Letter from John Spiers, Associate Priest - November 2018

How did the average citizen of Great Britain, France, Germany and Russia view the looming clouds of war in 1938. Twenty years earlier the war to end all wars had been fought and won by the combined efforts of Britain, France, Russia and America. There were over twenty million military and civilian casualties.

At events in our churches this year some of us will commemorate the end of the carnage that was the war to end all wars. On Sunday 11th November some of us will gather around war memorials and remember the dead of the two major conflicts of the last century as well as those killed in Korea, The Falkland’s, Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere.

An Australian charity, the Institute for Economics and Peace, has, since 2007, published the Global Peace Index. The results of the 2017 Global Peace Index (GPI)* showed that the global level of peace had slightly improved with 93 countries improving, while 68 countries deteriorated. Iceland remains the most peaceful country in the world with Syrian the least.

When reflecting on these statistics and thinking of conflict we may well think of soldiers going to war or terrorists creating mayhem with bombs, knives and bullets. And our response may be summed up by the opening words of the hymn: ‘Hope for the world's despair’

Hope for the worlds despair,
we feel the nations' pain;
can anything repair
this broken earth again?

This hymn was written by Reverend Ally Barrett, the winner of Jubilate's Hymns of Peace competition. The last verse is as follows:

Love for the human heart:
when hate grows from our fears
and inwardly we start
to turn our ploughs to spears.
Help us to sow
love’s precious seed
in word and deed,
that peace may grow.

And there are words that we can say and deeds that we can do. We can gather, faithfully each year to pray for peace as we remember those who died fighting for peace. If we choose, we can wear poppies as a symbol of remembrance.

But is there something more that we can do? When we look at the Global Peace Index in a little more detail we find that the largest regional deterioration in score occurred in the USA partly because of the increase in the intensity of organised internal conflict because of the increased levels of political polarisation within the US political system. In other words the election of Donald Trump led to a reaction to his policies both positive and negative which has led to conflict and so a less peaceful society.

Politics are important. Democracy generally leads to a stable society. And we have to be part of that process. If someone holds a different view to us then we should listen, hard though that may be. We should try and understand why they have a different view point. Then we should try to share our perspective. Conflict has existed for many millennia. We only need to study the Old Testament to understand this. But the cycle of conflict can be broken by sharing and listening. The post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa attempted to do this with some success.

Jesus calls us all to love our neighbour as ourselves. This is something that can be really hard to do. But we must strengthen our resolve to live at peace with our neighbour. The whole debate over Brexit has shown that it is easy to go down the road that leads to a polarised society. The first step to stopping polarisation in society lies with us. The GPI demonstrates that polarisation is a factor that leads to conflict which in time may lead to war or terrorist atrocities. Then more young people will be killed, there will be more names on war memorials around the country with more grieving relatives gathered around them.

We do need to reflect on what we can do to carry out the last few words of Ally Barrett’s hymn:

Help us to sow
love’s precious seed
in word and deed,
that peace may grow.

Reverend John Spiers