A “Shalom!” Retrospective: 30 Years of Pursuing Peace and Social Justice

Produced by the Brethren in Christ Church since 1979, "Shalom! A Journal for the Practice of Reconciliation" celebrates its thirtieth year of publication in 2010.

Though about twelve days too late to be seasonally accurate, the Winter 2010 issue of Shalom! — the peace and justice newsletter of the Brethren in Christ Church — was released last Thursday. In addition to exploring “Health Care for All” (a timely topic), the installment also kicks-off a celebration of the journal’s thirtieth year of publication.

To mark this storied occasion, long-time journal editor (and friend of “the search for piety and obedience“) Harriet Bicksler offers a brief history of the publication:

The first edition of the Peace and Justice Newsletter was published in January 1980. It was a simple typewritten and copied one-page piece and began with this sentence: “This is an occasional newsletter for those who participated in a Consultation on Peace and Justice Education at the Grantham Church on November 15-17, 1979.”

Editorial responsibility for the first year and half was shared by John Stoner and Harvey Sider on behalf of the Brethren in Christ Church’s Commission on Peace and Social Concerns. I took over as editor with the June 1981 edition.

In 1985, a denominational restructuring created the Board for Brotherhood Concerns which absorbed the responsibilities of the former Commission on Peace and Social Concerns. The board changed the name of the Peace and Justice Newsletter to Shalom! A Journal for the Practice of Reconciliation and decided to focus each edition on a single topic. The first edition in the new format was published in Winter 1985 and was on aging, entitled “Do Not Cast Me Away When I Am Old.”

You can read the rest of Harriet’s introductory history (along with the rest of the winter issue) here.

After the jump: “What precipitated the publication of Shalom!“?

As Harriet’s narrative suggests, Shalom! arrived on the Brethren in Christ scene at a pivotal moment in the denomination’s history, meeting a felt need within the fellowship. Though I don’t know enough about the church’s perspective on/interest in social justice and peacemaking in the 1970s and 1980s to compile a comprehensive historical outline, certain “sign posts” suggest the significance of Shalom! arriving when it did, emerging out of the denomination’s decade-long move toward greater awareness of social justice and peacemaking issues.

Both secondary and primary sources indicate that the dawn of the 1970s brought a newfound interest in social justice and peacemaking among the Brethren in Christ. Carlton Wittlinger records in his history that

[b]y the early 1970s, . . . the Brethren [in Christ] were beginning to feel a greater sense of responsibility for Christian ministry to the massive material and social needs of the contemporary world. [1]

A 1972 editorial by then-Evangelical Visitor editor John Zercher suggests that this emerging interest in Christian social justice work had put stress on the unified community of the church:

The polarity . . . that exists [within the Brethren in Christ Church] is rather between those who see in their commitment to Christ a radical break with the social[,] economic, and even ecclesiastical structures which most in the denomination, along with the wider evangelical community, accept without much question. [2]

Zercher goes on to further describe those “radical break”-ers:

Out of this more radical break has come the term “life style.” . . . “Life style” is similar to what the earlier Brethren in Christ meant by “separation” — the expression in all of life of one’s non-conformity to the world and one’s separation unto Christ. . . .

For these concerned brethren the cost of discipleship involves one’s relation to possessions, vocations, standard of living, use of time, and personal rights. [3]

In Zercher’s estimation, these Brethren in Christ were re-considering discipleship as more than a private, personal piety; they no longer considered obedience as following particular biblical precepts while ignoring (intentionally or otherwise) others. Rather, these Brethren in Christ wanted to investigate the full implications of “[t]he ethical and moral (the “life style”) patterns of the Christian life” [4].

Certainly the establishment of the World Hunger Fund in 1974 and the 1977 publication of Brethren in Christ scholar Ronald J. Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger [5] further inclined some within the Brethren in Christ toward social justice advocacy; for others, these and other activities raised questions about the nature of the Christian faith, and the role of (seeming secular) preoccupations like “social justice” within the faith.

To more intentionally wrestle with some of these emerging questions, the denomination’s Commission on Peace and Social Concerns convened the event mentioned in Harriet’s brief history above: the 1979 Consultation on Peace and Justice. Gathering in the publication wake of another influential text by Sider (Christians and Violence), the group contended with a variety of topics.

In a report on the gathering, Harvey Sider noted:

In . . . recent years, with increasing affluence of the developed nations, there has been a growing concern that the message of peace must be understood to include biblical teaching on wise use of the world’s resources and the distribution of wealth. . . .

Because of the complexity of the issues and where we are in our various understandings of scriptural emphases, the consultation was primarily exploratory — a beginning of a journey. It opened the way for further discovery of God’s will for us. [6]

One of the first steps of this journey, it seems, was the publication of “an occasional newsletter” that eventually became Shalom! — the journal that has remained the strongest and longest-lasting Brethren in Christ voice on social justice, peace, and reconciliation issues for the last three decades.

In all its 2010 issues, Shalom! will celebrate its milestone by re-printing editorials, essays, and other musings from its previous years. Visit the Shalom! website for information about upcoming issues.


[1]Quest for Piety and Obedience (Nappanee, Ind.: Evangel Press, 1978), 536.

[2] “Fellowship in the Gospel,” Evangelical Visitor, June 25, 1972, 3.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] In a 198X essay, Morris Sider and Martin Schrag argued that Ron’s writings (including Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger) contributed to the church’s increased participation in political affairs (see “TITLE,” ). Therefore, one could naturally see a similar correlation between Sider’s writing and the increased interest in social justice, peace, and reconciliation topics.

[6] “A Beginning of a Journey,” Evangelical Visitor, January 10, 1980, 9.


About Devin Manzullo-Thomas

Father to Lucas. Husband to Katie. Prof and administrator at Messiah College. PhD student at Temple University. Member of Grantham BIC.
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2 Responses to A “Shalom!” Retrospective: 30 Years of Pursuing Peace and Social Justice

  1. Harriet Bicksler says:

    Thanks, Devin, for putting the anniversary of SHALOM! in historical perspective.

    Having lived through the time period in question, I can relate to the excerpts you’ve culled from such people as Morris Sider and John Zercher. In addition, I think the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War in the 60s and 70s created the impetus for many Brethren in Christ to think more deliberately about becoming more actively involved in peace and justice issues.

    Much has changed in the church in 30 years, and given all those changes–especially in structure, leadership and demographics–I am sometimes amazed that SHALOM! has survived. I am also grateful for the opportunity I’ve had for most of those 30 years to provide a venue for consistent attention to issues of peace and justice that I believe are at the heart of what it means to be Christian in the world.

  2. Pingback: A Shalom! Retrospective: 30 Years of Pursuing Peace and Social …

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