Satellite trucks and a riser for television journalists are seen at the foot of Via della Conciliazione, the road leading to the Vatican. Almost everything we do depends on something in space and Project Ploughshares says it will continue to be on the frontlines in the fight against the weaponization of space. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Ploughshares will remain voice for peace

  • December 10, 2014

Project Ploughshares will not surrender.

Despite the loss of significant government contracts and grants, the 38-year-old organization is launching a new strategic plan, searching for a new executive director and settling into a new home in Waterloo, Ont.

Above all else, Project Ploughshares will remain an ecumenical Christian voice of careful, reasoned thinking about issues of war, peace, weapons and foreign policy in Canada, said governing committee chair Scott Kline.

“The world has changed. That voice (for peace) probably isn’t as strong as it was 38 years ago,” said Kline.

But Kline, vice president and academic dean at St. Jerome’s University on the campus of the University of Waterloo, is convinced Project Ploughshares’ areas of expertise — from nuclear non-proliferation to the arms trade to the militarization of space — remains essential to public debate and Christian thinking.

“When people start to understand space security and realize the telephone conversation we’re having right now depends to a large degree on satellites — our computers, our car GPS, almost everything we do depends on something up in space,” said Kline. “When you start talking about the weaponization of space, that becomes an extremely important issue and Ploughshares is on the leading edge of space security.”

There’s no point in Project Ploughshares if it’s not a Christian voice, so the first step in launching a new strategic plan was to sign a new agreement with the Canadian Council of Churches, Kline said.

“Do we not believe in the biblical imperative in two of the prophets (Micah 4:3 and Isaiah 2:4) to beat our swords into ploughshares? Are we not as churches in the name of Jesus Christ engaged in the mending of the world and for the peace of the world? Yes,” said CCC general secretary Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton.

From Catholic to Orthodox to Protestant, all the Canadian churches want to speak up whenever Canada joins a coalition, buys new weapons or takes a military stand. Project Ploughshares allows the churches to speak credibly, said Hamilton.

“Their research is very careful, very detailed, and that’s really essential,” Hamilton said. “When we are speaking to other sectors in society, whether it’s government or whether it’s media, we need to have our facts straight.”

The man who has been helping the churches keep their military and security facts straight the last 10 years is stepping aside as executive director of Project Ploughshares in the new year. John Siebert came to Ploughshares in 2005 from a career in Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and time spent advising the United Church of Canada on human rights and aboriginal justice.

“He was a steady hand in financially uncertain times,” said Kline. “His leadership allowed the staff to take a greater public role.”

As government funding dried up in recent years and financially stressed churches also withdrew staff and funding, Seibert negotiated a new relationship with Conrad Grebel University College, the Mennonite presence on the University of Waterloo campus. With a role in the Conrad Grebel Master of Peace and Conflict Studies program, Project Ploughshares has the institutional backing to continue credible research into the arms trade, arms control treaties, human security and the responsibility to protect, said Kline.

Project Ploughshares’ new home on the university campus doesn’t mean the churches are off the hook when it comes to supporting research all of them will use when making statements about war and peace, said Hamilton.

“Should those of us who are committed Christians, who believe that furthering the work of Jesus Christ in peace is our calling (support Ploughshares)? Yes we should,” Hamilton said. “The question is, how are we going to enable that to happen? Financial resources are always needed.”

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