by Rev. Sam Smith
The red-hot rays of the Central Illinois summer sun could not stop us as we placed our I Will Not Kill posters all over the Cornerstone 2008 event. Our message of peace and nonviolence was bold and in-your-face. No one could miss it. We were serious about bringing a seldom-heard voice to the 20,000+ Evangelical youth who populate this event. Our goal was Peace Recruitment of hundreds of young people.
Every summer since 1984, the Jesus People USA (JPUSA), an intentional Christian community straight out of the 60s, puts on this gigantic Christian Rock Festival one and a half hours SW of Peoria, IL. Founded in 1971, JPUSA was birthed out of "the Jesus Movement," a religious revival of counter-culture youth in the late 1960s. Today, JPUSA has matured and consequently established membership within the Evangelical Covenant Church.
For the first three centuries, Christians lived out lives of non-violence based upon their leader: Jesus Christ. The Cornerstone event is filled with ex-hippies, grunge, Goth and suburban kids from mostly Protestant and Catholic backgrounds whose goal is to reach back to the early days of Christianity. This is not your typical Christian event--yet ever since the beginning, the militarism that fills our general American culture has found its way into this "Radically Christian" event. Five years ago I decided to do something to help replace this message of militarism with the message of peace at Cornerstone.
In 2006, our exhibition booth that contained the traditional Anabaptist message of I WILL NOT KILL was juxtaposed across from a SCION display where underage kids were allowed to play HALO (a very violent video game rated M (mature because of blood, gore, violence and language) on large plasma TVs. A military recruiter was just down the aisle. Everywhere kids were wearing camouflage and "Christian" dog tags. Each year over 300 Christian bands play at this festival, yet even these bands' names are a testimony to the violence which permeates today's Christian message. Names like Sacred Warrior, As I Lay Dying, The Fighting Jacks, Number One Gun, War of Ages, Witch Hunt, etc. could be seen everywhere. Bands called Thoughts of Violence, River of Blood, Screams of Chaos, Holy Soldier and, believe it or not, Pass-A-Fist can be heard from both large and small stages.
In 312 AD, Constantine, at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, after looking up to the sun before the battle, saw a cross of light above it. With this cross were also the words, "By This, Conquer!" As a result of this vision, Constantine, who declared himself the Emperor of the Roman Empire after this battle, commanded his troops to adorn their shields with the Chi-Ro Christian Symbol. He subsequently won the battle, and ever since, war and militarism have been adopted as OK by the large part of Christianity.
The Chicago Chapter of the Fellowship of Reconciliation has set up an I Will Not Kill booth for four years in a row. We have made a huge impact on this festival. We are voices in the wilderness crying out that there is another way. War and violence are only temporary solutions. We believe that Jesus offers a gospel of peace which is ultimately much more effective. Therefore, we are recruiting for peace.
As an example of our progress thus far, in 2005, an older teen came up to me and shouted angrily, "How can you call yourself a Christian and be AGAINST WAR!!" We dialogued for over half an hour. I countered his rage with a calm, yet forceful spirit which would not be intimidated. At the end of the conversation, the much calmer young man said that he had to go and hear a band, but would be back to talk some more. In 2006, a military recruiter who was "only recruiting military chaplains" complained that we were taking away his recruits. This year, kids came streaming into the tent and came up to me asking if this was the I Will Not Kill statement area because they wanted to sign up. In 2007, an older man who proudly stated that he had been a Christian for the past 35 years said that he thought we were very naive. "Sometimes people just need killing. That's the only way to solve the problem."
This year we're going back for a fifth year. Believe it or not, many Evangelical teens and twenties have rejected the message of the American Right and are conscientious objectors. They just don't realize it yet. We are at Cornerstone to help these young lives strip away the militarism that has blinded then to their own heritage.
Each year over 75 kids have signed the I Will Not Kill Pledge. We believe even more young people need this information and will want to sign the pledge if given the opportunity. Perhaps youth at events near you should hear the same message. Help us spread the gospel of peace!
For information and to help with the booth, see <http://www.myspace.com/FORchicago> or contact Sam Smith at FORchicago@comcast.net. This year's Cornerstone festival is June 30th thru July 4th.
I WILL NOT KILL
I Will Not Go To War.
I Will Not Support War Against Other Nations.
I Will Resist Recruitment Into The Military.
I Will Encourage Others To Do The Same.
Sam Smith is an ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren. He has been a youth pastor for the past 15 years in Mennonite, Church of the Brethren and United Methodist congregations in the Chicago area. He is the Chicago Chapter chair of Fellowship of Reconciliation and is also on FOR's National Council. Currently he is available as a speaker specializing in Youth and Peace Evangelism.