other nations.

This blog entry traveled more rapidly and was read by more people, nationally and internationally, than any I have written to date. Which makes me wonder, was my proposal noticed by someone in the State Department? Likely. That person needs to let people know so that Secretary Kerry gets accurate credit. Most Americans think the initiative was a Russian proposal, but Secretary Kerry’s initiative indeed came first, and Mr. Lavrov affirmed it the following day. Only then does president Obama’s celebration in his State of the Union make sense, crediting American diplomacy.

On the weekend of Sept. 8th, Secretary of State John F. Kerry. traveling in Britain, said that Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, could avoid bombing strikes by agreeing to give up his chemical weapons: “He could turn over every bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week — turn it over, all of it, without delay and allow the full and total accounting.”

But Mr. Kerry added a realistic conclusion: “But he isn’t about to do it, obviously.”

I had concluded my blog entry with a similar realistic conclusion:

Of course the likely outcome probably would be that the regime would decline the offer. Then we would be back to where we are now. The punitive strike would proceed. Nothing would be lost by having made the offer. Something would be gained: the world would see that the U.S. is seeking to produce a constructive outcome.

But on Monday, Sept. 9th, Mr. Lavrov of Russia affirmed Secretary Kerry’s proposal. Officials in Syria embraced the idea, as did Britain, France, the United Nations and even some Republican lawmakers in Washington.

The weapons are now on their way out to sea, there to be destroyed.

Knowing, Being, and Doing the Practices that Make for Peace

Editor’s Note: This column first appeared in Tableaux (Our Episcopate) and is used here with permission.

In Luke 19 Jesus, triumphantly “saddled” on coats atop a beast of burden, looks down from the Mount of Olives and across the valley to the temple mount and the old city of Jerusalem. And he weeps. These people, his people, do not know what would make for peace, and doom is imminent.

Jesus is simply reading the signs of the times, which are dominated by the people’s failure to recognize the time of their episcopate, τῆς ἐπισκοπῆς σου, of their ministerial superintendence over a land on loan from God and over people sustained by the breath of God.

Never were these words more poignant for me than when they were read aloud as I stood in that very place, overlooking that very city with its people ensnared in discord. Nearly 60 of us participated in a travel study course that Glen Stassen and I organized through the office of the Just Peacemaking Initiative at Fuller Seminary.

Olives_1Our sojourn in the land revealed centuries of missing the point. Like the church sitting on the traditional site of Jesus’ burial, where the keys have long been entrusted to a reputable Muslim family because the Christian denominations competing for floor space inside could not share that responsibility peacefully. Or like the church sitting on the traditional site of Jesus’ birth, where the exterior doors have all been lowered to about four feet in height to fortify the church against combatants riding horseback (and, I suppose, princes of peace riding donkeys).

The latter part of our trip was spent in the Galilee region, which is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Standing on the banks of the sea, below the Mount of the Beatitudes, I read aloud its homiletical namesake. This moment serves in my memory as a counter-point to the story from the Mount of Olives.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus valorizes those who, even in their lowly state, recognize their episcopate, their ministerial superintendence that demands nothing less than enemy love, forgiveness, humility and personal repentance before calling others to the mat – that is to say, the practices that make for peace. The mere fact that Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount well before his “triumphal entry” may indicate something Continue reading

Turning up the Heat on World Peace

Editor’s Note: A version of this column first appeared in the SEMI (Turning up the Heat on World Peace) and is used here with permission.

I get hangry. At certain times of day, or in definite periods of bodily neglect, a notable edginess creeps into my temperament. Doing her best to support my commitment to peacemaking, my wife Abigail secretly slips snacks into my briefcase and often keeps something else on standby “just in case.

And hanger is only one physiological possibility for throwing me off balance. Graduate students know these phenomena all too well. For instance, students routinely deprive themselves of sleep, trying to burn the last drops of productivity out of the pre-deadline midnight oil. And how does that play out over the next few days? Dull or slow cognition for a day or two following a stress-filled energy binge, at which point caffeine can scarcely sharpen the edge.

Weather can mess with me too. I believed the fables about wonderful weather year-round in southern California for about one month after Abigail and I moved to Pasadena. By late-August that year, the temperature had climbed so high that LA’s official thermometer broke, and we had to buy our first-ever window air-conditioning unit. (I’m from the Midwest, where central air is ubiquitous.) Before that purchase, it had been so hard to sleep that I could hardly think straight.

Far too regularly, I ignore my body’s basic needs, and rarely if ever does this lead to my benefit. Willing as the spirit may be, my flesh has a perilous degree of executive override authority. Perhaps this is why I struggle with the concept of fasting in the Lenten season. If I don’t really take care of myself throughout the year, giving up something simply does not carry the meaning it should. Chronic abuse of one’s own body can create an environment that is not very conducive to growing the Spirit’s fruit.

Not surprisingly, such problems do not diminish as they scale. Continue reading

Westgate Mall, Just Peacemaking, and al-Shabaab

There is no way to explain a tragedy like the mass murder at Nairobi’s Westgate mall. Executing people in such a manner, for which the militant group al-Shabaab is claiming credit, is unspeakably evil.

That said, some historical context may help us understand a bit better how such evil takes root. And it will also help us engage the just peacemaking practice of acknowledging responsibility in what has happened to Somalia.

The dictator Siad Barre ruled Somalia with an iron hand from 1969 to 1991. The abuse of power in the Barre regime was so great that it cultivated a deep distrust of centralized authority. When his government fell, Somalis turned to Islamic revival in lieu of a centralized government. In the mid 2000s an alternative movement called the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) managed to bring relative peace to war-torn Somalia, reducing weapons and even clamping down on piracy off the coast. The ICU had legitimacy in the eyes of the Somali people, because it was perceived as a grassroots movement that was successful in bringing about some stability.

But the US did not trust the ICU, which included both moderate and radical elements. Continue reading