NORTH NEWTON, KAN. Duane K. Friesen appreciates the focus that the World Council of Churches (WCC) has chosen for this decade. A theologian and advocate for peace and justice issues, Friesen is professor of Bible and religion at Bethel College in North Newton. WCC, which includes church bodies in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, North America and the Pacific, has selected as its theme for the years 2001-2010 the "Decade to Overcome Violence: Churches Seeking Reconciliation and Peace." Each year the program focuses on an area of the world. In 2003 the focus was Sudan; in 2004 it will be the United States, and in 2005, Asia.
The Historic Peace Churches, which include Mennonites, the Society of Friends (Quakers), and Church of the Brethren, held a meeting in the summer of 2001 at Bienenberg Theological Seminary in Switzerland to consider how these church bodies could contribute to ecumenical dialogue within the WCC. The conference concluded with a meeting at the WCC offices in Geneva, Switzerland. Out of those discussions, Friesen prepared an article, "The Decade to Overcome Violence: A Historic Peace Church Perspective," which was published in a recent issue of "The Ecumenical Review," a quarterly journal of the WCC.
"It has been an honor and a privilege for me to participate in these discussions within the Historic Peace Churches and the WCC," Friesen said.
His essay was among five responses to the program of the Decade to Overcome Violence. Other responses were from Cuba, Kenya, The Netherlands and Philippines.
"The church is called by God to be a people among the nations. The center of history is not empire, ... but a people God has chosen from among the nations to be a light to all the peoples of the world," Friesen wrote in his essay.
The Historic Peace Churches have evolved from traditions of non-resistance and non-participation in war toward active non-violent peacemaking. Friesen and others from the Historic Peace Churches believe that while it is important to promote non-participation in war, it is also important to work to remove the causes of violence and find ways to resolve conflicts nonviolently.
The Decade's U.S. focus during 2004 will aim at strengthening and resourcing churches and movements working for peace in the United States, encouraging a commitment to mutual accountability and deepening the churches' understanding of issues such as power, militarism, and community-building. There are also problems of poverty, violence, racism in all its diverse forms, inter-faith relations, migration and inequality in education and employment.
Friesen plans to attend the next consultation of Historic Peace Churches Aug. 8-14 in Kenya. The discussion for that consultation will center on making peace theology relevant to the challenges of conflicts in Africa.