NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Brandon Schwager, Bethel College senior from Lawrence, placed first in the college’s annual C. Henry Smith Peace Oration contest.
The Kansas Institute of Peace and Conflict Resolution (KIPCOR) sponsors Bethel’s part of a bi-national competition under the auspices of Mennonite Central Committee. The competition is open to students enrolled at all Mennonite and Brethren in Christ colleges and universities in Canada and the United States.
The preliminary round of Bethel’s C. Henry Smith Peace Orations took place during a Life Enrichment session April 13, with the four finalists speaking in Bethel’s convocation on Monday, April 25.
The title of Schwager’s winning speech was “Picking up the torch: Advancing the message of peace.”
He said that “the pacifist voice” in the United States has become marginalized – no longer viewed as a legitimate choice, leading many who initially chose it to turn to violence as their problem-solving method. Schwager further noted that too many who claim the “pacifist” position behave with “a lofty air of moral superiority” at best and hateful, violent behavior toward non-pacifists at worst, cutting off opportunity for any kind of meaningful dialogue.
Schwager called for “a beginning goal” of creating a community of peace through making the message of pacifism more compelling and effective.
“Both sides want to make the world a better place to live,” he said, “which is a noble goal. So we must show each other respect in our conversations … [and] put the passion for peace into practice and unleash it on the world as a force for good.”
The runner-up in Bethel’s competition was Taylor McCabe-Juhnke, senior from North Newton, speaking on “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.” She used the parable of the woman caught in adultery, from John 8, to speak of how Mennonites, who would never throw real stones, have for decades cast “metaphorical stones” at gay and lesbian people in the church. “We can’t know precisely how God would deal with” the issue of homosexuality, she said, but we do have an example in Jesus of behaving with love and compassion.
The third-place finisher was Naomi Graber, junior from Elkhart, Ind., with “Journey into questions.” She described her January 2011 interterm experiences in Israel-Palestine and some of the questions they raised, and talked about the importance of relationships in helping grow and lead to peace.
The fourth speaker in the April 25 competition final was Seth Dunn, junior from Fresno, Calif., speaking on “The necessity of restorative justice on the Mennonite campus.” Building on a belief that “peacemaking begins at home,” Dunn outlined ways in which Mennonite colleges and universities provide perfect settings for implementing restorative justice.
Although he won, Schwager said he felt the competition was more about the overall reason for the contest rather than winning or losing. Speeches are to apply the Anabaptist/Christian peace position to contemporary issues or concerns.
“I'm obviously happy I won, but I feel everyone had a worthwhile message, so I don't feel like mine was more worthy in that respect,” Schwager said. “I think that was the important part of the contest. Winning and losing aside, I wanted the opportunity to give a good speech communicating a worthwhile message to people. So long as I got the chance to do that, getting a high rank was secondary.”
Qualifying speeches are no more than 1,500 words long, with no more than 10 percent being quoted material. Small cash prizes, of $125, $100 and $75, went to the top three finishers.
Like the other college and university first-place finishers, Schwager will now record his speech and send it to the C. Henry Smith Trust in care of MCC for the last part of the competition, in which three judges will choose an overall winner. Bethel’s 2008 winner, Josh Chittum, went on to first place overall.
The C. Henry Smith Trust honors a Mennonite historian and former professor at Goshen (Ind.) College and Bluffton (Ohio) University. The peace oration competition was set up to give students a chance to become involved in researching peace issues while gaining rhetorical skills.