The new co-directors of the Adventist Peace Fellowship, Lisa Clark Diller and Karah Thompson, talk about how this virtual community organization is supporting churches working for justice and peace, and reminding people of the Adventist heritage of peacemaking and non-violence.
Question: You were named as co-directors of the Adventist Peace Fellowship in January of this year, taking over from previous director Jeff Boyd. How did you feel about taking on this role?
Karah: Intimidated. The previous directors have laid a really careful foundation and are all committed and active peacemakers in their personal lives. Lisa and I felt that this job needed to be done by two people, and we make a great team with complementary strengths. She has an incredible wealth of knowledge and is a passionate speaker; I’m organized and love doing behind-the-scenes detail work.
Lisa: I was super excited about getting to work with Karah — sometimes it takes being part of a shared project to get to spend time with someone you enjoy. Jeff had set such a fantastic precedent that it was also intimidating, but I care about this organization and when you want an organization to be sustainable, it is important to have shared leadership and some change-ups so that it doesn't become too dependent on one or two personalities.
The Adventist Peace Fellowship was started in 2001. Can you explain to us what it is exactly?
Lisa: It was started as a virtual community supporting people on the ground who wanted to remind Adventists of our church's tradition of peacemaking and non-violent justice work. It was ramped up when our country started its war-fever after 9/11 by historians and academics (theologians, political scientists) who saw the seduction of nationalism within the U.S. as undermining our commitment to the Kingdom of God. So those early leaders set out to create resources (online and in print) for use in educating, empowering, and encouraging Adventists about our historical and theological commitments regarding violent coercion, especially of the state-based variety.
With the leadership of Ron Osborn in the later 2000s, the vision widened to include more than literal peacemaking. "The Healing of the Nations" became the vision tagline — all the justice and peace work that Jesus called us to. At this point, the six themes we currently call on were articulated, and an effort developed to go beyond providing resources, to encouraging intentional communities such as Peace Churches and Chapters.
Our resources expanded with our website to include our podcast, Adventist Peace Radio. More recently we've begun work with social media and on our university campuses to encourage and spur conversation.
Always, the goal has been education and resources to remind and exhort Adventists and our “fellow travelers” (maybe those raised Adventist but who don't think of themselves that way now, or those for whom this is the closest thing they have to a church) that we have both historical and theological traditions and commitments to working for justice and peace. We want to tell the stories of those who do this to encourage others, and we want to spur each other on to good works in this line.
We believe many Adventist churches are already participating in many of the themes of Adventist Peace Fellowship (gender and racial justice, creation care, sabbath economics, and more), but sometimes “naming” that this is connected to our denomination's historical and theological foundations is useful. I especially have a concern for young people — or others not so young — who think they have to leave the church in order to participate in the work of the Kingdom, or that other churches are doing more or are more rooted in justice and mercy. They need to hear the stories, read the theology, and be supported by their sisters and brothers in the Adventist tradition who are also doing this. They also need a chance to connect with others, if they don't have a church in their area.
So I would say now it has gone beyond the academics and out into the pews, so to speak, hopefully. There are so many quick resources available now that we need practitioners more than theoreticians. Still, too few Adventists know the tradition of working for justice within our denomination.
More about our history can be found here.
For how long have you both been involved in the Adventist Peace Fellowship? In what ways have you been involved?
Lisa: I was a participant in an Adventist Peace Fellowship anti-war march against the Iraq War in 2004 here in Chattanooga. Donn Leathermann, one of the founders, was a theologian here at Southern Adventist University and connected me to APF at that time.
Karah: I’ve been involved for about four years. I didn’t know about the Adventist Peace Fellowship prior to being invited to the board, but my research gave me excitement and hope about the importance of the centrality of being a peacemaker to our Seventh-day Adventist tradition. It’s given me a place to find “home” within the denomination.
You recently had a planning meeting with your core Adventist Peace Fellowship team. What projects will you be working on? What would you like to accomplish during your time as leaders?
Karah: Our biggest plan to host a booth at the North American Division Pastor’s conference and at the General Conference this summer collapsed, so we reconnected to collect thoughts and reinvigorate our ideas.
Our biggest hope is to create a larger network of Peace Church groups who can creatively express their passion for peace in their unique communities. Any church can join the network and there is no fee involved. It only takes a group of people committed to an issue such as Creation Care, Human Rights, or Racial or Gender Justice. We’re also working on collecting and telling more stories of how people are expressing their faith in different ways through justice and peace work.
Lisa: We are working on some Instagram live events with interviews with various peace and justice leaders. We are developing a speakers' bureau for churches to use on subjects within our themes.
How has Adventist Peace Fellowship changed and evolved since its founding? How have the issues it is involved with changed? You are only the fourth new leadership since 2001. How will your focus stay the same, and how will it be different than the organization had previously?
Karah: Great question. Shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Doug Morgan and Ronald Osborn strongly felt the call to actively pursue non-violence and reconciliation in the Adventist tradition. Over time, the idea of peace-making has broadened to many other issues that require a strong voice of advocacy, compassion, and involvement as agents of change. Scripture and Adventist writings continue to challenge us to a deeper connection to our world and a more active participation in the work of justice for others.
The world has changed an awful lot since you took up your new roles in January, with COVID-19 and in the U.S., nationwide protests against systemic racism. Will the focus of AFP be different as a result of recent shifts in the national, and global, conversation?
Karah: I’ll be honest: a few weeks into quarantine, I was feeling trapped and hopeless, but as we watched the heartbreaking and horrifying loss of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and then George Floyd, we couldn’t help but feel a call to speak out and speak up. Our board members have all participated in peaceful protests and we worked together on our statement (also on Spectrum). Scripture is saturated with calls to justice and commands to care for the oppressed or hurting. The ongoing issues of human trafficking and slavery continue to move us to action.
Lisa: I think we are being more open about progressive issues and more nimble. Our young leaders, Daniel Xisto, Marci Corea and Joelle Kanyana, are quicker to respond and demanding more unapologetic advocacy.
We have tried in the past to be more educational and perhaps a bridge organization between liberals and conservatives in the church, since historic Adventism has been anti-state power/violence and pro-peacemaking. But in the U.S. there's been so much politicization of justice issues by Adventists who are increasingly influenced by white U.S. evangelical culture rather than our church's past, that we are realizing we can't be reluctant to speak out just because we might alienate people. Peace can't happen without justice, and we can't be slow to call that out.
Tell us about the relationship of the Adventist Peace Fellowship to the Adventist church.
Lisa: We are part of the lay ministries that exist throughout our church. We are deeply connected on Adventist university campuses and I've been in touch with Alfred Johnson in Adult Ministries of the North American Division, alerting him to our mission and getting his approval so that pastors who want their churches to become Peace Churches know they have the church’s blessing.
Many past and current board members are employed by the church.
However, we are not affiliated or supported in any way by the denomination.
What are you most excited about for Adventist Peace Fellowship?
Karah: I’m excited about the ideas of our younger board members like Joelle Kanyana (treasurer), Marci Corea (Peace Chapter coordinator), and Daniel Xisto (pastor), and the passion they have for active participation in justice work.
I’m energized by our growing Peace Church network and the diverse and creative ways groups are working on issues they care about like immigrant advocacy and racial justice.
If I could dream big, I would love for Adventists to be famous for our love of others, our care for God’s creative work in humanity and nature, and our passion for creating a more just world. I mean, wouldn’t it be incredible if “Adventist” was synonymous with the people who love like Jesus?!
How much time does this job take? Is it unpaid?
Karah: We’re 100% volunteer. It’s a communal effort of everyone giving a little of themselves for the cause.
Let’s be real, volunteers make the world go round. It certainly takes time, and I’d have to say Jeff Boyd still commits a huge portion of his time to creating our phenomenal podcasts. He organizes, records, edits, and uploads each one and it’s an enormous effort.
Can you tell us a little bit about what you both do the rest of the time, when you are not working on Adventist Peace Fellowship?
Lisa: Currently I spend lots of time reading and writing for articles for the Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists, but coming up soon I'll be welcoming students to Southern Adventist University and trying to teach classes safely and with tons of accommodation for the COVID pandemic.
Karah: I manage our busy dental practice in Murphy, North Carolina and serve on our local business association board. Adventist Peace Fellowship has given me a deeper connection to my church tradition, and helped me to find a place where I can express my faith. Our board meeting conversations are always a source of encouragement because these people really are peacemakers. It’s a joy serving with them.
If anyone is interested in getting involved in Adventist Peace Fellowship, what are the options?
Lisa: I would love to encourage pastors and active lay leaders to help their congregations become Adventist Peace Churches. There's nothing really to “do” — except put the logo on your webpage and join the sisterhood through electronic communication. But it signals to the wider community, even potential members, where your priorities and orientation lie.
Karah: You can find us on the blog or website, Instagram, Facebook, and of course email. If you have a passion for caring, we’d love to hear about it, hear your story, and support your group or church!
Lisa Clark Diller is chair of the History Department at Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, Tennessee. Karah Thompson is a registered nurse and manager of a dental practice in Murphy, North Carolina.
Alita Byrd is interviews editor for Spectrum.
Photos courtesy of Lisa Clark Diller (left) and Karah Thompson (right).
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