Quakers and The Lamb's War: A Hermeneutic for Confronting Evil
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Quakers and The Lamb's War: A Hermeneutic for Confronting Evil
International Historic Peace Church Consultation
Bienenberg Theological Seminary, Switzerland, June 25-28, 2001
Gene Hillman

Alternatives to Violence Project: A Model of Non-Violent Community

The Alternatives to Violence Project (known as AVP) began from a request by inmates of Greenhaven prison in New York State in 1975 for training in Non-violent conflict resolution. Out of this developed a program that is currently active in prisons and other settings around the world. I present it here as a model of Quaker peacemaking much in the manner of Jesus' third way.

The program consists of three day workshops at three levels, Basic, Advanced, and Training for Trainers. Participation is voluntary. The basic workshop is a series of exercises to develop a sense of community in the group, build self esteem, model group cooperation (and demonstrate the advantage of group effort over individual), examine values, develop active listening skills, practice with strategies for problem solving leading to win-win solutions, and ultimately to build trust. These are alternated with "light and livelies" which allow participants to get up, move around, and have some fun, while at the same time developing cooperation and trust and community.

Of particular interest is the exercise "I Messages." I Messages are ways "to clarify for oneself and others the feeling and assumptions that surround a problem. To un-muddy a conflict situation"18 participants are taught to communicate their feelings in three part statements beginning with "I feel," followed by "when you" and ending with "because." The speaker thereby states the effect the addressee's action is having without placing blame or responsibility. An example would be "When you play your radio loud it gets me upset because I can't concentrate on what I am doing. This is asserting one's self and one's dignity without attacking the other person. It is not submissively accepting the situation but it is also not attacking in anger as would be yelling insults or threats, or breaking the radio. Just as in turning the other cheek, there is no guarantee this course of action will get the desired result, and in any case not right away, but it does assert one's dignity and demand respect.

"Transforming Power" is the central concept in every AVP workshop. It is a term for the Vehiculum Dei which can lead us to the experience of God's power but which does not have the theological implications and associations found in the various names for the paraclete. It is experiential, as is Quakerism. The concept draws "heavily on the work of Gandhi and King, as well as on various nonviolent resistance efforts against Hitler. ...It is what King calls love and Gandhi calls satyagraha (truth-force) - and King is right to emphasize the need to nurture one another so that we have the strength to love." 19

Men (and I have only worked with men) usually associate it with the "Higher Power" of twelve step (addictions) programs and interpret it in the same way as "God as we know Him or Her." This is necessary in working with mixed populations of mostly Christians and Muslims, with the occasional Jew, Hindu, and even others.

In every Basic workshop participants are given a card titled "Guide to Transforming Power." On it are twelve principles.

1. Seek to resolve conflicts by reaching common ground.

2. Reach for that something good in others.

3. Listen before making judgements.

4. Base your position on truth.

5. Be ready to revise your position if it is wrong.

6. Expect to experience great inward power to act.

7. Risk being creative rather than violent.

8. Use surprise and humor.

9. Learn to trust your inner sense of when to act.

10. Be willing to suffer for what is important.

11. Be patient and persistent.

12. Build community based on honesty, respect and caring.

It is point eleven (patience) that is germane to the issue of "I Messages." One "I Message" is not going to repair the effect of years of hostility and anger. Point ten also comes in; suffering may result in the short term, and maybe even the long term, but there is a power we feel (point 6) when we act out of integrity (point 4).

Participants in the Basic workshop, after experiencing improved self esteem, and learning the skills mentioned above: cooperation, active listening skills, problem solving techniques and developing trust, may go on to participate in one or more Advanced workshops. Here one of the topics explored in the Basic, determined by the group at its first meeting, is further developed. The third level of workshop is Training for Trainers in which inmates are trained in leading workshops themselves (the inmates have a lot more credibility in teaching non-violence than a middle aged, middle class, white male like myself). There is usually a period of internship after this before an inmate becomes a full fledged trainer.

The skills learned are important, but just as important is the sense of community experienced by participants. Inmates who may never have experienced being truly listened to, valued, or respected (except when they held a weapon), and who internalized the negative values society applied to them, learn to live in a community in which trust and respect is the norm. AVP workshops become what Elise Boulding has called "zones of peace," 20 and their influence effects the institution in which they exist. It is true that when they return to their tiers and cells the community is left behind, but they take a part of it with them. They know what it is like. At the Advanced level community is strengthened, and AVP Trainers in the general population (of inmates), I am told, have a stabilizing influence on that population.

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