An Historic Peace Church
Is Seattle First Baptist a Peace Church? How can we possibly be other if indeed "we are a community of faith united in exploring the way of Jesus Christ"?
So, how did we become known as a "Peace Church"? The words come from a long history of thought, preaching and action, going back at least seventy years, perhaps much longer. They are a description of who we are as a community.
At First Baptist, within the lifetime of current members, we have had numerous ways in which our congregation has promoted peace, both in wartime and in "peactime." In the 1930s and throughout World War II, we were in the forefront of people of faith speaking out as to the horror and futility of even a so called "just" war.
Pastor Elmer Fridell was a peacemaker who quietly and gently promoted pacifism and non-violence. After service in the army in World War I, he became a pacifist, determined to preach peace and justice forever. Often branded as a Communist by outside groups (and even by some in our own Baptist denomination), SFBC stood by him and his leadership in efforts to achieve world peace.
A strong peace activist, Mildred Powell became (in 1934!) a Seattle City Councilwoman. She was elected and reelected by wide margins, and was very involved with weapons disarmament after World War II. Were she alive today, she would no doubt be active in leading our efforts toward nuclear disarmament.
Pastor Harold Jensen was a committed pacifist who preached the love of all humankind, as each of us is a child of God. He led us in protests at the docks, when American scrap iron was being shipped to Japan in the 1930s to use in the wars and mass killings in China and the rest of Asia. There were sermons, vigils and protests against the rounding up of our neighbors of Japanese ancestry when they were shipped off to camps, with their lands and businesses taken away. As President of the Seattle Council of Churches, Jensen led an impassioned struggle to prevent this removal and internment of America's Japanese citizens. Passions ran high in wartime, even at SFBC, and at one meeting, some wanted to send him away. The matter was settled when one of the deacons stood up and said quietly, "This is a Baptist church. If Harold believes it, then he can preach it."
There were peace groups within our congregation and others like the Fellowship of Reconciliation in which our members actively participated. One long lived group, continuing well after World War II and sanctioned by the church, included some of our real saints. Folks like Ray and Lily Bloomberg, Ivan and Mid Potts, Fritz and Ruth Peeples, Peggy and Ernie Gwinn, Mildred Powell, Ruth Rholfs and Alice Franklin Bryant, among others, made it abundantly clear to the wider community where we stood on issues of peace, war and justice.
Alice Franklin Bryant, a woman whose concern for peace began in a Japanese prison camp, actually challenged popular Senator Henry M. Jackson for his seat, campaigning with the slogan, "Military strength will not win world peace." Although she lost, she continued her work, saying, "Wild horses couldn't stop me working for peace." Charles Z. Smith, president of the congregation at the time, said,"Mrs. Bryant is our dormant conscience speaking out for justice and peace."
Ruth Rohlfs was President of the American Baptist Convention in 1971, where peace was once again a hot issue. Her husband and son were both conscientious objectors, and Mrs. Rohlfs argued passionately at that convention for an immediate end to U.S. military operations in Vietnam. Dr. August Hintz continued the pastoral peace tradition, preaching for peace and an end to the Vietnam War. He also led the congregation in understanding the racial conflicts of the 60's and in supporting non-violent efforts to achieve equality for all.
When the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America formed, SFBC was quick to officially sign on as a partner congregation. Rev. Ashlee Wiest-Laird served on the Fellowship Board and regularly led delegations from our church to its annual "Baptist Peace Camp" conferences.
In recent years, we have embraced many causes directly related to peacemaking, from working for civil rights and racial understanding to, under Rev. Dr. Rodney R. Romney, reaching out to those of differing sexual styles. With pastor Dr. Stephen Jones, we worked with the Duwamish tribe, helping them to attain their rights. Steve also led us in opposition to the US invasion of Iraq, wrote the book, Peaceteacher, about Jesus' undertanding and practice of peace, served as President of the Baptist Peace Fellowship and helped to create the Peacemaker Room in the church to honor our history as a peacemaking congregation.
There has probably never been a moment in our history when every member agreed with every step that has been taken in the pursuance of peace. There never will be, as long as we are true to our Baptist tradition of free thought, soul freedom, and the priesthood of all believers. We think differently, we have differing ways to achieve goals and we espouse different causes, but we try to keep in mind the "way," the teachings of Jesus in the spreading of true love to our pew mates, to the groups in our church, our neighborhoods and the world.
In the foreword to our SFBC history, Our First Baptist Heritage 1869-1984, Rod Romney quotes Mary Sarton, saying about those who have gone before: "Their lives get built into our lives, and ... we are what we are because of them."
In light of our rich history, the real questions we should be asking today are, "Are we doing enough?" and "Do we still deserve to be called a 'Peace Church'"?
written by: Mark Jensen, Jerri Bottomly, Imogene Williams and Gordon Harper