THIS is an unsettling memoir. It focuses on conflicts in Northern Ireland, Latin America, and the Middle East with which Bishop Peter Price has engaged for more than 40 years. His lifelong passion is to recall the Church to the centrality and claim of reconciliation at the heart of the gospel. The question that haunts the pages of this book is: “Can Christianity continue to sanction war?”
Price tells us that his own journey from bystander to participant in the search for peace began with visits to the family of his wife, Dee, in Omagh in 1969, and then spending time over the summer of the following year in an inner-city Belfast parish, where her uncle, Terry Callan, was the Rector and tirelessly pursued peace.
Price’s book is not a “how-to-do” peace manual — for this the interested reader can turn to the exemplary work of the Mennonite peace activist and theorist John Paul Lederach — but, rather, a distillation of his wisdom garnered along the way, whether as a priest, later Bishop of Bath & Wells, member of the House of Lords, or latterly chairing a peacebuilding NGO, Conciliation Resources.
The work includes much fascinating material: for example, details of the US Episcopalian bishops’ nuanced call for reconciliation after 9/11, in contrast to the Roman Catholic hierarchy’s support for intervention, as well as the author’s participation in a meeting — together with church leaders from the States — with Prime Minister Tony Blair in February 2003, offering a six-point peace plan for Iraq.
There are cross-cutting themes in the book. The first is the costliness of being a peacemaker: in his three locations, he foregrounds the extraordinary courage of ordinary people, not least in the chapters on the dirty wars in the 1980s and 1990s in Latin America, where peace activists operated in the shadow of the assassination of the Archbishop Óscar Romero.
A second theme articulated by the Jesuit Jon Sobrino, whose six confrères were murdered in 1989 on a university campus in El Salvador, is a prophetic critique of “light religion” — where Christianity is domesticated as a private faith, congenial to the modern state, in exchange for security and conformity.
Third, Price indicates, through personal example, that peacemaking entails a spiritual discipline, which requires, inter alia, an acknowledgement of one’s own inner violence. Finally, he insists that peacemaking cannot be divorced from justice and the need to address grinding poverty.
In all, we should be grateful for Price’s witness. It is good to be reminded that intercession can be “an act of spiritual defiance”, since it envisages and keeps alive hope of an alternative reality. Two caveats: while arguing for inter-religious co-operation, some exploration of the phenomenon of “religious nationalism” that renders such co-operation difficult would have been helpful; and also missing was engagement with the best of contemporary just-war theory, as exemplified in Nigel Biggar’s seminal In Defence of War.
Dr Philip Lewis taught modules on religions, conflict, and peacemaking in the Peace Studies Department at Bradford University for 15 years, while he was Interfaith Adviser to the Bishop of Bradford.
Things That Make for Peace: A Christian peacemaker in a world of war
Peter B. Price
Church Times Bookshop £11.70