What do we do to overcome violence in our community and
the world? Greg Hughson takes inspiration from an
international peace convocation and reflects on how
Christians respond to the issues in Dunedin.
There is a great deal of violence in our world. In response
to this, the World Council of Churches (WCC) designated
2000-10 to be a decade to overcome violence.
During this period, the 349 national member churches (made up
of 500 million or so members) attempted to make a difference,
to move our world in the direction of peace and justice.
Hundreds of projects were established by churches all over
the planet to address and overcome violence.
The ecumenical accompaniment programme of the WCC in Israel
and Palestine is one initiative.
Economic injustice and violence against creation were also on
the agenda, giving expression to the opposition of the WCC to
economic exploitation of the poor and the desecration of
Many of the projects were designed to address and deal with
the root causes of violence, poverty and injustice.
In May this year, the WCC organised an eight-day
International Peace Convocation on the Mona Campus of the
University of the West Indies, in Kingston, Jamaica. One
thousand delegates attended from more than 100 countries.
We gathered to report back on the "decade to overcome
violence" and to plan together for the future.
Unlike here in Dunedin, security is high. Access to the
campus is via guarded entry points and the campus is
surrounded by fences topped with barbed wire. Each hostel is
Kingston is a violent city, which is why the decision was
made to hold an international peace conference there, so that
we could see at first hand what the churches are doing to
address the root causes of violence and to overcome violence
in their communities.
On the first day of the convocation, we had the opportunity
to visit church- and community-based "overcoming violence"
projects in the city.
I chose to visit Boystown, an educational and employment
training community established by the Methodist Church in the
1940s in the midst of a poor and disadvantaged area of the
city. It is an oasis of peace and hope.
It was inspiring to meet some of the students and staff.
This project is one of many in Kingston which is helping to
build peace and to give young people hope and prospects for
The opening plenary address of the International Ecumenical
Peace Convocation was delivered by Canon Paul Oestreicher.
Paul received an honorary doctorate of divinity from the
University of Otago a few years ago.
His address was entitled "A new world is possible". He
declared that Christians must dare to implement the teaching
of Jesus, to love our enemies. He presented a vision of a
world where war, like slavery, is internationally condemned
and rendered illegal; a world where war is no longer an
option for solving conflicts - an inspiring vision.
Each day, we explored a different dimension of peace: peace
in the community, peace among the peoples, peace with the
Earth and peace in the marketplace. One hundred and sixty
workshops were offered.
Each day, we divided into 50 groups of 20 for Bible study.
Each day, we worshipped together in a huge tent on campus,
and heard inspiring addresses from peace-makers from all
around the world.
We heard inspiring "overcoming violence" addresses from the
Congo, from Iraq, from Indian women, from Martin Luther King
III, from a Christian Palestinian doctor, from an Orthdox
bishop from Baghdad, from a former prime minister of Norway
and from many others.
Coming back to Dunedin, I wondered what difference I could
make, and what difference our churches here are making or
could be making to overcoming violence in our community?
First and foremost, our churches, if they are being true to
their faith, will be modelling a lifestyle based on justice
and peace within their own faith communities.
Second, our churches will be seeking to influence the wider
community for good by addressing the root causes of violence
in our community. I see this happening in many ways.
As in Kingston, the churches here in Dunedin, and individual
Christians, are involved with a wide range of community
groups, working at every level of society to overcome
violence and to model more peaceful and respectful ways of
living. This is happening institutionally through the work of
wonderful organisations such as the Methodist Mission,
Anglican Family Care, the Salvation Army, Presbyterian
Support and Catholic Social Services.
Working towards and expressing a commitment to peace and
justice is also happening when tertiary students and others
march down George St to protest against sexual violence. It
is happening through the Sophie Elliott Foundation.
It is happening through the Dunedin Night Shelter. It is
happening through our New Zealand Centre for Peace and
Conflict Studies based at the University of Otago.
It is happening when the Muslim community invites people who
are not members of their faith to join them at the mosque to
share an evening meal during Ramadan.
It is happening whenever we care for creation, whenever we
choose ethical investments, support Trade Aid, and prioritise
spending on early childhood education and nurture.
Overcoming violence is happening whenever we choose to reach
out compassionately to support and care for our neighbours,
whoever they are, wherever they come from, whatever they are
doing and whatever they have done.
Overcoming violence is happening whenever and wherever we
dare to model, nurture and encourage more peaceful and just
ways of living.
• The Rev Greg Hughson is an ecumenical chaplain at the
University of Otago.