Quaker Universalist Conversations

Unless We Change

By Rachel Stacy

 While my last post reveled some of my inadequacies around safety, security, and fear, when I consulted my notes for what to write about next, I found that the keynote speaker at the opening plenary spoke directly to the issue of fear and how it plays a role in the violence of this world. While this is only one piece of my reflection on the plenary speech, I am gently reminded that my experiences at the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (IEPC), in Kingston, Jamaica are ongoing. As I live into my future, the past dances intimately with my present and my reflections offer up new creations as possibility.

 To my surprise, the opening keynote speaker was a Quaker; although he was also an Anglican priest which gave him some respect among the high-church communities. When Paul Osetreicher’s name appeared on the plenary screen it had neither title nor rank, simply Paul Osetreicher, Religious Society of Friends. I almost cheered.

 My enthusiasm quickly sobered as Paul spoke poignant and reveling words that challenged everyone present. Not only did Paul sincerely acknowledge the failures and sins of the church in the past and in the present, he also called the church into a new way of being:

 Unless we change, unless the Church moves to the margins and become the alternative society that unconditionally says no to war, no to the collective murder that every embattled nation or tribe, every warring alliance, every violent liberation movement, every fundamentalist cause, and now the War on Terror declares to be just, until we throw this justification of war, this ‘just war’ theology into the dustbin of history, unless we do that, we will have thrown away the one unique ethical contribution that the teaching of Jesus could make both to the survival of humanity and to the triumph of compassion.

 Paul challenged the use of Jesus’ teaching to kill, to destroy, and even to fear. He reminded me that the history of my own little peace church insists that love casts out fear. The Quakers of the past have witnessed to that fact despite suffering and persecution. Paul continued:
 Love of those who threaten us, care for the welfare of those whom we fear, is not only a sign of spiritual maturity, but also of worldly wisdom. It is enlighten self-interest…If my potential enemy has no reason to fear me, I am safer too.

 Paul’s words are strong and prophetic, but with regards my last post, I wish it was that simple. If my potential enemy has no reason to fear me, I should be safer. But with what reason do men fear women whom they rape? Do robbers fear their victims? On a large military-complex, nation-state scale Paul is surely right, but on the streets?

 The issue of Right to Protect (R2P) was only glanced at throughout the IEPC. I hope that in the future, ecumenical and inter-faith communities can critically look at issues of R2P and Just Policing. Paul called the world wide community to train even its United Nations soldiers as police are trained, ‘Not to kill enemies, but to prevent or to end violent conflicts.’ This is a beginning, but even the histories of police are riddled with violence, abuse of power, racism, and economic inequality. I was taught that the police were safe; I have police officers in my family; I can go to the police in my country for help… can you? Not everyone can.

 Paul also spoke about heroes. How the heroes of the military-industrial complex are celebrated for their violence instead of the number of people they save. I challenge that it is not the heroes who must be abolished but rather their prevailing myth. The hero should not be rewarded for slaying the monsters but rather for coming home, transformed by the lessons s/he learned, to lead the community into a place of Just Peace.

 We need our heroes. We need the police who will save the innocent from the gunfire; the firefighter who rescues the helpless from the burning building. But my heroes are also the women who are survivors, not victims; the many people who live with disability and the react to bigotry with compassion; the diversity of peacemakers who listen, who tell stories, and in turn challenge me to be a better person.

 And in such way, Paul is one of these heroes, for not only did he challenge the world wide community present at the IEPC, but he offered new visions, new creations. One of my professors told me a while back that we must first imagine a new world if we are to create it. While incredibly poetic in nature, Paul offered up an image of the Pope being received by a foreign state, not with the usual ‘soldiers carrying fixed bayonets that are designed to kill [but] rather than by children bearing flowers.’

 He offered examples of non-violent direct action, of stories of people faithfully standing by their convictions to peace. Paul opened up the IEPC with a vision of peacemakers as strong, as faithful, as powerful people who can and will change this world.


Thank you for your reflections, Rachel. Friends in Auckland, Aotearoa/ New Zealand (where we were Resident Friends last year) know and care for Paul Osetreicher. He is a local hero in the peace activist community - walks his talk - and is valued as a friend, Friend, and leader.
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