Thursday, May 7, 2009

Draft Statement of Conscience on Peacemaking

While I do not object to the contents of the current draft Unitarian Universalist Statement of Conscience on Peacemaking, it simply does not go far enough to garner my support as a statement of vision and aspiration. Therefore, I intend to submit my thoughts in the coming weeks, possibly as a prelude to a formal suggestion for amendment at General Assembly. I have drafted language that I might use in these discussions. I share them with you to solicit your feedback, so that I can be as clear and effective as possible. I would appreciate your reactions to the following.

The present draft Unitarian Universalist Statement of Conscience on Peacemaking leaves insufficient room for me as a pacifist to enter in affirmation. The Theological Principles expressed are those of a pacifist. However, the assessment of Where We Stand permits too great a latitude for armed aggression and the self-perpetuating cycle of violence to continue from one generation to the next. I cannot condone the use of military force as a method to inflict the will of one group of peoples over another, regardless of the sincerity of the purpose. Those who live by the sword will always find justification in "humanitarian purposes" and "self-defense."

The proposed statement represents an admirable first step. However, I need this Statement to clearly express a Unitarian Universalist vision of future human society. In order to open space for me in the document, I respectfully suggest the following words be inserted just before the final sentence of the draft.

Unitarian Universalists envision a future society free of violence and oppression, of unlimited justice and freedom, without which there can be no peace. Humankind took thousands of years to hone its knowledge and fashion its skills and behaviors as war makers; it will take time to fully reclaim our human legacy as peacekeepers. We pray that someday all men and women will live with peace in their hearts and love for each other. Until that time, in reverence for all life, we covenant to practice peace by minimizing violence at all levels of human interaction.


Bill Baar said...

unlimited justice and freedom ???

Doesn't unbounded freedom free desire to enslave us?

Doesn't unbounded justice forbid the injustice of forgiving the unforgivable?

Limits usually there for good reasons Jeff.

Jeff Liebmann said...


I can't say that I completely understand your statements, but let me take a crack at responding.

I could respond to your concern over my phrase "unbounded freedom" in two ways. One would be a Buddhist approach, to say that unbounded freedom is actually the elimination of all desire on the path to ultimate enlightenment. That is an interpretation I would respect, but it would not be my own.

A second response would be to say that the phrase "unbounded freedom" is obviously a poetic device to represent an ideal. Of course, if I decide to stop and smell a rose, I by definition occupy a space that prevents you from smelling that same rose in exactly the same way. So, my use of the term is certainly not intended to extend to extremes that obviously run counter to the rest of the statement's meaning.

Am I advocating "enslaving" you to a life in which you would not longer be encouraged to commit acts of violence or to engage in war? If that is how you want to define the meaning of slavery, then yes.

As to your second comment, the question you raise is whether or not anything is truly unforgivable. This is absolutely the crux of the whole issue. In my opinion, the cycle of violence and war must be broken - it cannot be gradually winnowed away into nonexistence. In order to do that, we MUST forgive the conceivably unforgivable sometime. If not, we doom ourselves to one more generation of hate, retribution, and waste of human and other resources better applied to the betterment of society.

This will not be easy and will likely require massive sacrifices. Wars have cost us untold death and destruction. I believe it is time to try a different approach to living, even if it means that a generation or two must make ultimate sacrifices and even forgive horrible injustices.

Yes, limits usually exist for a reason. But, in order to inspire true change, I believe that vision needs to be unbounded.

Thanks for your comments.

Bill Baar said... say that unbounded freedom is actually the elimination of all desire on the path to ultimate enlightenment. For those who choose the Bhudda's path but who is to say others, if not most, will not follow their desires down different paths? Freely choose desires to impose their wills on others?

Thou shall not covet thy neighbor's... They're primal desires, bound by a commandments; along with another not to kill. The Hebrew's God freed them from Egypt's bondage then quickly set limits upon them with commandments.

...the question you raise is whether or not anything is truly unforgivable. Imagine the unforgivable. If that is not possible ask someone who's experienced what they feel an unforgivable wrong. (In Chicago we have many refugees like that, some in my family.)

Then ask them if peace better served executing justice, or dispensing forgiveness.

On a very practical note, let me suggest James Sheehan's Where Have All the Soldiers Gone?: The Transformation of Modern Europe. He explains why Europe's Pacifistic, and will remain so, and why Americans aren't.

It dispells the notion violence begets violence because it was certainly our extreme violence prosecuting WWII that turned Europe's Militarists into Pacifists today.

The other pragmatic issue, sadly overlooked by many in UU peacemaking, is the world's success reducing the number of wars; especially within the past few decades.

There are practical reasons why that's happened and we've done little discussion of that.

Jeff Liebmann said...

First, Bill, it would seem that you and I have what might be an irreconcilable difference of opinion on human nature. I do not believe that envy, killing and other commandment-related behaviors are innate. I do not believe that human infants are born with the desire to kill. Society teaches them that.

I can easily imagine the unforgivable. Sadly, that is easy in our modern world. I am not saying that heinous, horrific, unimaginable acts of cruelty do not exist. Of course they do. But, I believe that the only way we will achieve a world without violence and war is by finding within ourselves the capacity to forgive exactly those acts. Execution and imprisonment are also not the only tools of justice. In fact, one may argue that they do not serve justice at all (but that is another discussion).

Another pragmatic issue that the statement also overlooks to some degree is that war is only the ultimate violence. Violence occurs at every level of human interaction, and involves not only physical acts, but economic, political, social, emotional, and other acts. Pacifism does not just speak to war, but to our need to be nonviolent in all aspects of our lives.

Just as you seem unwilling to agree with my amendment based on your assumptions regarding human nature and our ability to gradually move toward nonviolence, so the current draft statement leaves me unconvinced that the vision of a future society is attainable. My goal is to craft a statement that makes room for both of our worldviews. Perhaps that is not possible. But, for me, the current draft does not provide me with a vision of the world I believe is possible and will only perpetuate over time millenia of violent behavior.