Tuesday, May 24, 2011

What does "God's security" look like?

World Council of Churches - News


For immediate release: 24 May 2011

As a 10-year-old schoolgirl, on 6 August 1945, at 8:15 a.m., Setsuko
Thurlow, then Nakamura, suddenly saw a brilliant bluish light flash outside
her schoolroom window. "I remember the sensation of floating in the air.
When I regained consciousness, in the total darkness and silence, I found
myself in the rubble."

She began to hear her classmates' faint voices: "Mom, help me. Dad, help

Thurlow is a "hibakusha", a survivor of the Hiroshima atomic bomb, one of
two nuclear bombs dropped on Japan by the United States toward the end of
World War II. She is also a lifelong advocate against armaments.

Her vivid and painful memory washed over participants at the International
Ecumenical Peace Convocation (IEPC) Monday in Kingston, Jamaica, on a day
when a panel discussion explored the theme of Peace among the Peoples,
examined critical concerns about obstructions to peace at the international
level, and considered what real security looks like.

Even though Thurlow's presentation was a recorded video, as she was unable
to attend the convocation in person, it remained a stark reminder of how
recent the use of the atomic bomb really was. It was only a generation ago
and since then the major world powers have developed and proliferated
nuclear arsenals that are, at best, mutually destructive.

Back in 1945, Thurlow said her help came in the form of a stranger's touch.
"Suddenly some hands started shaking my left shoulder, and a voice said,
'Get out of here as quickly as possible.'"

All around her, she said, were "bleeding, ghostly figures, burned black, the
flesh of their skin hanging from their bones. There was deathly silence
broken only by the moans of the injured and their pleas for water."

As survivors like Thurlow tell their stories, they recall the injustice that
260,000 innocent people perished post-1945 because of the effects of the
heat and radiation.

Governments tend to attempt to justify large-scale military action - at its
worst, nuclear warfare - in the name of "security," pointed out Dr Lisa
Schirch, professor of peace-building at Eastern Mennonite University in
Harrisonburg, Va., United States. She called into question what security
should mean to Christians.

"Jesus doesn't use the word 'security.' The language of the church is much
more about justice and peace than about security," she said.

"Security does not land in a helicopter"

When visiting Iraq in 2005, Schirch worked with Iraqis who were
peace-building at a community level. "They told me this: security does not
land in a helicopter; it grows from the ground up."

Iraq was just one country of many on the minds of IEPC participants as they
explored peace among the peoples in a discussion that ranged from nuclear
disarmament to ending all war.

The moderator of the discussion, the Rev. Kjell Magne Bondevik who is
president of the Oslo Center for Peace and Human Right and twice prime
minister of Norway, said he remembers the day in 2003 when U.S. President
George Bush called to solicit his support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

"And I said no," recalled Bondevik, as some 1,000 IEPC participants broke
into applause. "I cannot. First of all you don't have a mandate from the
U.N. And, from my ethical Christian perspective, using military means must
be the very, very last solution after you have tried all other peaceful

The churches had a decisive, distinct voice in his decision, he said.
"Churches in Norway made a campaign against possible war in Iraq."

As Archbishop Dr Avak Asadourian, the Armenian Orthodox Archbishop of
Baghdad, listened, he said he would like Bondevik's message of Christian
peace to be communicated across the world. "I am sorry that other leaders
are not listening," he said. "During the past 32 years, all of Iraq has gone
through three wars and an embargo. An embargo by definition is also an act
of war. Iraqis have been in a very bad situation."

Asadourian took issue with the fact that Christians are now referred to as a
minority group within Iraq. "Christians in Iraq are not minorities.
Christians in Iraq are an important part of the Iraqi society. We are doing
everything we can for peace. By peace, in this sense, I don't mean only the
absence of war. By peace, I mean equality."

During the sessions, IEPC participants paused in groups to mull over the
idea that a Christian version of security could be created if churches would
become involved in a form of "early warning," that is, in getting messages
out from the ground about potential conflicts in ways that governments do

"Here, women have a very special role to play," said Dr Patricia Lewis,
deputy director and scientist-in-residence at the Monterey Institute in
California, US, and panellist at the IEPC. "If you don't ask the women, you
don't know what's happening."

Lewis expressed her own deep faith that change will come. "People in the
military and people in positions of authority will understand that nuclear
weapons have almost no use militarily at all. They will also realize you
can't make small mistakes with nuclear weapons."

If churches expect to make an impact in stopping war and the proliferation
of nuclear weapons, they must move beyond declarative documents into the
realm of action, said Dr Christiane Agboton-Johnson, deputy director of the
United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research in Geneva, Switzerland.

"Women often suffer most seriously in a conflict despite their commitment to
ending the conflict. Can one consider that a document or a rule is enough to
deal with this sort of problem? I'm not convinced of that. Is the U.N.
prepared to move on from words to actions? They would do better to implement
what is written down."

Meanwhile, Thurlow and other nuclear bomb survivors will continue their call
for humankind to learn from the mistakes of the past: "No human being should
ever have to repeat our experience of inhumanity, illegality, immorality and
cruelty of atomic warfare," she said.

IEPC website (Link:
http://www.oikoumene.org/index.php?RDCT=84ff5ca854d125930b2e )

IEPC photo galleries (Link:
http://www.oikoumene.org/index.php?RDCT=16bb41aaf475603c8ddc )

IEPC videos (Link:

High resolution photos of the event may be requested free of charge via
photos.oikoumene.org (Link:
http://www.oikoumene.org/index.php?RDCT=eb00e77d63f4fffa3745 )

The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and
service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical fellowship of churches
founded in 1948, today the WCC brings together 349 Protestant, Orthodox,
Anglican and other churches representing more than 560 million Christians in
over 110 countries, and works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church.
The WCC general secretary is Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, from the [Lutheran]
Church of Norway. Headquarters: Geneva, Switzerland.


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