Although I have long been opposed to war and am a strong advocate of peacemaking, for some reason I have not known much about Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) until fairly recently. But they are a significant group that deserves recognition and support.
On Palm Sunday, Sarah Thompson was the guest preacher at Rainbow Mennonite Church in Kansas City, Kansas. Sarah has been the Executive Director of Christian Peacemaker Teams since January 2014. She is an impressive person, and she gave an impressive sermon.
Sarah was born in Elkhart, Indiana, and in 2006 graduated summa cum laude from Spelman College in Atlanta. (That is the historic predominantly African-American college for women from which Mariam Wright Edelman and Alice Walker graduated.) Then in 2010 she earned the M.Div. degree from Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary.
“Christian Peacemaker Teams” was founded in Chicago in 1986. It grew out of the challenge presented by Canadian-born theologian Ron Sider at the 1984 Mennonite World Conference in Strasbourg, France. He criticized Mennonites and others in the peace churches for limiting their peace witness mainly to just being conscientious objectors.
Sider challenged the Mennonites to be ready “to risk injury and death in nonviolent opposition to the injustice our societies foster.” That call to active peacemaking sparked study groups in Anabaptist churches all over North America and gave rise to the formation of Christian Peacemaker Teams.
(Sider tells about his 1984 challenge and the subsequent work of CPT in his 2015 book “Nonviolent Action: What Christian Ethics Demands but Most Christians Have Never Really Tried.”)
Originally sponsored by the two major North American Mennonite denominations and the Church of the Brethren, CPT has become increasingly ecumenical and now receives support from Friends (Quakers) and from other Christian groups, such as the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America.
CPT has operated in Iraq since October 2002. They teamed up with Voices in the Wilderness (now known as Voices for Creative Nonviolence) to form the Iraq Peace Team (IPT). Among other things, the IPT formed “human shields” to help protect Iraqi civilians when Baghdad began to be attacked by the U.S.
In November 2005 four CPT activists were captured in Baghdad, leading to what came to be known as the Christian Peacemaker hostage crisis. In spite of CPT’s opposition, three of them were rescued by a military operation in March 2006. The fourth hostage was not so fortunate.
Tom Fox (1951–2006), an American Quaker peace activist, was one of the CPT members captured—and subsequently killed. Upon Fox’s death, the CPT released a statement of condolences—and also asked that people not “vilify or demonize others, no matter what they have done.”
In keeping with the core beliefs of CPT, Fox himself said, “We reject violence to punish anyone. . . . We forgive those who consider us their enemies.”
On their current website, CPT explains what they are about:
Partnering with nonviolent movements around the world, CPT seeks to embody an inclusive, ecumenical and diverse community of God’s love. We believe we can transform war and occupation, our own lives, and the wider Christian world through the nonviolent power of God’s truth, partnership with local peacemakers, [and] bold action.
CPT says that they place teams at the invitation of local peacemaking communities that are confronting situations of lethal conflict. Those teams seek to follow God’s Spirit as they “work through local peacemakers who risk injury and death by waging nonviolent direct action to confront systems of violence and oppression.”Christian Peacemaker Teams is an organization certainly worthy of our respect, prayers, and financial support.