Christian Peacemaker Teams
by Peter Haresnape
Christian Peacemaker Teams began in the 1980s with a challenge to Mennonite World Conference to take action, take risks, and take seriously the vocation of peacemaker.
The theologian Ron Sider, best known for his work ‘Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger’, outlined the historic peace position of the Mennonite (and Anabaptist) denominations, which had often been lived out as separation from ‘the world’, and refusing to fight in wars.
Sider told the gathering that this was not good enough. Christians who truly believed that peace was a viable alternative to war needed to be active in their belief, not simply refusing to fight in wars but providing an alternative, and risking as much for that nonviolent peacemaking as soldiers risk in the making of war:
“Over the past 450 years of martyrdom, immigration and missionary proclamation, the God of shalom has been preparing us Anabaptists for a late twentieth-century rendezvous with history. The next twenty years will be the most dangerous—and perhaps the most vicious and violent—in human history. If we are ready to embrace the cross, God’s reconciling people will profoundly impact the course of world history . . . This could be our finest hour. Never has the world needed our message more. Never has it been more open. Now is the time to risk everything for our belief that Jesus is the way to peace. If we still believe it, now is the time to live what we have spoken.”
In the thirty years since, Christian Peacemaker Teams has been experimenting with active nonviolence, primarily through training and equipping small teams to work in conflict zones. These teams are not there to mediate or remain neutral, but to support the peacemaking, justice-seeking actions of those who suffer violence, oppression and injustice.
From the Prologue of In Harm's Way: A History of Christian Peacemaker Teams:
"The poet Adrienne Rich writes about casting her lot with those
who age after age, perversely
with no extraordinary power
reconstitute the world
While many CPTers do have extraordinary abilities, most accomplish what they do simply by following the extraordinary example of Jesus Christ, who nonviolently got in the way of systems that dealt in death and exploitation. As ordinary people, they have changed CPT from a small initiative of the historic peace churches to an expanding, ecumenical, nonviolent movement-a movement that has called other ordinary people to put their bodies and faith on the line to accompany the oppressed, and create space for dialogue and reconciliation.”
CPT’s motto is ‘Creating Partnerships to Transform Violence and Oppression’. We recognise that violence is rooted in (and hidden by) systems of intersecting oppression that we know as racism, colonialism, sexism, heterosexism, and more. We work in four ways:
Direct accompaniment of threatened communities, by their invitation and at their direction, to support their right to life and livelihood
Analysis of and advocacy against international and local ‘Powers that Be’,
Spiritual integration that challenges theologies of domination and oppression and creates the presence of ‘liberating love’
Internal work on the oppressions and privileges at work in our own organisation and in the communities that CPTers are a part of – personal, local, religious, and global.
There are currently four full-time teams and multiple other projects.
Based in Canada, the Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Team (IPS) works by invitation of Indigenous Nations and communities asserting their rights to the land, and supports decolonisation efforts within settler communities.
In Colombia, EquiposCristianos de Acciónpor la Paz (ECAP) accompany community processes and grassroots organisations who embody nonviolent resistance as a tool of defence against the violent framework that dominates politics, economics, and culture.
From a base in the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniya, the Iraqi Kurdistan team witnesses the continuing instability of the Kurdish region of Iraq, most recently with the threat of ISIS, and provides support to local activists and the refugee camps.
In the Occupied West Bank city of Al Khalil (Hebron), the Palestine team patrols at the military checkpoints that obstruct freedom of movement for Palestinians. This includes walking with children as they pass through checkpoints and metal detectors on their way to school, to reduce the harassment and intimidation from soldiers.
We also have a seasonal Borderland presence on the US-Mexico border and on the Greek island of Lesbos, in both cases supporting refugees and migrants faced with the violence of the border – and who risk death in their attempt to reach freedom and safety.
The best way to learn about CPT’s work is to join one of our 10-day Peacemaker Delegations to one of our project sites (see website). Each team has its own Facebook, Twitter and blog, and you can also follow the international organisation:
CPT supporters in the UK: cpt.org/participate/regional/united_kingdom
Peter worked with the CPT Indigenous People's Solidarity team in Canada for many years. He now works for SCM Canada.