We have gathered
We have come together as 150 delegates from Baptist communities around our region, bringing with us many stories of struggle, suffering and violence in so many places and situations.
Here in Yangon, we have heard the stories of a transformation from violence and oppression to ceasefire and new freedoms for some people groups, while others continue to suffer greatly, with many thousands of people displaced and living amidst violence and fear.
We have shared in story-telling and many presentations from those who are working for peace, and through these sessions have discovered much in common across these diverse contexts. We have found comfort and support in sharing our stories, networking and discovering the resources of our faith for practical engagement with these challenges. Though many of us come from isolated situations, it is a great privilege to come together to share and to be supported in these ways.
We also celebrate the faithfulness, courage and hope of those who have been working for peace and justice in the face of oppression, poverty and disasters. Their skills and example set a pathway from which we can all learn.
We confess that we have also heard of divisions and strife amongst our own Baptist communities. We confess also that we have contributed to the suffering of others, either through our actions or our passivity, believing that we have nothing to contribute to the resolution of conflict or the construction of a more peaceful world.
We turn to God
The Bible calls us to know God as the God of peace. Shalom is God’s own nature. This peace is far more than the absence of violence and division. It is a creative, wholistic life of right relationship with God and each other, and with all God’s creation. Jesus Christ reveals this peace, and through his life, death and resurrection he is this peace for us (Eph. 2. 14 & 15). Christian communities are gifted and enabled by the Holy Spirit to live together in a fellowship that reflects the divine shalom.
Christians are called to peace with each other and to work for peace with all people, so far as possible (e.g., 2 Cor. 13. 11; Rom. 12. 16f.).
The God of peace offers shalom to all creation through Jesus Christ. This means we must become active peace-builders—children of God—and not merely peace-lovers.
When considering the mission of the church, we recognize that God has placed the church in the world, to work towards God’s peace not only for Christians but for all humanity.
God sends us to make peace
From all the discussions and workshops we have shared, it is clear that as Baptist communities we have much to learn and develop within God’s mission of peace. Among the many ideas and proposals shared were the following:
- We must pray for peace, continually.
- We need to distinguish different aspects of peace, including individual, social and political.
- We need to clarify the essential relationship between peace and justice: there can be no full peace without justice, but in some situations an end to violence must happen before justice can develop.
- Those who have experienced oppression and persecution need healing, to develop security and overcome a ‘victim’ mentality; otherwise these experiences may become a source of division and an oppositional mindset.
- Peace-building is a continuous activity, as life itself develops within communities. There are stages in peace-building, which may take a long time.
- Peace-building in the Asia-Pacific region is complex. There are multifaceted problems, which need careful analysis, quick research and practical proposals. We need also to research why past efforts may have failed.
- Leadership within our churches should not adopt the models and style of oppressive regimes, but must follow the ways of our Servant Lord.
- In many societies, women continue to be oppressed and refused opportunities in education and personal development. Despite these challenges, in many places women have led the way in peace-building.
- There may be a case for civil disobedience in some situations if we serve God rather than human authorities.
- Justice in God’s peace is not the same as insisting on our rights. Claiming our rights may contribute to further conflict or blame of others. Working for peace may involve voluntarily setting aside some rights, for the greater good.
- We need to equip pastors, leaders and indeed all our people to understand the nature of peace and to become peace builders. This may require a shift in style in our seminaries, from a focus on ideas or doctrine only to the more pastoral, personal and spiritual resources necessary for the mission of peace. Seminaries need to develop people who are peace-builders, grounded in the peace of God. There are some well-developed programs with resources to be shared with other seminaries.
- There is an urgent need to share resources for local churches to develop peace-building skills, to help people to understand conflict and conflict-resolution and processes for peace-building at the local level.
- There may be a tension between the emphasis on evangelism and peace-building in many contexts, especially where Christians are an acute minority or under oppression. Our teaching, theology and pastoral formation need to help our churches and leaders to integrate evangelism and peace work, rather than see them as opposites. Courses in mission must include peace studies, and peace-building must include appropriate ways to witness to Christ, the Prince of Peace.
- We need to examine our Baptist identity, so that we maintain the strengths of our faith without falling into ideas of superiority or ways of alienating others. Our biblical and Baptist emphases should lead us to the God of peace and assist us to live with others in the peace of God.
SECTION: Conference & Forum Material