The United Church Divided

By Brian Burch

As the twentieth century draws to a close, the United Church of Canada could be helping to transform the Canadian peace movement from a murmur to a force for positive social change. Unfortunately, however, it provides only limited financial and moral support to anti-militarist and radical peace initiatives. Perhaps this is because the United Church has yet to reject war.

In the l980s the United Church opposed Canada's involvement in developing the cruise missile. Likewise, The United Church Observer generally took the side of the natives at Oka and opposed the use of force in the Persian Gulf. The United Church belongs to such coalitions as the World Council of Churches and the World Alliance of Reform Churches, which condemned the U.S. invasion of Panama. Vet the church remains linked to the war machine through military chaplaincy and other programs. The Observer ran military recruiting ads and provided moral support to the military during both the Oka crisis and the Gulf War.

After the Warrior Society at Akwesasne attacked anti-gambling forces, the United Church could have condemned the use of armed force to quell dissent. Indeed, the situation at Oka provided an unique opportunity to act in solidarity with the Mohawk people and to condemn the use of military force to settle disputes. While the church succeeded well in the former, it failed at the latter. United Church Moderator Sang Chul Lee visited the barricades, making a strong statement of solidarity with people whom the military was attempting to dispossess. Yet he did not remind Canadians that the ultimate purpose of the military is to oppress.

The United Church clearly called for Canada not to participate in the Gulf War. The United Church Observer included an opinion piece in support of war tax resistance, a long-standing Christian method of opposing war. Yet, once the war broke out, the United Church did not call its chaplains out of the military, nor did it call for its members to cease to enlist. The United Church gave practical support to military personnel at the grassroots and leadership levels. Moderator Walter Farquharson weakened his own powerful voice for peace when he wrote as follows to Brigadier-General David Estey, the head of Protestant chaplaincy services in the Canadian armed forces: "I write assuring you of the continuing prayers and support of the United Church of Canada. While deploring war, and calling on our members to speak out about the political, economic and, most importantly the human cost of war, we honor the decision you made to serve your country. No letters of support were sent to the members of Troops Out Now or the Act for Disarmament Coalition or the Alliance for Non-Violent Action, whose members were arrested opposing the war.

"The United Church is marking the 15th day of each month as a special peace day until such a time as our world knows peace and bread and homeland and justice for all," says Farquharson. This does show an intent to work for peace on an ongoing basis-something many supporters of the peace movement might wish to emulate.

The United Church's future involvement in the Canadian peace movement is likely to be hidden within ecumenical coalitions like Project Ploughshares. As a public voice for peace, will the United Church continue to hedge its bets by supporting those with a different view? If so, because the United Church is looked upon by the larger public as strongly supportive of the peace movement, its hypocrisy will be seen as the peace movement's hypocrisy.

Brian Burch is a long-time peace activist who recently completed a Master of Divinity at Emmanuel College.

Peace Magazine Sep-Oct 1992

Peace Magazine Sep-Oct 1992, page 22. Some rights reserved.

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