Faith-Rooted Practice – Time for Churches to Organize Differently

johonna-mccants_portraitby Johonna Turner

In their book Faith-Rooted Organizing: Mobilizing the Church in Service to the World, Alexia Salvatierra and Peter Heltzel distinguish community organizing that is rooted in our faith from dominant faith-based organizing models. According to Salvatierra and Heltzel, faith-rooted organizing is “bringing people together to create systemic change in our communities and world in a way that is completely shaped and guided by our faith, taking seriously all the implications of the assumption that God is real and drawing on the deepest wells of our faith in order to enable people of faith to contribute our unique gifts to the broader movement for justice.” Salvatierra and Heltzel lift up the Civil Rights Movement as an example of faith-rooted organizing in which African-American Christian communities birthed the momentum and means of organizing for social and economic justice.

Whereas faith-based organizing is typically based on the same assumptions of secular organizing – such as Saul Alinsky’s primary notion that organizing begins with self-interest, faith-rooted organizing assumes that people of faith, namely Christians, are guided by Biblical values such as compassion and truth, and driven to work for justice in part because it is what God requires of us. In contrast to faith-based organizing that is often driven by an agenda shaped by its participants alone, faith-rooted organizers facilitate a vision that is co-created by participants’ dreams and critical engagement with the Word of God. For example, what is our vision for workers’ wages? What is God’s vision? What is our dream for our relationships with one another? What is God’s desire?

Whereas faith-based organizing networks see people of faith as “the base” (or membership) of organizing campaigns, faith-rooted organizing networks see our faith as the power or animus of our organizing. Whereas Alinskian models of community organizing frequently call for the identification and defeat of a common enemy through increasingly confrontational methods, faith-rooted organizing calls for love and compassion toward those standing in the way of justice. This approach also asks how we might use our moral authority as a resource for transformation.

What does it look like for the Sermon on the Mount to shape the means by which we change the society around us– not merely the ends we hope for? What does it look like to meaningfully employ spiritual resources such as prayer, worship, ritual and Scripture – in how we analyze the problems facing our communities and bring people together to take action? What happens when we honestly grapple with policies and structures as well as the reality of spiritual warfare? When we take seriously Paul’s admonitions that “we wrestle not with flesh and blood but against principalities and evil spirits” and that “the weapons of our warfare are not the weapons of the world, but have divine power to demolish strongholds.” How might our faith sustain us in this work? The book, Faith-Rooted Organizing offers us meaningful responses that can help us embrace this “Way” to justice.

(This article is the first in a series entitled, “Faith-Rooted Practice.” I explore the potential of churches to advance justice and peacebuilding within local communities through practices deeply grounded in Christian faith and engagement with the Bible).

Johonna Turner (née McCants) is an educator, cultural worker and scholar. She serves as Assistant Professor at Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding where she teaches undergraduate, Masters’ level and training courses in conflict transformation and restorative justice. Johonna is animated by a passion to advance peace and justice within marginalized communities by building the capacity of neighborhood churches and investing in the leadership of young people. She resides in Harrisonburg, Virginia with the love of her life (aka her handsome husband).


How can this be true?!

By Cara EdigerCara Ediger


Let peace on earth multiply

And may Jesus thus delay

The rapture of the church might be justified

If love on earth is crucified


Crucified, laid buried in the tomb,

and three days later raised-

Yay, Nay, they say-

how can this be true?


That peace on earth has already been won

And glory to the Son, too!


If love on earth is crucified,

then let peace on earth multiply

And God said, be fruitful!

And then multiply!

What a glorious day will come,

When the church may welcome home

all the sinners to the earth,

And the dead will rise

who are now hidden with

the only crucified

up from the grave he arose,

and those with him shout in unison,’

He is risen!

He is risen Indeed’


Crucified, laid buried in the tomb,

and raised three days later-

Yay, Nay, they say-

How can this be true?!!







Balancing Acts – Fair Trade Month

tom b

Editor’s Note: Tom Beutel, a regular contributor to PeaceSigns, is Professor Emeritus of Computer Science at Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Mount Vernon, Ohio. Balancing Acts is a monthly feature of PeaceSigns.

by Tom Beutel

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. Ezekiel 16:49 (NIV)

By the time Peace Signs comes out the month of October will be almost over. Nevertheless, it is worth while reminding ourselves that October – and ideally every month – is Fair Trade Month. Just as we remember birthdays, anniversaries and holidays each year, it is important to remind ourselves regularly about various issues that relate to peace and justice. Fair trade is one of these issues.

The idea of trade, or commerce, is that generally people are not able to produce all of the goods and services that they need for themselves. Some lack resources, others may lack skills; some things require the efforts of groups of people working together. Whatever the reason, it is necessary for people to exchange goods and services which they produce for the goods and services that others produce.

Given the necessity of exchanging goods and services, the problem arises as to the best way to do this. Over time the system of the free market has developed. The free market is characterized by producers and consumers exchanging goods, typically using a medium of exchange such as currency. The amount of currency, or price, paid for goods and services is set according to a “natural” law of supply and demand – this is, an agreement of sorts between the buyer and the seller as to a fair price. When there is a surplus of goods, consumers are not willing to pay a high price, so the price falls. When there is a surfeit of good, the producers are not willing to receive a lower price, so the price rises.

All of this seems logical and fair. But, there are a number of problems. A significant one is that most exchanges are carried out not between the producer and consumer directly, but through a chain of agents who package, promote, and distribute goods and services. The price that the consumer is willing to pay must be divided among the various agents. Because of this, the producer will likely receive less than if they were able to sell directly to the consumer, especially if the price is low due to a surplus of goods.

Another problem is that consumers may not be able or willing to pay the price that producers are asking. In this case a lower price is set and the producer, at the end of the supply chain, again may not receive adequate payment to cover their costs or to provide a sufficient income for family needs.

Fair trade is an alternative model of exchange, where distributors work directly with the producers eliminating some of the agents in the supply chain. In addition, these distributors make loans available, guarantee a minimum price, and help small producers form cooperatives to pool resources. The net result is that the producer receives an adequate price.

How the exchange of goods and services is carried out is a peace and justice issue. As the scripture verse at the start of the article suggests, God cares about how we live in relation to other humans, especially those who are poor. For fair trade to work, consumers – you and I – must be willing to pay a higher price to insure that producers, often poor farmers or artisans, receive sufficient income to meet their needs.

There are a number of fair trade programs. Fair trade coffee is one, as coffee is a highly traded commodity. But fair trade also includes chocolate, apparel and household goods. To learn more about fair trade and how you can become involved check out the following sites:

  • Fair Trade America: Celebrate Fair Trade Month this October – Learn about fair trade products and people.

  • Be Fair: What is Fair Trade – Learn about fair trade and how you can be involved.
  • Equal Exchange: Fair Trade – Learn about the fair trade model, threats to fair trade, and ways you can engage to help promote and preserve the fair trade initiative. Also, buy fair trade coffee, chocolate and more.

  • Novica: Buy Fair Trade products including jewelry, fashions, home decor and more.

Fair trade is one of those issues that everyone can be involved in. Whether you simply check labels at the local store and opt for fair trade alternatives, order fair trade products online, or advocate for fair trade practices, whatever you do helps insure a better life for farmers and artisans, particularly those who are poor.


Peace on the Hill: “He went to school and never came home”

RLSBy Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach

On October 5, a 13-year-old boy was on his way home from school in the West Bank when he was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier. Abed al-Rahman Obeidallah lived in Aida Refugee Camp and regularly visited Lajee Center, an organization that provides creative arts programs and summer camps for youth in Aida camp. Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) provides support for Lajee Center’s work. Sobbing, his mother told Ma’an News Agency, “he went to school and never came home.”

Sadly, Abed’s death is one of many over the past several weeks as violence has escalated between Israelis and Palestinians. Since Oct. 1, 11 Israelis and at least 57 Palestinians have been killed as a result of knife attacks and shootings.

Many of these deaths have resulted from Israeli Defense Forces’ all-too-common practice of shooting, rather than arresting, alleged attackers. Nine Israeli human rights organizations issued a statement condemning this practice, saying, “Since the beginning of the current wave of violence, there has been a worrying trend to use firearms to kill Palestinians who have attacked Israelis or are suspected of such attacks … Politicians and senior police officers have not only failed to act to calm the public climate of incitement, but on the contrary have openly called for the extrajudicial killing of suspects.”

Many of the violent acts carried out by the Israeli military and by settlers in illegal West Bank settlements are not reported in the U.S. media, leaving many Western viewers to wonder why Palestinians harbor such anger against the state of Israel. Palestinian officials say that in the first half of 2015 alone, there were 375 attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinians, including arson, defacing of property, injury, and death. These attacks are in addition to other aspects of the occupation, including strict limitations on movement, home demolitions and the blockade of Gaza.

All of this forms the backdrop for the current violence and must be addressed in order for the violence to be halted. Statements by public officials in the U.S. that ignore this context and focus instead solely on blaming the Palestinian Authority for “incitement” are unhelpful and unfortunately can inflame further violence.

Take some time today to call your members of Congress at (202) 224-3121 and tell them that you are dismayed by all acts of violence. Ask them in their public communications to acknowledge the broader cycle of violence created by the Israeli military occupation, so that schoolchildren everywhere, including in Aida Refugee Camp, will be able one day to go to school and come home in peace.

Peace on the Hill is a monthly column in PeaceSigns written by staff of the MCC Washington Office highlighting congressional developments and detailing ways the church can continue to be engaged in the work of peace and advocacy.

Faithful Witness Amid the War in Syria

Berry fby Berry Friesen

As Mennonites, we are taught by our pastors and teachers that war does not solve problems, it makes them worse.

This teaching is rooted primarily in the way of Jesus—what he said, what he did, what followed from his death. But it isn’t meant to be only a religious belief; it is part of the wisdom of God for the salvation of the world.

At the Mennonite Church USA convention in Kansas City, the delegates adopted a resolution on Faithful Witness Amid Endless War. It describes war as “the new normal” in the United States; because it has become routine, it is accepted without much debate or reflection. In such an environment, our peace witness can become idiosyncratic, without relevance to neighbors and friends.

The resolution encourages congregations to nurture an effective peace witness through attention to three facets of war’s normalization. Using the war in Syria as our context, we will consider how each of those three facets plays out.

(a) Our society’s belief in the moral necessity of violence.

We are told that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad started the war by using extreme violence to suppress peaceful, public demonstrations seeking government reform. We also are told that Assad is brutal and has used sarin gas to kill children.

Portraying Assad as a brute is meant to justify war; it shows that moral people must do something.

What we are not told is that an outside force with weapons participated in those “peaceful, public demonstrations,” killing many policemen, soldiers and innocent bystanders.

What we are not told is that several rebels groups also had supplies of sarin gas and that it is likely one of those groups launched the gas attack from a rebel-held area.

What we are not told is that most of the fighters attacking the Syrian government are mercenaries from outside of Syria. They come in the thousands from North Africa, Europe, Turkey, Iraq, the Gulf States, Russia, Central Asia, even China. Syria is truly under attack from outside forces.

In short, war entails a moral assessment. It’s important that it be made with accurate information.

(b) Our government’s undisclosed purposes in “security efforts.”

For starters, it’s important to note that the US adopted a plan in 2006 to get rid of Syria’s president. Even the strategy—attacks by radical Islamic fighters—was decided upon then.

The US government followed up with specific actions to promote war in Syria, including the shipment of heavy arms from Libya into Syria following the violent overthrow of the Libyan government.

Next, it’s important to acknowledge that the US government has no authority under international law to support those trying to overthrow the Syrian government. There is no United Nations resolution, no threat to the US, no congressional declaration of war. What the US government is doing in Syria is illegal.

Let’s acknowledge that nearly all of the so-called “moderates” trained by the US and nearly all of the arms supplied by the US have ended up in units controlled by al-Qaeda. These “moderates” would typically be called “terrorists,” but because the US government wants them to win the war, it calls them “rebels” instead. And it complains when Russia attacks them.

Also, let’s recognize how odd and contradictory the US response to the Islamic State has been.

It sometimes bombs the Islamic State, but it also is in an alliance with nations (Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar) that openly and actively support the Islamic State. The US attacks on the Islamic State have been feeble; we know this as we observe the much more vigorous attacks by Russia.

Though videos of Islamic State atrocities and victory parades are often featured by US media, the US military seems helpless to prevent those atrocities and parades from occurring in the first place. And though US leaders insist the Islamic State is a dire threat to the world, they consistently give higher priority to getting rid of Syrian President Assad than to defeating the Islamic State.

Indeed, were the US to impose a no-fly zone across northern Syria along the border with Turkey, one of the significant consequences would be that supply lines to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State would remain open. Yet such a no-fly zone remains a popular option among US political leaders.

Not to be forgotten is the fact that in the spring of 2012, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan proposed a six-point peace plan for Syria that included a cease fire, an end to the rearmament of the combatants, and the formation of a new government in Syria. The Obama Administration blocked the plan by insisting Assad had to resign before the plan could be implemented.

Now, three-and-one-half years and nearly 200,000 deaths later, the war continues and the Obama Administration still insists Assad must quit before the US will stop arming the “rebels.” It is Russia that is promoting the Annan peace plan, not the US.

There’s a lot wrong with this picture.

(c) Our own secret sympathies with “security operations.”

What makes us more distressed—Russia’s entry into the war at Syria’s invitation, or the leading role the US has played in fomenting this war?

What makes us more distressed—the US invasion of Iraq under a Republican president or the US orchestration of an invasion of Syria under a Democrat president?

Does our compassion for refugees include the eleven million displaced within Syria, living under the protection of President Assad? Or does it extend only to the four million who have fled Syria?

The feelings we have in response to these questions may be shared by our neighbors. Might that be a place where a conversation about the war could start?

Recently, in the pages of the New York Times, former US president Jimmy Carter offered a suggestion that brings this all into perspective: “The needed concessions are not from the combatants in Syria, but from the proud nations that claim to want peace, but refuse to cooperate with one another. “ It was clear call on the US government to change direction.

Carter’s words are a faithful witness, I believe, and their relevance can be grasped by one and all. Though we are not likely to be published by the New York Times, we can say similar things to our neighbors and friends. Let us begin!

Berry Friesen lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and is part of the East Chestnut Street Mennonite congregation in that city. His blog at has included several discussions of the war in Syria.

Prayer to the Suicide Bomber


My brother,
here on this
charred street
as I lie dying
amongst the ruin
of broken bodies,
I cannot tell
which is your
blood and
which is my

You sought to
blow us apart,
but in the end
you only made
the truth more
greatly known.

My twin of shattered
flesh and bone,
my mother’s son,
know this,

We are one.

— Keith M. Lyndaker

(Editor’s Note: This poem was originally published at

Who Dropped the Bomb?

by SeongHan Kim

I am here in the United States as an international student. As an Asian student who has darker skin color, and as a Korean who has a strong accent, the question regarding my origination has been twofold. I have two Koreas.

It is similar to the question I am asked at the post office when I want to send something to Korea – “Which Korea, North, or South?” It is a simple question but it exemplifies how often the complicated past of my country can still significantly impact the present.

As a South Korean whose country is one of the closest allies of US (military-political-economic) power in the world, I realized that many of my American friends are constantly surprised by the strange acts of a “clueless North Korea.” Such a reaction is not hard to understand when one considers that North Korea is the most closed country in the world. Almost every time, whether from North Korean nuclear development, missile launching, and military tension at the demilitarized zone, many of my friends have raised questions about North Korea (and South Korea as well). When this occurs I have two responses. First, I appreciate these genuine interests, and second, I try to use this opportunity as a learning experience.

Last week, I had an opportunity to meet a woman who was getting ready to attend her 50th high school class reunion in Southern Michigan. Seeing that I was Korean, after dinner, she came to me and told me how happy she was to see her old Korean friend from her high school. According to Mrs. Robinson (this is not real name), her Korean friend was blinded by a “bomb” in 1952 at the age of three. She was the only survivor out of her siblings. Since she was blinded, her father gave her to an orphanage. Later, this girl was adopted by a Christian family in Northern Indiana and went to school in Michigan.

I listened politely to this compelling story, but I felt I needed to ask a question. “Mrs. Robinson, you said your friend was blinded by a bomb, do you know who dropped that bomb?” I could tell from the look on her face that Mrs. Robinson did not expect such a strange question. She was perplexed and said, “Maybe the Japanese?” I answered, “During the Korean War, US Navy and Air Force had command of the air. When they started to fight in the Korean War, they attacked only military targets. Later they changed their military strategy. They began to attack anything that was moving on the ground. Whether it be military or civilian. It is so sad, but I assume that your Korean friend was blinded by a bomb from the US military.” Mrs. Robinson was surprised to learn of this strange history.

A Korean historian, Kim Tae-Woo published a book “Bombing: Read Korean War through Air bombing Records of US Air Force” in 2013. He found tons of flight reports and military records of the US military during the Korean War from the National Archives and Records Administration and the Air Force Historical Research Agency. This book sought to portray the Korean War through the eyes of pilots and military personnel who were involved in this bombing campaign during the Korean War. After the notorious indiscriminate bombing (napalm) of many cities in Germany and Japan, including the dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan, during the first stage of US involvement in Korea, the US military practiced “precision bombing” on military targets in an attempt to avoid heavy civilian casualties.

However, starting in November 1950 (after the Chinese People’s Army became involved), General MacArthur changed the strategy of “precision bombing” to a “scorched-earth policy to burn and destroy” which meant unlimited use of napalm on every (possible) target on the ground including cities and village. For example, on November 8, 1950, the US dropped 640 tons of napalm onto the city of Sinuiju. In one day, the “town was gone.”

An important lesson from the past is that this fear and threat of such air strikes and bombing remains in the hearts of many people in North Korea. Although they suffer under a brutal regime and economic hardship, their fear of fire from the sky, a fear based on past experience, informs their current military obsession.

The question regarding bombing during Korean War demands careful understanding of the past. I do not want to justify North Korean brinkmanship nor their inhumane dictatorship, but I do understand their fear. How many people in the US are aware of this “scorched-earth policy to burn and destroy” during the Korean War? How many Americans understand how significant a role this fear played in the development of the North Korean missile program?

Although I am saddened that Mrs. Robinson’s friend lost her sight in the Korean War, I am grateful that she had the opportunity to live a good life in the US. However, her story continues to be repeated over and over again at different times and different places. Many other people have not been so lucky. As long as airstrikes continue to be considered the most cost-effective solution for the military problems on the ground, more tragic stories will occur. Sadly, however smart we make them, bombs are indiscriminate. They do not have eyes.

SeongHan Kim is working on a PhD in Intercultural Studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois. His research interests lie at the intersection of missiology and peace studies.