PEACE. The Inter-Religious Conference on Article NineFebruary 28, 2008
Jeffrey Mensendiek - Japan
It was a very impressive moment to be in the presence of people from such diverse backgrounds, and to be brought together around one theme; PEACE. The Inter-Religious Conference on Article Nine of the Japanese Peace Constitution, organized by NCCJ in November 2007, brought together over two hundred people from various religious and national settings. My sister Martha and I were there as simultaneous interpreters. Present also were Cally Rogers-Witte and David Vargas, co-executives of our Common Global Ministries. What brought us together? And why now? These are some of the questions that I want to address in this letter.
I arrived in the interpreter's booth thirty minutes before the session started, and received an explanation of how to use the equipment. I was nervous because I had never interpreted for such an event before, and I knew that my role was vital for the cross-cultural exchanges that were about to begin. But I also felt deeply honored to be there, to serve for furthering the spirit of Article Nine. Down below I could see participants filing into the auditorium. There were faces I could recognize from the minority Christian community in Japan. Takako Doi, a long standing member of parliament, a Christian woman, gave one of the opening speeches. There were Indian faces, Korean and Chinese people, Americans and other Westerners. Each speech brought us closer to understanding what was at stake; Article Nine and its meaning for today.
Article Nine was born in those post war years when the Japanese people had suffered greatly from the devastation of war. Part of the problem had been the unrestricted power placed in the hands of the leaders of State, which had victimized its own population by going to war. "War brings death both to the body of the victim and the soul of the perpetrator." This phrase captures the nihilistic momentum of war itself. The first realization I had during the conference came to me visually, as I could see with my own eyes that Muslims, Buddhists, Christians and Hindus could together affirm their common commitment to protecting life; and this out of their deep commitment to a religious tradition. It was a community that came together to declare, "No More War!"
Article Nine of the Japanese Constitution renounces war as a means of solving international disputes and prohibits the maintenance of armed forces. Japan is one of two nations in the world which possess such a constitution. This Constitution was written for the Japanese people themselves; to protect them from a belligerent State. The irony is that US interests in the far-east are evolving such that with strong US backing, the Japanese government is taking steps to revise its own constitution, and to do away with Article Nine. Today in Japan there is an internal struggle between powerful nationalist political forces that want to militarize Japan, and other grassroots people's movements which want to renounce war once and forever. The constitution is scheduled to be reviewed in 2010. The people will eventually cast their vote. When I speak to the grassroots citizen's groups I often tell them that citizens of the world are watching Japan. Article Nine is a treasure not only for Japan, but also for a world of people who want to see a world without war.
Some see Article Nine as a major impediment for stability in Asia. Japan has not made efforts to build bridges of reconciliation between its Asian neighbors. A Korean Buddhist priest and a Muslim Malaysian professor both said, that "a militarized Japan would send shivers up our spines." A Japanese pastor from Okinawa shared with us his struggle to prohibit the construction of yet another US airstrip on their beautiful island. "We the Okinawan people suffered greatly during Vietnam and during the first and second Gulf wars by providing a base of operations for the US military. We know the destructiveness of war. We are both victim and victimizer. How long must we provide a home base for weapons of mass destruction?" People spoke from their painful history and from the wounds of today. But these voices were the voices of religious people who refuse to stand in despair. They were dreaming together of an alternative world, where people would learn war no more.
During the closing ceremony, we watched our beautiful planet earth on the screen. Taken from the moon we could see the rising and the setting of the earth as it received the rays of the sun. This beautiful planet is in our hands to protect and to love. One of the closing prayers still stays with me. It expresses the spirit of this conference on Article Nine.
O God of love
For further information go to www.article-9.org
Article Nine of the Japanese Constitution
Jeffrey Mensendiek serves with the Council on Cooperative Mission, assigned to the Gakusei (Student) Center in Japan. He serves as Director of Gakusei (Student) Center in Sendai, Japan
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