Beginning with Witness: the FOR’s Mark Johnson

At The Immanent Frame today, I interview Mark Johnson, executive director of the pioneering Christian pacifist organization, the Fellowship of Reconciliation. (I wrote about the Fellowship in a recent book review for Commonweal.) We discuss the FOR’s current work, its legacy, and how it is adapting to the the challenges of religious (and non-religious) diversity in its ranks.

NS: How is the FOR’s religious identity evolving today?

MJ: We’re forced to ask ourselves what it means to do peacemaking in an interreligious—or even a secular—world. There’s quite a bit of anxiety among many people, who are asking, if the community consciously opens itself more broadly to humanists and avowed atheists, what confidence do we have that we will share basic values in common? But you can argue, I think, that atheism or agnosticism or humanism are as much religions as any denomination or sect in terms of having an identifiable set of values and, eventually, sets of rituals that shape how people think about and act in the world. A lot of what we struggle with is simply a matter of words. I love Charles Taylor’s arguments about the emergence of the secular age. We’re also reading Peter Berger and Anton Zijderveld’s very nice new book, In Praise of Doubt. Doubt lies at the heart of the practice of pacifism. You can never know, ultimately, how you’re going to respond when confronted by violence. Absent a total conviction or confidence that you’ll act nonviolently, can you characterize yourself as a pacifist? Part of the conversation that we’re having, also, is about how doubt can create the space for being more accepting of more people.

Read more at The Immanent Frame.