Gene Stoltzfus, the founding director of Christian Peacemaker Teams, died Wednesday March 10, 2010, of a heart attack while cycling near his home in Fort Frances, Ontario. Christian Peacemaker Teams aim to ‘get in the way’ of war and violence. They have been prominent recently in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Stolzfus was a Mennonite who embodied some of the best qualities of that pacifist strand of Christianity. Simon Barrow, co-director of the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia, said of Stolzfus,
"In a world where religious faith is often seen and spoken of as a source of conflict, Gene showed another way – a way of deep faith in the possibilities of humanity when eternal love, not temporal rivalry and hate, is our source and inspiration. It was this brand of dissenting, thoughtful and forgiving Christianity which enabled him to welcome, rather than repel, allies from many different places: secular as well as religious, humanist as well as faith-driven."
Stolzfus toured Ireland and the UK last year. This included a visit to Belfast during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which was hosted by my School (Irish School of Ecumenics, Trinity College Dublin at Belfast) and the Ballynafeigh Clergy Fellowship. You can hear a recording of his Belfast talk here.
Stolzfus’ life is a compelling counter testimony to those who look at the role of religion in the world and, despairing, conclude that it can only be source of pain, violence and conflict. The logical conclusion to be drawn from this position is that the world would be a better place altogether without religion.
I take the view that any attempts to sideline, ignore, or marginalise religion are simply impractical. But apart from the impracticalities of the eradication of religion, I think Stolzfus’ example demonstrates that ridding the world of religion also rids the world of some of the richest resources humankind has come up with for promoting peace, justice and reconciliation.
Stolzfus’ blog is still live and is worth a look for those interested in learning more about his perspective, the Mennonite pacifist tradition, and Christian Peacemaker Teams. The final words on his last post were,
It will take an expanding world wide but grass roots culture reaching beyond national borders to fashion a body of Christian peacemakers to be an effective power to block the guns and be part of transforming each impending tragedy of war. Little by little there will be change.