Gene Stoltzfus (1940-2010) was the Director of the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) from its founding in 1988 until 2004.
Gene traveled to Iraq immediately before the first Gulf War in 1991 and spent time with the Iraq CPT Team in 2003 to facilitate consultation with Muslim and Christian clerics, Iraqi human rights leaders, families of Iraqi detainees and talking with American administrators and soldiers. The Team’s work contributed to the disclosures around Abu Ghraib that gave impetus to the still tentative, worldwide movement for military forces to attend to the rights and protection of civilians.
From mid-December 2001 to mid-January 2002, Gene and current CPT Co-Director, Doug Pritchard, were in Pakistan and Afghanistan listening to the victims of bombing and observing the effects of 23 years of violence — much of it fed by forces from outside Afghanistan. “Where have you been all these years?” asked an Afghan leader who articulated the voices of others around the globe.
Gene’s commitment to peacemaking was rooted in his Christian faith and experience in Vietnam as a conscientious objector with International Voluntary Services during the US military escalation (1963-68). He recalled watching the helicopters personnel unload their cargo of bloodied bodies. This experience set him “on the search to make sense of life and death where the terms of survival, meaning and culture approve and even train for killing.” Gene had to ask himself: Was I willing to die for my conviction of enemy loving just as Vietnamese and American soldiers all around me were being asked to give their lives in order to achieve peace and security?
In the early 1970’s Stoltzfus directed a domestic Mennonite Voluntary Service program with a view to engaging with the social justice and peacemaking needs of that day and recognized then the enormous importance of local, disciplined, trained community and congregationally based peacemaking efforts. In the late 1970’s, he and his wife co-directed the Mennonite Central Committee program in the Philippines during President Marcos’ martial law era focusing it on human rights and economic justice; and then they went on to help establish Synapses, a grassroots international peace and justice organization in Chicago to connect the United States and people in the developing world.
Gene Stoltzfus grew up in Aurora, then a rural town in Northeast Ohio where his parents gave leadership in a Mennonite Church and his father was the pastor. He graduated in Sociology from Goshen College in Indiana and held an M.A. in South and Southeast Asian Studies from American University (Washington D. C.) and a Master of Divinity from Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries in Elkhart, Indiana.
He was married to Dorothy Friesen of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. They lived in Chicago for 25 years until his retirement to Fort Frances, Ontario, Canada. After retiring from CPT, he traveled widely to speaking engagements, blogged regularly at Peace Probe at https://cpt.org/wp-content/uploads/annual_report_2019-7.pdf and made twig furniture and jewelry as a contribution to the greening world.
Gene passed away on March 10, 2010.
Gene’s speaker information is preserved here for archival purposes:
Gene spoke on the following topics:
- Does Nonviolence Work in this Century
- Where is God when Violence Breaks Out
- Case Study-Peacemakers in the Midst of War: Iraq
- Equipping Peacemaker Teams
- Envisioning, Development, Training & Programming Peacemaker Teams
- Bending Our Lives to Active Peacemaking
- Sustaining the Spirit, the Body & the Mind for Long Term, Disciplined Peacemaking
- Invitation to Global Peacemaking
1. Does Nonviolence Work in this Century?
How do we structure our lives of faith to give nonviolence the best chance in the years ahead?
The past century was the most violent in our common history however a sub theme was the emerging, rediscovery of nonviolence by Gandhi, King and the rest of us in the east & west, north & south-peace education and mediation efforts now span the globe. While in former times it might have been laughed off or marginalised, the emerging culture of non-violence-or at the least curiosity about its content and effectiveness-create conditions where learning, action, organizing and active peacemaking has a chance. This window of opportunity deserves our critical attention, able reflection and competent preparation. It needs the talents that each of us bring to the table
2. Where is God when Violence Breaks Out?
How can organized peacemaking efforts be taken to the heart of violence or war in the coming decades? People are forced to think hard about the meaning of their lives because war forces decisions. War can create the context where some soldiers begin to think about God while civilian victims question the faithfulness of God. In this context nonviolence can be particularly powerful in word, action, consistent strategy and symbol. Prayer and worship take on fresh meaning as the weakness and vulnerability of human civilization is made visible in killing and violence.
3. Case Study-Peacemakers in the Midst of War: Iraq
In Iraq the Christian Peacemaker Teams learned to invent responses to the overwhelming experience of violation, loss, and violence when the occupation began. CPT’s work contributed to the disclosures around Abu Ghraib that gave impetus to the still tentative, worldwide movement for military forces to attend to the rights and protection of civilians.
Often we had to follow our intuition however in the work of human rights we learned from the efforts of international organizations like Amnesty International. Among Iraqi people we learned to listen fast, carefully and intelligently so that our listening was not unduly influenced by the enemies of peace. We learned to keep lines open in all direction in our public and private stance. We learned something about maintaining team life in what was often a perpetual state of emergency. But we also refined a strategy that contributed to some solutions but failed to stop or prevent the larger war. How do we explain these learnings and integrate them into the patterns of our peacemaking?
4. Equipping Peacemaker Teams: Envisioning, Development, Training and Programming Peacemaker Teams
History of CPT: This is the story of the development of Christian Peacemaker Teams over the last 25 years. How did we get to where we are today? Where are our convictions, our learnings, our human resources and the needs of the planet inviting us to go?
Bending Our Lives to Active Peacemaking Beginning in our local communities, how will we begin to organize ourselves for this great experiment? Not all of us will be able to structure our family lives, careers or community obligations to become full-time peacemakers although full-time people are needed now. Full time or part time we are invited to develop skills in listening, negotiations, team work, and disciplined nonviolence. The confidence of our spiritual convictions can be developed through both training and experience and this will equip us to think confidently about long-term strategy. We will be challenged to remember what we are living for and what is worth dying for.
Sustaining the Spirit, the Body and the Mind for Long Term Disciplined Peacemaking Peacemakers are regular people with personal needs, limits, hopes for meaningful worship, and vulnerabilities to wide mood swings, trauma, disappointment and joy. Peacemakers need a local support group for emotional support, help in decision making and to help carry out the work. There is no perfect support system but as peacemakers are trained and then live their way into the work in violent situations, unexpected gifts become available and new resistance uncovered. The great movements for human potential can help in this process of becoming more healthy and wise but it is the peacemaker herself who lives through the risks, the anger, and the hopes and then integrates them meaningfully. Are there hints in our experience that will help in our support systems?
5. Invitation to Global Peacemaking: Peace brought by force is elusive. Nonviolence works. Are we listening to this invitation?
The invitation to collaborate for peacemaking comes from Afghanistan to Burma and Zimbabwe; local congregations and tiny interchurch initiatives; urban centres and remote native settings; and denominations, universities and crisis settings. The call often comes with urgency when the crisis has already arrived and there is little time to call out people, train people to intervene and fashion a disciplined nonviolent response. The expected and routine response to crisis is that official armed units of police or military will respond to make things come out right. But the peace that is brought by force is elusive. The power of love and nonviolence works. Christians and all people of faith can play a leading role. The alternative in this century is for civilization, is for our world to rely on increasingly dangerous and out of control instruments of force and violence. Are we listening to this invitation? What can we do about it?