WWU Peacemaking Weekend

Peacemaking Weekend at Walla Walla University

(By Doug Morgan)

The overflow audience of at least 75 that crowded in and around Room 117 of the Administration Building on Sabbath morning, April 16, signaled a heartening interest in peacemaking at Walla Walla University.  They were there to hear historian Greg Dodds’ presentation on the numerous ways in which war has been justified in Christian history.  The lecture was part of the first annual Peacemaking Weekend at Walla Walla, initiated and organized by Dr. Pedrito Maynard-Reid, Ombudsman and Professor of Biblical Studies and Missiology.

(photo from WWU website)

Maynard-Reid – the irrepressible Pedrito! – who also serves as assistant to the president for diversity, along with his committee, arranged an impressively diverse range of activities for the weekend.  I missed the opening event on Friday while en route from Washington, D.C. to eastern Washington state.  But it started with a bang – well, actually several bangs as the WWU Steel Band performed at Land Title Plaza in downtown Walla Walla as the opener for an event focused on environmental issues.  Professor Monty Buell, a history professor and chair of the environmental studies program at WWU, spoke on “Conflict over Natural Resources.”

The collaboration between the university and the town of Walla Walla (with its diverse population) seemed impressive: Mayor Barbara Clark was on hand for this event as well as some of the activity held on campus, and in fact served on the planning committee for the entire Peacemaking Weekend.  The city’s “Green Commute Week” (April 10-17) gave further opportunity for joint effort on behalf of environmental shalom.

Dodds’ lecture on Sabbath morning conveyed an astounding amount of information on the shifting rationales used to “justify” war in the history of Christian thought, from Ambrose of Milan in the fourth century to today’s “post-modern” era.  While Dodds refrained from arguing his own position on the issue, he highlighted the way in which the theories for “just war” have tended to be generated after the war being justified has already been entered.  His synopses of various thinkers and schools of thought were succinct and lively.  While accessible to those with little background, they also opened fresh insights to those, such as myself, who thought they already knew something about the topic.  In short, a superb lecture, and the plan is for it to be available, along with recordings of other weekend events at the web page for the university’s Office of Diversity[click below for more]

(photo from WWU website)

An afternoon symposium used the book The Peacemaking Remnant, published by Adventist Peace Fellowship in 2005, as the starting point for discussion.  Drawing on the essay “Adventism’s Peacemaking Heritage,” I contended that peacemaking belongs at the heart of the Seventh-day Adventist message and mission.  I talked about three aspects of peacemaking in Adventist history – gospel nonviolence, prophetic witness, and restoring shalom, attempting to show how each of these is also “present truth” for today’s world.  The call to enlist in the service of the “Prince of Peace” voiced by Adventism’s founders rings with even greater urgency to those who would be agents of Christ’s Kingdom in our time.

Three responses followed – the first from Darold Bigger, a highly-respected pastor and theology professor who for many years also served as a U.S. Navy chaplain.  Darold expressed appreciation for the perspective presented in The Peacemaking Remnant, and briefly related his own journey from radical pacifism to a position combining support for non-combatant military service with conviction that in some instances use of military force becomes necessary as the only effective means for stopping vicious forms of evil.

Attorney Karen Scott acknowledged the dilemma posed by situations such as the Libyan crisis, in which military force can seem appealing as the way to put a stop to brutal oppression.  At the same time, she pointed out, unintended consequences and other complications almost always make the solution less obvious or simple than it had appeared.  She made an impassioned plea for our identity and loyalty as “citizens of heaven,” which affirms the equal worth of all human beings, to override nationalist loyalties.

The final response came from Dan Clark, an attorney and community leader (husband of the mayor, Barbara Clark) whose dedication to peacemaking grows out of his spiritual journey as a Quaker.  Dan spoke in favor of an international criminal justice procedure rather than militaristic solutions to deal with perpetrators of violent aggression.  I was pleased that Dan, as a thoughtful, well-informed Quaker, found The Peacemaking Remnant to contain strong evidence of a worthy “peace heritage” in Adventism.  And, he welcomed the evidence of its renewal as seen both in the publication of the book and the WWU event.

The weekend events concluded Saturday night with a screening of “The Conscientious Objector,” Terry Benedict’s award-winning documentary on Desmond Doss, the noted Adventist noncombatant who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for extraordinary bravery in World War II.  Ron Joliffe, who teaches film criticism at WWU, introduced the film and posed the question of whether Doss’s actions as a combat medic demonstrated supreme loyalty to Jesus Christ or to the nation.

While I had seen the documentary before and of course had heard and read much about Doss, the truly extraordinary nature of his heroism struck me more fully than ever before.  In reflecting on Ron’s question, it seemed to me that while Doss was absolutely committed to his understanding of the Ten Commandments and the way of Jesus when it came to the question of his own use of weapons, he was also fully dedicated to the U.S. war effort and wanted his actions to be supportive of it.  Along with his role as a medic, he took other actions in support of the military effort that did not involve direct use of weapons, such as helping to put in place a “cargo hold” for scaling up the notorious “escarpment” in Okinawa that was the scene of his dramatic rescue of 75 wounded while under heavy fire.

To me, though, the mixture of loyalties in no way diminishes his achievement.  Not one of us is “pure” of any connection with or benefit from today’s war-making machine and its tentacles, even if we do no more than pay taxes or consume goods and services.  Doss’s awesome, unshakable resolve not to engage in taking human life illustrates the enormous value of dedication to the peacemaking way of Christ even if, as is nearly always the case, that commitment may be tainted with ambiguity.  And, in Doss’s case, such commitment did lead him to transcend a “non-combatant but pro-American military” stance with profound acts of “enemy love” in treating Japanese wounded.

The WWU Peacemaking Weekend went beyond talk and discussion, promoting action on a specific project.  Funds were raised by the WWU Amnesty International chapter for construction of a security fence around Windsor Girls’ Home in Jamaica, needed because young girls were being lured away from the grounds and into sex trafficking and other forms of exploitation

Finally, I found it encouraging that the Peacemaking Weekend came about through the initiative of peace-oriented Adventists who seized an opportunity created by official denominational action.  The document voted by the Spring Council of the General Conference  in 2002, “A Seventh-day Adventist Call for Peace,” asked the world church’s “6,000 schools, colleges, and universities…to set aside one week each school year to emphasize and highlight, through various programs, respect, cultural awareness, nonviolence, peacemaking, conflict resolution, and reconciliation as a way of making a specifically ‘Adventist’ contribution to a culture of social harmony and peace.”

To my knowledge, there was little or no pressure from the top or systematic plan for seeing that this “request” was carried out.  But it provided Pedrito Maynard-Reid “leverage” for gaining support from his administrative colleagues to approve the Peacemaking Weekend as a university activity.  Though the response and participation was encouraging, we cannot say that it galvanized the attention of a large sector of the university community.  But this was only a strong beginning.  Pedrito is already talking enthusiastically about next year!

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