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Pax Christi honors peacemaker and learn of history of Christian attitudes about war and peace

At a special meeting on March 14, Pax Christi of Spokane recognized Al Mangan as recipient of its 2006 peacemaker award.

Al Mangan
Al Mangan

Jody Dunn described Al as “a man of integrity, peacefulness and outrage, trying to make the world peaceful.”

He worked 30 years for the postal service and reared eight children in California before moving to Spokane in 1982.

“He has had a history of public service and defending democracy,” Jody said.

Al has been arrested eight times, including for protesting the Vietnam War, nuclear waste at Hanford, the Trident nuclear submarine in Bangor and the launching of pre-emptive war against Iraq in March 2003. 

In prison, he said he has met and been nurtured by other protesters, including Daniel Ellsberg, a lecturer, writer and activist who protested unlawful government interventions.

In 2003 before the war in Iraq, he did a 40-day fast in front of the Federal Building in Spokane, holding a poster that said:  “War is not healthy for children, animals or other living things.”

In the summer of 2004, Al was again outside the Federal Building for a month trying to educate people about the need to impeach President Bush.

“As a veteran of World War II and the Korean War, he has seen the ravages and horrors of war,” Jody said.

Al’s experience led him to study and become an educator on the U.S. Constitution and law.  He has used that knowledge to defend himself in court when he has been tried for civil disobedience. 

Al’s words on receiving the honor were:  “I wish that the peace community in Spokane were thousands of people instead of hundreds.”

Father Charles Skok sums up history of war attitudes  

At a March meeting of Pax Christi, Father Charles Skok, associate pastor at St. John Vianney Catholic Church, shared a summary of the church’s attitudes about war and peace from courses he has taught in social justice as a professor at Gonzaga University.

Father C Skok
Father Charles Skok

Father Charles recognizes that there are and have been differing perspectives on war and peace, so he was encouraged by the 2003 Pontifical Council Interreligious Dialogue on “Spiritual Sources of Peace.”

That dialogue examined ways to respect religious differences while forging peaceful relationships. 

The council urged that each religion 1) re-examine its scriptural tradition, 2) reject interpretations which foster violence, 3) feature believers who work for peace, and 4) find ways to work together in cooperation.

He believes the primary causes of war are poverty and divisions among minority groups that result from the gap between the rich and the poor.

“We need to enable people to recognize that we are all one family,” Father Charles said.

Then he offered a brief summary on what the Catholic Church says.

“Traditionally, the church has four approaches to war,” he said.

The first is nonviolence and pacifism, rooted in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ teachings for people to love enemies, do good to those that persecute them, bless those who curse them, offer the other cheek, give up more than asked to give, to do justice, he said, referring to Luke 6:27-31.

“Jesus was the light introduced to the world to turn it from approaches that cause suffering,” he said.

Father Skok
Theresa McCann asks Father Charles about his presentation.

Traditional peace churches, such as Mennonites and Quakers, had to leave Europe because of their total approach of nonviolent, pacifist resistance.

“They refused to use violence as a means to an end. They followed what was the tradition of the early church up to the time of Constantine,” he said.

“Until then, for Christians in the Roman Empire, it was more permissible to be killed than to kill.  Tertullian said if a soldier was ordered to kill, he was not to obey the order,” Father Charles said.

About 250 A.D., writers were asking about why it was a crime for one individual to kill another, but to kill for the state was a virtue.

“Christians opposed violence until the conversion of Constantine led to Christian revisionism and the just war theory, developed to limit fighting among Christians.  It became okay to use the Roman army militarily to convert people to be Christian,” he said.

Many early church writers in the late 300s to 500s went along with and even promoted the idea of killing non-Christian enemies in battle.

The just war theory, attributed to St. Augustine, offers criteria for a just war.  The first criterion is that the aim of such a just war must be peace.

“It recognized that seeking peace through peaceful means was more glorious,” he said, noting that just war included a reluctance to go to war, but it provided the rationale that justified nations going to war.

“Christians became exploiters, creating ‘just’ wars,” Father Charles said. 

“With atomic weapons, we began to rethink the just war theory.  Now it would be better to go back to the just war reluctance to go to war, except for self defense,” he commented.

In the Middle Ages, a third Christian approach to war developed.  Muslims called it jihad—struggle—to spread the faith.  Christians called it the ‘crusade’ approach, one which Father Charles said “has a long, unsavory history.”

“To overcome infidels, Christians pillaged Christians, too,” he said.

St. Francis of Assisi sought to preach to Muslims, so he went to visit the Sultan in Cairo.  A cardinal had said followers of the sultan were treacherous and could only be dealt with by using the sword.

St. Francis visited the sultan.  They parted respecting each other.

The idea behind crusades was that if an army conquers a land, it becomes Christian—or if it is conquered by Muslims, it becomes Islamic, he said.

“God is not pleased with that approach,” Father Charles said.

The fourth approach of Christians has been war for liberation of the poor.  War was considered just if it was to fight for the rights of the poor.

“Many favoring liberation, however, prefer nonviolent struggle,” Father Charles said.

“The liberation view sees the world through the eyes of the poor and sees how policies of the powerful affect the poor,” he said, noting that it recognizes the words of President Dwight Eisenhower, a former general, that “every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.”

Father Charles said he has become more pacifist over the years, especially through work with liberation theology, and because the Second Vatican Council called for human solidarity, for seeing everyone as brothers and sisters.

“When people inflict pain and harm on other people, those hurt do not forget,” he said, telling of a panel of Bosnians, Serbs and Croatians meeting to discuss a peace accord.  Before the moderator had even introduced the panel, the Serb expressed outrage to the Croat for the failure of the Croats to join with the Serbs against the Turks in the Battle of Kosovo in 1385, more than 600 years before.   The Croat retorted to the Serb that the Serbs were responsible for the assassination of the Croatian legislators in Belgrade0.

“If harm is inflicted, people too readily think that they must harm back,” he said.

“The only way is to go the opposite direction, to recognize it is better to be killed than to kill—which Jesus recognized and exemplified,” Father Charles said.

“Too often, wars are, in fact, over possessions—not to promote democracy or peace or other ideals their proponents claim,” he said, asserting that there is no Christian justification for the current notion of pre-emptive war.

Pax Christi Spokane formed in 2003

Jody Dunn, a member of Pax Christi, said the organization began with Catholics who believed Jesus died for everyone and so were willing to take risks in World War II to challenge and to pray for Nazis.

The Catholic peace movement spread to different countries and came to the United States in the 1970s.

During months of protest in Spokane before the war in Iraq, Catholic protestors decided to form a local response and have met every two weeks since 2003 to pray, learn and act.

To educate people on peace and justice it has offered workshops and talks at the Catholic Conference gatherings, at the Catholic Youth Congress, for a study of nonviolence at St. Aloysius Church and for the 40th anniversary of Pacem in Terris.

For example, having learned that the United States has an Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C., and that there is a World Peace Forum in June at Vancouver, B.C., the local chapter is promoting awareness of those opportunities.

The group is now working to advocate establishing Peace Studies as a discipline at Gonzaga University.  It is a department at nearly 80 other U.S. universities.