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June 27, 2013
Mary and I are so sorry we cannot be with you this morning. As you all gather for what is always the highlight of the Biennial for me, Mary will have just completed her radiation treatments for her returned lymphoma. Mary, who is on medical leave from the church right now, gets a few days off, and then the next chemo treatments will start. We are missing some of our now long time friends we would be seeing this morning and disappointed that we will not be able to make some new friends today.
To say that Mary and I are humbled to be the recipients of the Dahlberg Peace Prize is to dramatically understate things. I’m not sure exactly who is at the breakfast this morning, but I can imagine there are a several people in the room, and a whole lot of others who probably aren’t there, who are far more deserving of this award than Mary and me. And then when you stop to think about those who have received this award in the past, Mary and I have to wonder how on earth we could be counted among the likes of them.
Here is what I have to say for myself, and why receiving the Dahlberg Peace Prize is so meaningful to us. Our peacemaking is wrapped up in being Baptist people. When I went off to Northern Baptist Seminary, I was warned by someone that seminary would ruin me. And I guess he was right. My mentor, and now life long friend and supporter, Tom Finger, who taught theology at Northern, set me on this course. He got me reading works of people like John Howard Yoder, suggested I write a paper on some bishop at the time in Central America named Oscar Romero, and had a class read Donald Kraybill’s book The Upside Down Kingdom. That book is still in print and been passed on by Mary and me to many Oberlin College students and others over the years.
When Mary and I left Chicago in 1979 for Oberlin, Ohio, where by God’s grace and the grace of a whole lot of others we still are, I guess it’s fair to say we were ruined. Mary and I were learning that peacemaking is integral to what it means to follow Jesus. If you end up in Oberlin, Ohio, you discover there is no shortage of ways you can get involved in peace and justice issues. And as important as it was to plunge ourselves into the many issues that were being raised and fought for, there was really no place to approach peacemaking from a Christian or even spiritual perspective. Many churchfolk from ours’ and other congregations were involved in a variety of issues, but these were for the most part, secular movements. To bring in Biblical analysis or suggest some spiritual practices to accompany our peacemaking would have freaked a lot of people out.
Something happened, though, that changed everything. We received a letter one day from our Executive Minister at the time, John Sundquist, inviting us and folk from our church to gather with others to form a peace fellowship in our Region. The Ohio Baptist Peace Fellowship was born out of that meeting. And as we continued to meet, we discovered there were some people at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary who were working on peace and justice issues.
I had heard of Southern Baptists and even lived among them for a couple of years while Mary was getting her Masters Degree in Piano Performance at the University of Alabama. But I didn’t know much about them. Nor did most of the folk in the Ohio Baptist Peace Fellowship except George Williamson. It turned out he used to be one of them. And he suggested we make contact with those folk in Louisville.
That was a really good idea. Some American Baptists and like-minded Southern Baptists were starting to get together and think about how peacemaking could be lifted up among Baptists. And then we discovered there were other Baptists with similar sensibilities. National Baptists, Progressive Baptists, North American Baptists, Missionary Baptists, folk from the Baptist General Conference, Seventh Day Baptists; Baptists in Canada, Mexico, and Puerto Rico. So a gathering was called, and the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America was formed.
Ken Sehested, the founding Director of the BPFNA, was not so much hired to lead this new organization but lifted up in our midst to direct us. If people were worried about seminary ruining me, they had no idea what Ken Sehested was going to do to me and Mary and so many others. I remember Ken talking about how tired he got of going to various meetings dealing with peace and justice issues and encountering people who used to be Baptists. Ken helped not only members of the BPFNA, but Baptists everywhere recover our long and rich history of peacemaking.
Ken does many things well--just read what he writes or listen to him preach. But he also gets people in touch with each other. It was because of Ken I got to know people like Olive Tiller and Bev Gavel, who were not only long time Baptist peacemakers but came from families of Baptist peacemakers. I learned from them and others about Edwin T. Dahlberg and the American Baptist Pacifist Fellowship. It turned out that we hadn’t discovered Baptist peacemaking. It had been there for a long time.
Ken knew so many Baptist peacemakers like his wife Nancy Hastings Sehested, Glenn Stassen, Glenn Hinson, Fred Shuttlesworth, and a host of others. Back when the BPFNA was getting formed, I was starting to listen to music by somebody named Ken Medema. He was singing about where the church needed to be going. He’s a Baptist. Who knew? And who knew his wife Jane Medema could take a Bible passage or two and keep you on the edge of your seat?
This amazing community of Baptists Peacemakers in North America was coming together right before our eyes. And then we learned, of course, that there were other Baptist Peacemakers all over the world. And we got to start to know some of them.
Mary and I have both helped shape and been shaped by peacemaking in Baptist life. This is our community. One time Mary came home from a guest preaching stint at a church in our former Association. Our congregation is now a part of the Rochester Genesee Region. Mary was commenting on how the church was not very receptive to the peacemaking issues she raised in her sermon. Our now deceased daughter, Sarah, who grew up in our congregation and the BPFNA was puzzled by that comment. Because of her own experience in Baptist life, she assumed all Baptist congregations were very serious about peacemaking. I think that was ultimately the vision of Edwin T. Dahlberg–that all Baptist congregations, indeed all Christian churches, would be about the work of peacemaking.
When we received the call from Dwight Lundgren that we had been awarded the Dahlberg Peace Prize, Mary’s first comment to me was “how can that be? We’ve never been arrested.” But, I think a lot of Baptist peacemakers have never been arrested, though there are plenty who have been. But this movement is not simply about how much jail time we spend, but how much time we spend nurturing this movement of Baptist peacemaking in our lives, our congregations, and communities. I know one of the greatest testimonies to Baptist peacemaking is that a place like the Peace Community Church in Oberlin, Ohio, a really small congregation, can be seen by the larger community as actively involved in peacemaking. When there are issues of peace and justice in our world or our community that need to be addressed, it is assumed by our community that Peace Community Church is going to be in the thick of things.
I want to close with a story that helps me to realize some of what Baptist peacemaking is about. Back in our Ohio Baptist days, I was staffing the Ohio Baptist Peace Fellowship table at the Annual Gathering. A man came by the table who was quite angry with me. He was yelling at me and wanting to know why I didn’t want Jesus to come back. He believed that things had to get worse and worse in this world for the second coming to happen. If there was peace, how could Jesus ever return? It’s a crazy way to look at the gospel. But he calmed down and we ended up having a good conversation. And what he said was that he knew that as a Christian he was supposed to believe that perfect love casts out all fear. But when he looked at his own life and the lives of those in his congregation, he knew they were afraid. They were afraid of the Soviet Union. They were afraid of Nicaraguans invading the United States. He actually said that. And he also said I probably thought that was pretty silly. But he said we are Christians and we shouldn’t be so afraid. And he thought I could speak to his fears and help folk in his congregation be better Christians. He said he would love to invite me to his church to talk about these things, but the Pastor would never let it happen.
Baptist peacemaking, like all peacemaking, is a scary thing, but it’s not fearful. A good part of that is because we know there are people like you and those you are having breakfast with today who understand that this way of life is the way of Jesus.
Again, Mary and I both wish we could have been there with you this morning. All of this has been to simply say that the peacemaking Mary and I do is rooted in Baptist life. We are receiving the Dahlberg Peace Prize, keenly aware that without Edwin T. Dahlberg and what people like him fostered in Baptist life, our faith and our lives would not be what they are. That is why this is such an honor.