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Peace Is Possible: The Life and Witness of Glen H. Stassen

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Glen H. Stassen, friend of Jesus and peacemaker, died on April 26, 2014. Glen was a well-known and beloved Christian Ethics professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, and one of the primary architects of the paradigm of Just Peacemaking, as can be seen in the video clip above from a forthcoming documentary on this crucial fourth paradigm beyond Pacifism, Just War and Crusade.

One of the primary reasons I believe peace is possible across religious traditions, and within traditions, is because while Glen and I worked together on the concept of Just Peace and the Just Peacemaking paradigm for thirty years, organized and ran conferences together, wrote together, spoke and emailed often, and built the bedrock of trust without which no peacemaking is possible, we did not agree on several key things. Glen and I did not agree either on how to interpret the bible, or on several basic theological premises, notably revelation. We actually didn't even agree on the term Just Peacemaking, as out of my United Church of Christ tradition, I also use the term Just Peace as we have framed and adopted this work of peace and justice as A Just Peace Church.

And yet, Glen's friendship and our collaboration on the work of peace and justice is formative for my life, and for my deeply held conviction that peace is possible. It's more than possible, it is happening right now.

Peace becomes more possible exactly when we can work with our religious differences and not dissolve them into a superficial agreement, nor let them pull us apart from the actual practices that seed the world with the conditions that grow peace instead of war.

The heart of Glen Stassen's work, I think, was captured in his Living the Sermon on the Mount: A Practical Hope for Grace and Deliverance. In this work, Glen articulates the biblical basis of his conviction that the God revealed by Jesus in this sermon, and the consequential way we live in the world in relationship to this revelation, are not some impractical ideals, but a performance of discipleship. This becomes the pivotal concept of "practice norms."

This is how Glen and David Gushee put it in their joint work, Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context .

T]hroughout the Sermon [on the Mount] Jesus was giving us regular practices that participate in God's way of gracious deliverance from the vicious cycles in which we get stuck... Jesus taught practice norms. They are not mere inner attitudes, vague intentions, or moral convictions only, but regular practices to be engaged in. (136)

And peace work gets stuck, that is for certain. Here's the thing--practice norms actually work to get peace unstuck. Practice norms worked to provide the pivotal breakthrough among the 23 Christian theologians, peace activists, and ethicists, who met regularly for six years to try to come up with the original Just Peacemaking paradigm.

I tell you frankly, especially in the early meetings, the wheels were threatening to come off of our group because we could not agree on "basic principles." Glen's insights on "practice norms" got us off that unproductive direction, and on to what became the ten practices of Just Peacemaking as articulated in our first book, Just Peacemaking: Transforming Initiatives for Justice and Peace (1992) , later rewritten post 9/11 as Just Peacemaking: The New Paradigm for the Ethics of Peace and War.

You can read Glen's own reflections on this journey and our work together over so many years. After working on the volumes of Just Peacemaking Glen edited, we jointly wrote the monograph Abrahamic Alternatives to War: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on Just Peacemaking, and then we worked steadily over years to bring together Jewish and Muslim colleagues in the new volume that I edited, Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War (2012).

In the fall of 2012, I visited Glen at Fuller Theological Seminary at his invitation to talk about the Interfaith Just Peacemaking book, and to lecture in his class. Glen did not agree with the direction I took in my own chapter in that volume, the one on forgiveness, and one-on-one we had many debates about it. Good debates. "Oh, Susan," Glen would often say as we outlined our different approaches to each other. That was his harshest critique.

One of the last times we spoke, we were talking about my idea of a new work I was thinking about writing to bring the Just Peace paradigm into more direct engagement with violence against women.

"Just Peacemaking, not Just Peace, Susan!" Glen wrote me afterwards.

And for the last months, I have only been to talk to Glen in my head, and truly in my heart, as I am writing that work.

Friendship helps make peace possible, both human friendship and friendship with God.

It is perhaps the most important practice norm of all.