The Initiator Roundup: September 5, 2013

With all of the back-and-forth this week on the possibility of punitive strikes against Syria, I saw the just peacemaking paradigm put to use many times around the web – and invoked, even if not by name, many more times. We have posted two articles to this end this week, one analyzing the course of the civil conflict in Syria and another suggesting a constructive alternative to punitive strikes for the U.S.

Below you will find a couple of links that detail various positions on the Syrian conflict, but also several articles addressing others of our “areas of focus.” For instance, I read Enuma Okoro’s article thinking about the role of “songs of justice” in one’s formation for a life of peacemaking.

I would like to encourage the reader to engage with my take on whatever articles/issues are on tap here and also to let us know what sources we should be following when we’re missing something important. All of this can be done through the comments field below, via our social media channels (e.g., our Facebook fan page and Twitter feed), or in an email to the editor at


August 28, 2013

Enuma Okoro – “The Women Who Sang Out for Civil Rights
Over on the her.meneutics blog, Okoro describes a key contribution of female voices to the civil rights struggle: singing songs out against injustice – a powerful form of truthtelling. Having read Stacey Floyd-Thomas’ book Mining the Motherlode this week, I appreciated Okoro’s description of “moments” in time but also involvement over time as life’s work. “In our day and age, when young women make the news for singing and performing in vulgar, suggestive, and less than life-giving ways, the anniversary of the march is—among many things—a much needed reminder of the transforming power and legacy that women can have with their voices and with song.”

September 3, 2013

Kristopher Aaron – “Back to school means back to worrying
One of my classmates from McAfee School of Theology calls us to return from our summer break to the struggle for sensible laws that address both gun control and mental illness. Encouraging Christians to get involved, Aaron says, “God covets our prayers, but we must do more than pray. It is time for action. The school year has just started. May there not be more dead children and teachers before we do something.”

Jonathan Merritt – “On Syrian conflict, three Christian perspectives
In this post about Christian attitudes toward a punitive strike against Syria, Merritt curates responses from three Christians of different positions on the merits of war. Just Peacemaking is featured prominently, and David P. Gushee offers some thoughts from that angle: “Just peacemaking theory would suggest that the United States should first test the UN’s own principles by taking a case for rigorous international intervention in Syria before the UN Security Council. Show all the evidence. Call for the UN to live up to its own principles. Draft a strong resolution. Only if such a resolution should fail would the US have a case for going it alone.” (Sojourners also posted a multi-response article entitled “The Ethics of a Syrian Military Intervention: The Experts Respond.”)

September 4, 2013

Patrick Lynch – “This September, Ask a NASA Climate Scientist
Throughout the month of September, experts from NASA will be answering questions about climate change and their observations (e.g. via satellites). So go ask them a question! And look for more information soon regarding an event this fall on the subject of extreme weather featuring a scientist from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, CA.

The Initiator Roundup: August 8, 2013

Reviewing this week’s offerings, I found myself quite thankful for the difference in time zones around the world that allowed my morning to start with some great, fresh stories. (In terms of “just peacemaking,” some of the most salient articles were released this very morning.)


August 5, 2013

Philip Rucker – “Study finds vast online marketplace for guns without background checks
Rucker reports on Third Way’s recent study of online gun sales, particularly on the website (something like a Craigslist of weaponry). Their findings are alarming: “At any given time, more than 15,000 guns were for sale in those states, according to the study, and more than 5,000 of them were semi-automatic weapons. Nearly 2,000 ads were from prospective buyers asking to purchase specifically from private sellers, where no background checks are required.”

August 6, 2013

Leroy Seat – “The Horror of Hiroshima Told Through Graphic Novel
Seat tells something of the story of Keiji Nakazawa, who at six years old was the sole survivor of the Hiroshima bombing from his family. Nakazawa told the story of (his) life there leading up to and following the bomb in the form of “comic strips,” which have been gathered into graphic novels. This part of Nakazawa’s story was especially striking to me: “The first volume mostly tells the story of Gen’s family in the four months before the bombing. Gen’s (Nakazawa’s) father was an outspoken critic of the war frenzy in Japan. Since everyone was expected to be 100 percent behind the war efforts, he was jailed for a time because of his anti-war talk.”

August 8, 2013

Ray Blunt – “How leaders are formed (Part 1): Mentors
This first part of a creative telling of the stories of William Wilberforce and of Thomas Jefferson and their respective work against slavery, highlighting the importance of a key long-term mentor in each life: “For both men, significant mentoring relationships made all the difference.” Eager for Part II.

Rupen Das – “Is there a limit to hospitality?
Over at the Institute of Middle East Studies blog (based at Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut, Lebanon), Das reports on the increasingly difficult refugee situation created by the civil war in Syria – Lebanon has a population of about 4.1 million Lebanese and 270,000 Palestinian refugees, and now “one in every five persons is a Syrian.” With this, Das has an eye on the Christian practice of hospitality: “When hospitality and compassion are restricted for social and political reasons, the church needs to be a sign – a living manifestation of a community with a different set of values, where no one is excluded, the stranger is welcomed, and the individual is valued.”

Lauren Markoe – “Ethicist Shaun Casey to Oversee Religious Engagement for State Department
Markoe reports on yesterday’s creation of the Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives in the State Department under Shaun Casey, professor of Christian ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington: “In a world where people of all faiths are migrating and mingling like never before,” Kerry said, “we ignore the global impact of religion at our peril.” This appointment could mean good things for promoting human rights and protecting religious minorities around the world.

Reflections of a Lapsed NRA Member

By William A. Dyrness

I have a confession to make: I was a member of the National Rifle Association when I was growing up in the Midwest. At summer camp I competed in their approved program of marksmanship. Somewhere in my attic are probably the graying targets and awards that show my growing ability, as I moved up through the ranks—toward the goal of sharpshooter (which I never reached). I read their magazine, and I think it was an ad in that magazine that I responded to when I sent off for my first B-B-Gun. I still remember the carving on the handle when it arrived and the long shiny black barrel—it occupied a special place in my bedroom. My friends and I would take our guns and ride our bikes out to the empty cornfields outside of town—shooting our feeble charges at rabbits and crows.

That was a long time ago and I am no longer a member of the NRA; in fact I cannot imagine being a member today. The events of the last month have made me think about all that has changed since those days. While many of us grew up in small towns; now we mostly live in sprawling metropolises; summer camps and their competitions have given way to gun clubs and sprawling gun shows. Indeed in some places today it is as easy to buy an automatic weapon as it was for me to buy my B-B-Gun.

But the events of this month have made me reflect on something else, more important than any of these developments, something that has not changed since I was growing up, something I want to speak about it in this article: Continue reading

Curbing the Out-of-Control Numbers of Gun Deaths in the US

By Glen H. Stassen

Editor’s Note: This article is adapted from notes of his presentation to the Peace and Justice Advocates student group on January 15, 2013, at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. Time-sensitive and anecdotal references should be considered as related to this meeting.

Vice President Joseph Biden and President Obama are advocating a national background check system so fewer dangerous persons can buy guns, a ban on semi-automatic guns and their automatic clips of bullets, and over a dozen actions the president can take even if the Congress blocks other options. Some action will happen, whether Congress agrees to pass a new law or not.

Before talking about possible action in this category, I first want to suggest something about togetherness versus individualistic distrust. Continue reading

Responding to 2012′s Tragedies after Sandy Hook

It is always the right time to talk about what is (or is not) working to promote life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And in so doing, it is important to take time to reflect, as soberly as we can, on the many factors at work behind acts of domestic terrorism – subjects and objects, laws and individual lives. We must do so humbly, knowing that whatever we discover in reflection and in honest discourse might require action from us, might call us to repent.

Students of Glen Stassen are taught well the sort of realism that can help the discerning eye discover what is behind the way someone justifies this or that public policy (or individual judgment). For decades, he has been carefully analyzing public ethics and personal decisions through this grid:

holistic character.005

Each of the boxes lists the particular variables that Stassen has identified as the most critical in each dimension, but I tend to take the dimensions’ titles as sufficient explanation of the scheme for all but the “way of seeing” dimension. Basic convictions correlate to one’s worldview (itself overdetermined), one’s loyalties, trusts, interests, and passions represent the affective dimension, generally, and so on. Each of these dimensions is at play in any given Continue reading

A Series of Tweets by David Gushee in Response to Newtown

The following series of Twitter posts offers many possible action-steps in response to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School (and the many domestic acts of terror this year).

Continue reading

The Sustaining Power of Faith for Peacemaking

In a seminar with Glen Stassen, a group of students recently read Charles Marsh’s book The Beloved Community (New York: Basic Books, 2005), which demonstrates how Christian faith contributed to the civil rights movement and how it continues to sustain struggles for justice and meaningful pursuits of community. In this book, Marsh traces several stories from the civil rights era in the United States with a sharp eye on how Christian faith funded many successes and how its absence led to many instabilities and failures. Marsh demonstrates (after Dietrich Bonhoeffer) that values and concepts like “justice” and “human rights,” which can be found in popular usage, find “a new purpose and a new power in their origin,” Jesus Christ (Stassen is also working to recover the faith origins of “human rights”).[1] And this is true as a matter of historical analysis. Good trees bear good fruit quite naturally due to their sustaining root system. I submit that Marsh’s thesis is basically correct, and this conviction sets him up to see the mustard seeds of the peaceable reign of God wherever they grow with clarity and imagination. Furthermore, I observe a deep affinity between Marsh’s conclusions and the historical trajectory of the “just peacemaking” paradigm. Continue reading

Second (Amendment) Thoughts: On Christians and Guns

By Peter M. Sensenig

Speaking at All Saints Church in Pasadena on Sunday, civil rights leader Rev. James Lawson lamented that violence is so engrained in the DNA of our culture that we can scarcely imagine anything else. Some resist following Jesus because they question the efficacy of nonviolence. But if violence ushered in peace, Lawson declared, then triumphant bells would ring over the beginning of the 21st century. (Follow this link to watch him on YouTube.)

The shootings in Aurora, Colorado are the most recent and deadly fruit of a culture addicted to guns and the illusion of security they offer.

One of the practices of just peacemaking is to reduce offensive weapons. Followers of Jesus have a number of reasons to make this a normative principle in a violent world.

The first set of reasons, hinted above by Rev. Lawson, is that violence is utterly incapable of producing justice or security. Pragmatic arguments in favor of gun control have all sorts of data to back them. As I wrote in an earlier post about the killing of Trayvon Martin, if guns made us safer, the United States would be the safest country in the world. The facts show otherwise: over 11,000 firearm homicides in the U.S. in 2009 (or 3.7 deaths per 100,000 people). The contrast to countries with stricter gun laws is stark: in the same year Canada had only 165 firearm homicides, Germany 381, France 255, the United Kingdom 68, Australia 65, and Japan 39.

Jesus himself used Continue reading

Justice, Guns, and Gates

By Peter M. Sensenig

The murder of Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman raises three glaring issues for people of faith, especially those with basic convictions about the sanctity of human life and the obligation to seek justice.

First, this incident is a jolting reminder that the historical devaluing of the lives of black males continues today. In past generations slavery, lynching, and Jim Crow laws were used to reinforce the idea that black lives were less valuable than others. In 1955 another black teenager, Emmitt Till, was brutally murdered for purportedly flirting with a white woman. The murderers were acquitted, an outrageous flouting of justice that galvanized African Americans nationwide and helped to spark the Civil Rights Movement. The attempts to vilify Trayvon Martin by his previous actions and his appearance – in order somehow to justify his murder, it seems – are reminiscent of the efforts in 1955 Mississippi to portray Till as worthy of lynching.

Today, the highly disproportionate number of incarcerated black men calls for the transformation of the legal system – whose effect is to vilify black men and alienate them from their families and communities – into one that more nearly implements the kind of justice that God requires. Just as appalling is the racist practice of capital punishment, which black evangelicals adamantly oppose and white evangelicals tend to support (see Natalie Burris’ piece in the Huffington Post). Christians of all shades must recognize that racial injustice remains strong in this country.

Second, the idea that more guns make us safer is highly suspect. We cannot accurately speculate on what would have happened if Zimmerman had not carried a gun. But we know that Martin would not have been shot. The debates over gun control are heated, but tragedies like this one should cause everyone to question how someone like Zimmerman carrying a gun can make any neighborhood safe. The fact that Zimmerman had a gun may have made him as well as the people he was attempting to “protect” feel safer, but for Martin and others who fall victim to racial profiling they are instruments of death, not protection. If guns made us safer, the United States would be the safest country in the world. The facts show otherwise: over 11,000 firearm homicides in the U.S. in 2009 (or 3.7 deaths per 100,000 people).

Finally, Christians need seriously to reconsider the idea that our neighborhoods need to be protected. We must question this assumption for two reasons. One is that the people from whom the neighborhood requires protection are more often than not taken to be black males or others perceived as “threatening.” Deeply racist assumptions and racial profiling are built into the system of neighborhood watch as it now practiced in communities across the country.

But at an even more basic level, Christians should have a profound problem with the idea of a gated community. Followers of Jesus, if the example of service and vulnerability set by our Lord has any significance for our lives, should be moving out of gated communities, not into them. In the words of liberation theologian Orlando Costas, “Jesus died outside the gate, and in so doing changed the place of salvation and clarified the meaning of mission.  Salvation is not at ticket to a privileged spot in God’s universe, but rather freedom for service” (Christ Outside the Gate, 194). According to Costas, “outside the gate” means more than the neighborhood in which we choose to live; but surely it cannot mean less.