[Interview] Glen H. Stassen, author of ‘Peace Action: Past, Present, and Future’
Peace activist and award-winning author, Glen H. Stassen is the Smedes Professor of Christian Ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena.
His books include Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context, which he co-authored with David Gushee (InterVarsity, 2003) and went on to win the Christianity Today Award for Best Book of 2004 in Theology or Ethics.
Other awards he has received include the 1983 Peace and Justice Award from The Peace and Justice Commission of the Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville as well as the 1991 Clarence Jordan Peace and Justice Award from the Long Run Baptist Association of Louisville.
In a recent interview, Professor Glen Stassen — who is also the author of Living the Sermon on the Mount (Jossey Bass: July, 2006) and Just Peacemaking: Transforming Initiatives for Justice and Peace (Westminster/John Knox, 1992) — spoke about his writing.
How and when did you decide to become a writer?
When I saw that the world needs correction, especially in its ethics of peace and war.
I began as a nuclear physicist, saw the growing threat of nuclear weapons, decided we didn’t need better bombs but better ethics so the bombs would not explode us all. So I switched to becoming a Christian ethicist, specializing in peacemaking.
I [now] write on ethics and peacemaking, and also on method in ethics — how to do Christian ethics in a way that is helpful to real people.
I write some books and articles for people, [for the general reader] and others for scholars. Mostly Christian ethics, with special interest in peacemaking, and in how to think well, ethically.
What are your main concerns as a writer?
To connect with people’s real concerns. Logic and vision are easy; expressing them in a way that grabs people is work.
What would you say are the biggest challenges that you face?
My own limitations. How to find the words? How to find the time? How to become just halfway efficient? Way too much to do for a person of minimum efficiency and lack of fluency. What’s the word for this thought?
How do you deal with these challenges?
I work on humility and patience and hope.
Who would you say has influenced you the most?
How have your personal experiences influenced the direction of your writing?
I began as a nuclear physicist and therefore could not look away from seeing the growing danger personally; many practice denial and prefer not to notice.
I co-led and organized the Duke University civil rights organization when I was a student, and then the Louisville-Jefferson County ecumenical civil rights organization, and Martin Luther King Jr. and the whole civil rights movement shaped me significantly.
Before that, American Friends Service Committee work in the struggle with poverty in Philadelphia shaped my basic sensitivities and loyalties markedly. My work leading the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign‘s work with the European Peace Movement leaders that got rid of all medium-range nuclear missiles, which was key to ending the Cold War peacefully, gave great encouragement that we citizens, when linked together in groups, can make a huge difference. So did participation in the civil rights movement.
Do you write everyday?
No; I do research and write paragraphs as I get ideas; and then put it together in a long-lasting burst of concentration when I put other tasks aside.
How do you research your books?
I’ve worked inter-disciplinarily, in international relations theory as well as in Christian ethics, so as to be able to do ethics with critical awareness of changes in international relations.
What would you say your latest book is about?
Peace Action: Past, Present, and Future learns from the fifty years of SANE, Freeze, and Peace Action for how to organize effectively, describes Peace Action’s current strategies, and describes our unifying vision for correcting the disastrous unilateralism of present policies with our program of Real Security Through International Cooperation and Human Rights.
It took only about half a year [to write the book] because of the enthusiasm of our authors and the delightful efficiency of Lawrence Wittner, my co-editor.
We chose [to publish the book through] Paradigm Publishers because we were impressed with the quality of the books they have been publishing, the fit of these books with Peace Action, and Paradigm’s ability to get books into popular bookstores. Paradigm has been great in all dimensions of cooperation.
Which aspects of the work that you put into the book did you find most difficult?
No problems, because everyone was so cooperative and responsible; great people to work with
Which aspects of the work that went into the book did you enjoy most?
Sharing with these great folks.
What sets the book apart from the other things you have written?
It’s such a cooperative effort. All the authors have extensive experience in real organizing.
In what way is it similar?
I’m always thinking of ethics not as abstractions, but as guidance for concrete practices that can make a difference.
What will your next book be about?
How to find solid ground in our postmodern time of contending ideologies, dialoging religions, and rapid social change; and from that solid basis how to form an ethics of peace and war grounded on the rock.
What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?
Developing the new paradigm in Christian ethics, “just peacemaking theory.” Writing the award-winning textbook in Christian ethics, Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context (InterVarsity Press); discovering the transforming-initiatives structure and meaning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and its help for the ethics of peacemaking, and publishing it as Living the Sermon on the Mount (Jossey- Bass).
This interview was first published by OhmyNews International.