GRAND RAPIDS -- When members of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ resolved in the fall of 2002 to place a sign reading WAGE PEACE on the front lawn of their church, they may never have imagined what would become of their humble act. Over 5,000 distributed signs and car window decals later, the church maintains its stance on issues of war and peace.
Plymouth's pastor, Reverend Doug Van Doren, addressed an interdenominational gathering of people of faith Tuesday evening at the Micah Center, a grassroots social justice movement that convenes at Hope Reformed Church, on the corner of Burton and Kalamazoo. "(The WAGE PEACE campaign) didn't spring from nothing," Van Doren explained. "One of the principles of the Church is to listen to the marginalized."
Only months prior to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Plymouth Congregational UCC determined to use the signs to promote peacemaking while the nation teetered on the brink of war. Nearly seven years later, the Grand Rapids church continues to promote waging peace instead of war. On Tuesday, Van Doren suggested that peacemaking is no easy task. It might appear differently in different contexts, but it centers on the notion of providing social services--food programs, education, health initiatives, and the like--for under-resourced and under-served populations.
Van Doren was quick to distance himself from outright pacifism, identifying his personal response to conflict and injustice as "somewhere in between Martin Luther King and Malcolm X," but he affirmed that the Church must find a way to more proactively seek peace. "The Church is a formidable force," Van Doren explained, "but it has held itself back." In his mind, the unique element the Church can bring to the conflict resolution table is what he described as "justice tempered by mercy and forgiveness." Justice without mercy, Van Doren warned, leads to vengeance and retribution.
Rev. Van Doren conceded that his church's campaign did not prevent the Iraqi invasion, nor did it shorten its length. What it did do, however, was challenge his congregants and community to think of innovative ways in which they might "wage peace" in the world. Van Doren similarly challenged those in attendance on Tuesday to likewise consider how to creatively respond to war and conflict. In his parting remarks, he quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, when he said, "Those who love peace must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war."
Brian Paff, The Micah Center