John Stoner is a lifelong social activist. He founded Every Church a Peace Church and is a founding member of Christian Peacemaker Teams and the KAIROS School of Spiritual Formation. Since serving as pastor of a congregation in Harrisburg, PA, John has mixed his passion for peacemaking with carpentry, gardening and mentoring other activists. He is a member of Akron Mennonite Church, Akron, Pennsylvania.
Berry Friesen started off as a high-school teacher. His meandering career has taken him into the practice of law, senior management of Mennonite Central Committee, and public policy advocacy for food security, good nutrition and access to health care. He is a member of East Chestnut Street Mennonite Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and the author of Water from Another Time: Today’s Questions, Yesterday’s Wisdom.
Another book about the Bible?
Yes, one that focuses on urgent agenda for our time. One that lets biblical texts speak for themselves about how the world works. One written in a popular style, not in the style of academia or the church. One that includes discussion questions that help readers make connections between the text and current realities.
What is this “urgent agenda?”
Many people are discouraged by the direction the world is headed. We desperately need to regain perspective, find a fresh way of communicating with one another about the trouble we are in, and experience renewed courage and faith for the struggle to forge a just and sustainable way of living.
How can the Bible help change the direction Earth is headed?
The Bible is a story of people caught up in an argument about who god is, about how the world works, and about how to live in a way that is just and sustainable. The story begins with a fight between two factions of the Hebrew people over control–who will rule over whom–and then traces the unfolding of that dynamic against the background of harsh domination, first by one empire, then another. The story ends with a radically different understanding of power–how to organize the world–that emerged in the wake of the Roman Empire’s execution of Jesus of Nazareth.
Why should I read an ancient argument about how the world works?
Because the empire that runs the world now–we mean the wealthy global elite that impose their control through massive military, economic, technological, media and ideological power–is taking Earth and most of its inhabitants toward a homicidal and catastrophic future. The direction of life on Earth is being charted by “blind guides,” to use a biblical metaphor. We must act if want a better future, but before we can act, we must deal with our own blindness and find a common language. Biblical texts can help us with that. .
“Homicidal” and “catastrophic” are strong terms. Why the pessimism about current direction?
First, the ruling empire is committed to perpetual war, enrichment of the few at the expense of the many, and the exploitation of energy sources that are rapidly making large parts of Earth uninhabitable.
Second, the ruling empire is demanding that we-the-people make a terrible moral choice: abandon our commitments to justice, human solidarity and compassion and instead support “security” through the overwhelming violence of the empire. We dare not say yes to this demand; if we do, we will have “sold our souls to the devil” and relinquished our humanity.
Is this new? It seems every time in human history is considered a crisis by someone.
The particulars are new, but the pattern is old.
That is, the scale of current threats to Earth is much larger than previously and so the consequences if those threats materialize are more momentous.
More than any time in our lives, the media are failing to carry out their responsibility to bring the facts out into the open. Journalist John Pilger writes about this in his recent article, “War by Media and the Triumph of Propaganda.”
And more than at any time in our lifetimes, militarism has been “structured into the bloodstream of major states,” according to Richard Falk, Princeton University Professor Emeritus of International Law. “We must work now as hard to eliminate war as earlier centuries worked to eliminate slavery. Nothing less will suffice to rescue the planet from free fall to disaster.”
In an article titled “Why Foreign Military Intervention Usually Fails,” Falk goes on to say this:
"We have reached a stage in the political development of life on the planet where civilizational and species survival itself depends on the urgency of building an effective movement against the war system that remains indispensable to sustain hierarchy and exploitation, wastes huge amounts of resources, and dangerously diverts problem-solving priorities from climate change and the elimination of nuclear weaponry.
"Unless such a radical transformation of the way life on the planet is undertaken in the decades ahead, two intertwined developments are likely to make the future inhospitable to human habitation even if the worst catastrophes can be avoided: globalization morphing into various forms of authoritarian and oppressive political leadership intertwined with extremist movements of resistance that have no vision beyond that of striking back at the oppressors."
Avoiding such a dark future should be a concern of each one of us.
On the other hand, the exploitation of people by imperial power is a very old pattern, which is why the Bible is so highly relevant to our time. It describes people responding to the same fear-driven, divide-and-conquer tactics we face today, the same feelings of hopelessness and despair. And of course, the temptation to “sell our souls” for a bit of so-called security is also very old.
Tell us more about why you wrote this book.
We both live in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in communities strongly influenced by the Amish and the Mennonites, who have lived here for nearly 300 years. In 2009, we began working together in an action group called 1040 for Peace to encourage popular reflection on the moral implications of paying for U.S. wars of aggression via the federal income tax. Each of us resists payment of a portion of that tax, and we encourage others to consider taking that step of conscientious objection.
Over its short history, 1040 for Peace has engaged the public in a variety of ways to raise awareness of the immorality and inhumanity of current U.S. foreign policy. We have hosted educational workshops and special speakers, supported the local Occupy group, participated in public vigils and protests, and maintained a regular presence in the “letters” section of the local newspaper.
Generally, we have become convinced that the tipping point in seceding from the imperial way of running the world entails a shift in worldview. So long as the imperial worldview is firmly in place, people are not moved to resistance by information that reveals the empire to be a giant protection racket, creating the very threats from which it then “saves” us. This is where the Bible can help us. It speaks to “the big picture” with its story of god, empire, the prophetic resistance by some of the Jews, and Jesus.
So we decided to write a popular book about the Bible; it can help us imagine new possibilities and it can give us a new and morally courageous worldview.