Former Episcopal Peace Fellowship National Chair, Janet Chisholm, interviewed National Chair, the Rt. Rev. Dan Edwards, concerning his vision for EPF and the upcoming Peacebuilding Online Series, which begins on Sunday, August 1.
Congratulations, Bishop Dan, as you assume the role of Chair for the Episcopal Peace Fellowship! (And, as a former EPF Chair myself, I will pray for you daily.)
I personally celebrate you as the new EPF Chair. I had heard how supportive you were of activists in Las Vegas, my hometown. And I recall meeting you there briefly when you were Bishop of Nevada as I was again visiting family and participating in the peace witness at the nearby nuclear test site. So, we have Nevada connections! I celebrate you as the new EPF Chair for what your experience brings to EPF. Your tenure as a Bishop means that you have a good understanding of the structure and processes in the Episcopal Church --- and how to build and support an organization. This will aid EPF in our mission to promote justice, peace, and reconciliation.
JC: Bishop Dan, when did you join EPF? And why?
BD: In the 1980s. EPF was the Episcopal voice challenging United States involvement in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, and throughout Central America. The Administration was mixed up in dark ops with questionable characters to say the least. Eventually, some of that came to light in the Iran/Contra Scandal, but EPF was way ahead of that because EPF was already focused on the fundamental moral issues of violence and oppression of the poor.
JC. What contributions has EPF been making in the life of the Episcopal Church?
BD. In recent years, EPF has focused on General Convention resolutions and pastoral statements. That has kept some justice issues on the Church’s radar screen. Even when the Church has not adopted EPF’s specific proposals, the questions have been raised and that helps the Church examine its conscience. Like Socrates’ gadfly questions, EPF issues are sometimes uncomfortable for all of us. But growth is usually uncomfortable. I hope in coming years EPF can become more of a voice to those beyond the Church walls.
JC. EPF history has included public witness for justice and peace, advocating legislation, offering spiritual and educational resources, and building coalitions. Now, in these times, what do you think EPF can bring to Episcopalians and communities?
BD. Violence has macro and micro causes. Macro would be historical, social, economic, and political structures. Micro would begin with our own inner conflicts in which we despise parts of ourselves, project those parts on to others, clothe our hostility in righteous indignation, and add to the spirit of violence. Effective work for peace requires a balanced working with the macro and micro causes of violence. To effectively engage structural oppression and injustice, we need to simultaneously cultivate inner peace, learn how to practice compassion in our congregations, and then take that compassion out into the world.
Three destructive spirits are loose in the world these days. The first is FEAR. It was already driving a lot of violence, but then came Covid. At the same time we rushed into panic buying of toilet tissue, Americans began gunning up. We bought a record 500,000 firearms in 2020 and 20% of those folks were getting guns for the first time. Homicides increased by 36% over 28 major cities. Fear produces violence which creates more fear which leads to more violence. Especially today, we have to learn ways to deal with our fear. That’s why our first Peacebuilding Online presentation will be on Fear in Church. https://www.eventbrite.com/e/episcopal-peace-fellowship-peacebuilding-online-project-fear-in-church-tickets-154100248993?aff=ebdssbeac
Second, we are experiencing a pandemic of DESPAIR. There were 24,000 gun suicides in 2020 and despair underlies violent political extremism. In American Fascist, Journalist Chris Hedges says, "Stories of rage are first stories of despair." He quotes Fritz Stern’s book on the rise of fascism in 1930s Europe.
"Theirs was a resentment of loneliness. Their one desire was for a new faith, a new community of believers, a world of fixed standards and no doubts, a new national religion that would bind all Germans together."
Despair and loneliness underly today’s extremism as it did German extremism then.
Certainly, extremists must be restrained in their violence, sedition, and crimes. But condemning them as ignorant deplorables only make things worse. The antidote to despair is hope. Hope is the Christian stance in the world. Many people understand the present times as a collapse of Western Civilization. But another image to describe our time is travail. Paul said the world is in labor, groaning, giving birth to the Kingdom of God. Our mission includes spreading Christian Hope in this despairing world.
The third spirit is LONELINESS. Michele Goldberg’s recent New York Times editorial examined the lives of the January 6 insurrection and found Loneliness to be a key factor.
"There are many causes for the overlapping dysfunctions that make contemporary American life feel so dystopian, but loneliness is a big one. Even before Covid, Americans were becoming more isolated. . . . Lonely people are drawn to totalitarian ideologies. The chief characteristic of the mass man is not brutality and backwardness, but his isolation and lack of normal social relationships, (In a recent poll) 17 percent of Americans said they had not a single person in their 'core social network.'"
New York Times journalist Charlie Walzer has studied internet radicalization. Conspiracy theorists are usually lonely people who feel disrespected. They buy into QAnon in a desperate attempt to connect with somebody. Rep. Jim Clyburn recently told a group of our Bishops the story of a veteran who missed the comradery of military life, so he joined The Proud Boys, not because he was a White Supremacist, but because he was lonely. Nonviolence includes our ability to form relationships with people, especially the outcasts.
JC. What is your vision for EPF going forward?
BD. Creating a vision is a relational, collaborative process that EPF has been doing and will continue doing moving forward. The catechism statement of the Church’s mission is to reconcile all people to God and each other in Christ. That’s where we start.
JC. You have created a new Peacebuilding monthly, on-line series, utilizing authors of key books and leading voices as presenters. What do you hope will be the result of the series? Can it build local groups that share the experiences, discern their calls, and then plan action?
BD. Peacebuilding Online is a free, online, 1-hour, first Sundays series from a diverse array of presenters on topics relating to the spirituality and skills of Peacebuilding. I hope people will check it out by going to Eventbrite.com and searching Episcopal Peace Fellowship. I don’t expect anyone to attend all of them – just the ones that strike a chord. There are two goals: 1) to impart the value of caring relationships across all the divides including race, religion, gender identities, and political ideologies. We, Episcopalians, like to think of ourselves as inclusive, but a closer examination shows that we are all inclined to be a bit selective in our inclusion; 2) to introduce people to diverse resources where they may choose to go deeper into the spirituality and skills of Peacebuilding. Local groups who engage these resources can make all the difference.
JC. How might EPF support and extend the national church’s work on racial reckoning and repair?
BD. Our Peacebuilding mission is part and parcel of what Bishop Curry beautifully calls The Way of Love. I hope EPF can support Building the Beloved Community and all The Episcopal Church’s mission for racial reconciliation. Our third Peacebuilding Online presentation will promote the Sacred Ground curriculum. https://www.eventbrite.com/e/episcopal-peace-fellowship-peacebuilding-online-project-sacred-ground-tickets-154287390739?aff=ebdssbeac In January, Dr. Catherine Meeks of the Absalom Jones Center will teach us about the depth psychology of racial healing. Racism expresses itself in politics and economics, but it runs so much deeper! It’s spiritual.
We continue to advocate for reparations. Racism is America’s original sin. We built it over centuries. It will take time and persistence to dismantle it, both in its social structures and in our own hearts and minds. For decades, I thought of myself as enlightened about race. But recently, I have been amazed to learn how much I don’t know about the experience of people of other races. So many crimes have been perpetrated that were left out of the story I was told. Those crimes have left traumas. We desperately need to learn how to hold our own traumas so that we can lift the trauma veil through which we see the world, and then see each other’s traumas with healing compassion. Racism is the core of our national trauma.
We want to work hand in hand with OGR/EPPN and all the projects of The Episcopal Church for justice and peace, two sides of the same coin, especially on issues of race.
JC. How can EPF help individuals and communities develop their skills for community building in these divided times? And reduce the climate of “othering” those who may seem different or even opposed? Do you recommend offering churches as a public space for discussion of local community issues?
BD. Community building requires two key practices: First, self-awareness so that we can approach each other with sufficient inner peace to be open. Second, empathy, what Martha Nussbaum, in her book, The New Religious Intolerance, calls participatory imagination, the ability to see the world through someone else’s eyes. That takes discipline and practice. After that foundation is laid, we can engage the skills and practices of broad-based community organizing to work together for the common good. Churches are the ideal place for that project.
Forming relationships instead of “othering those who seem different or even opposed” is a central concern. We will offer a Peacebuilding Online presentation in December on intentionally crossing those divides through the Braver Angels program. https://www.eventbrite.com/e/episcopal-peace-fellowship-peacebuilding-online-project-braver-angels-tickets-155123276897?aff=ebdsoporgprofile Most of us have friends, family, or neighbors with whom we don’t see eye to eye. How do we establish human, dare I say Christian, connection across those divides? If we find a way to connect, while remaining true to ourselves, we become larger people and can do more for the world.
JC. On-line by-stander training is being offered by some groups – would EPF consider making it available?
BD. Definitely. That’s a priority. We have already lined up Hollaback (the largest bystander training program) https://www.eventbrite.com/e/episcopal-peace-fellowship-peacebuilding-online-project-hollaback-tickets-163061997825?aff=ebdssbeac and Stopping Hate In Public Spaces to offer Peacebuilding Online presentations next year. Go to Eventbrite.com and search for Episcopal Peace Fellowship. You’ll find our first programs. We hope some of the people who attend and learn a little will go on to take the full Hollaback training. The idea of intervening in hostile situations sounds a little scary to those who don’t know the program. But the practice is not so out of reach for ordinary people. Overt violence is often the culmination of years of built-up anger from being marginalized in subtle ways. If bystanders intervene in those subtler acts of marginalization, the slow violence of paper cuts to someone’s self-esteem, it can stop violence before it reaches the boiling point.
JC. How might EPF provide resources to support members’ and groups’ local projects and actions? Personally, I have been a proponent of less top-down direction from a central board to local groups and supportive of more local-group-driven action. In the active nonviolence trainings, I always ended with a section for “action planning” where participants reviewed what they thought needed to change and then created a local strategy or action plan to address it. And will EPF encourage building local coalitions with other justice/peace groups, especially other faith-based groups?
BD. You are 100% right. All politics is local. The heart of Peacebuilding is one-on-one conversations, leading to small groups sharing stories, and letting issues arise from those stories. Then people can develop pragmatic, as opposed to ideological, ways to work together for the common good of their community. In Nevada, we saw people crossing ideological divides to get things done.
As for partnering “with other justice/peace groups,” EPF began at a time when the Episcopal Church was rather less engaged in justice and peace than it is today. We partnered then with the "peace churches” in the United States and with the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship. Since then we have had close ties to the Fellowship of Reconciliation which you directed and other peace groups. But I hope we can do more. Some of our old partners have moved farther into the spirituality of peacebuilding than we have. We can learn from both old partners and new ones. That’s why we are engaging with The Metta Center, the Newbigin Fellowship, Lombard Mennonite Peace Center, Minnesota Peacebuilding Leadership Institute, the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing, the Center for Justice and Peace at Eastern Mennonite University, and the Institute for Culture, Religion, and Politics at Iliff to name just a few. We need all the friends we can get.
JC. We say we don’t want to segregate by race, culture, or ethnicity. But we constantly segregate by age in our culture. Intergenerational groups are scarce, so we miss out on practices that have enriched so many other cultures. My own experience training groups including 14 year olds to 90 year olds, convinced me that these are the richest experiences! We can share stories of experiences, our visions, our fears, and bond and gain energy from each other. Might EPF encourage such local intergenerational group sharing and bonding?
BD. One Bishop told us recently EPF needs to move into the 21st Century. Another told us we needed some members under 70. We have taken that to heart. We have a newly active young adults working group that is growing and infusing fresh energy and new ideas into our mission. We have to move past our old ways to find new ways to build peace in a very different world from the one where I grew up.
JC. Some of the current issues of our times:
BD. We are called to engage these crucial issues, especially voting rights. I would include the violence we are perpetrating against the earth. I’ll just go into specifics on one issue: police violence. In my community, Denver, the police department realized just last year that when a situation is on the brink of violence, the arrival of an armed policeman tends to escalate the violence. They formed a special response team of one social worker and one EMT to respond to many 911 calls. They responded to 1,000 volatile situations the first year and resolved every one of them without violence or arrests.
An excellent documentary on American gun culture, American Totem https://www.americantotem.com shows how we live in a gun violence narrative. It’s the American expression of what Walter Wink called the myth of redemptive violence. We counter threats of violence with our own violence. Peacebuilding requires liberation from that dark myth to find the Way of Love instead.