The Japan Baptist Convention took a courageous stand for peace at its bi-annual convention at Amagi Baptist Assembly outside Tokyo on Nov. 13-15.
The 335 delegates overwhelmingly adopted a historic “Peace Proclamation,” which contained three points based on the Ten Commandments and was framed by the teachings of Jesus.
After an introductory statement echoing the words of Jesus, “Blessed are the Peacemakers,” the JBC proclaimed its commitment “as a convention of churches blessed by the grace of the Lord to live out the command of the Lord to bring peace into the world by following His words.”
This convention of 331 churches and missions vowed to work for peace by: following and obeying only Jesus as Lord; submitting to no authority other than Christ; and taking no human life by acts of violence.
The committee that produced the document was heavily influenced by the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Japanese Christians continue to be aware of the general silence of the Christian church during the years leading up to World War II and of the compromises made with the military dictatorship during the war.
The closing words of the proclamation began with a confession of the church’s sin of participating in war and justifying the use of violence—even to protect loved ones. JBC churches pledged to work for the end of war and the use of violence. In doing so, they recommitted themselves to follow in the steps of Jesus, who refused violence even when he was the object of hatred and violence.
Some delegates were concerned that the proclamation would infringe on local church autonomy and that it would hinder evangelistic and ministry efforts among Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, which were not explicitly named in the document. Member churches of the convention were assured that they were free to adopt or reject the proclamation.
Work on the “Peace Proclamation” started in November 2000, after the last meeting of the JBC, to express the JBC’s commitment to peace and nonviolence.
In Japan, conventions like the JBC, the United Christian Church in Japan and the National Council of Churches continue to work for peace and the separation of church and state. Their efforts grow out of their national experience as a people who have committed acts of violence—and who have experienced firsthand the horrors of nuclear weapons.
Gary W. Barkley is professor of historical studies at Seinan Gakuin University in Fukuoka, Japan.