Art Gish (1939-2010) Remembered as a Prophet for Peace

July 29, 2010

“…What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8b).

ART GISH (1939-2010) REMEMBERED AS A PROPHET FOR PEACE

Church of the Brethren peacemaker and activist Arthur G. (Art) Gish, 70, died in a farming accident yesterday morning when his tractor rolled while he was working on his farm in Athens County, Ohio.

Gish and his wife, Peggy, have been organic farmers, life-long workers for peace, and members of the New Covenant Fellowship in Athens, Ohio, a communal church affiliated with the Church of the Brethren. Peggy Gish currently is serving with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) in Iraq.

“We have lost a person important to the Church of the Brethren who has been a visible witness to Christ’s peace around the world,” said Stan Noffsinger, the church’s general secretary, remembering Gish’s strong witness for active Christian peacemaking. “It is a true loss to the church and the thousands of people he served…. We mourn this loss.”

“He has been a formative influence for so many people,” said Bob Gross, executive director of On Earth Peace. Gross and his family were part of the New Covenant community along with the Gish family for some years beginning in the 1970s.

Gish is remembered for his participation in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and the protest movement against war in the 1970s, and for his work for peace in the Middle East in more recent decades. He was a speaker, preacher, and writer with “incisive and frequently controversial views,” as characterized in an interview with “Messenger” magazine published on Aug. 13, 1970. Up until recently he had worked in the Middle East for periods of time with Christian Peacemaker Teams, beginning in 1995, often as a part of the CPT teams in the West Bank city of Hebron and in the Palestinian village of At-Tuwani.

He wrote a number of books that have been influential in church and peace movement circles, including “The New Left and Christian Radicalism,” published by William B. Eerdmans in 1970. Gish described the origins of the book in the wide-ranging 1970 “Messenger” interview by Larry Fourman, who was then on the church’s Parish Ministries staff:

“Working in the protest movement,” Gish said, “I have come to see that the early Brethren and the Anabaptists were not conservatives. They were the radicals of their day…. The early Brethren understood that a Christian is different from the world, that a Christian stands over against the world and is in conflict with the world. To be at peace with God means that one is in conflict with the world.”

Gish also authored “Beyond the Rat Race” (Herald Press, 1972), “Living in Christian Community” (Herald Press, 1979), “Hebron Journal: Stories of Nonviolent Peacemaking” (Herald Press, 2001), and “At-Tuwani Journal: Hope and Nonviolent Action in a Palestinian Village” (Herald Press, 2008).

He was born and raised on a farm in Lancaster County, Pa., and held degrees from Manchester College in North Manchester, Ind., and Bethany Theological Seminary. His peacemaking career began as a conscientious objector working in Europe through Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS) 1958-60. According to a biographical note in “Hebron Journal,” Gish “opposed United States involvement in every war since his youth.”

The Gishes have been prominent members of the community in Athens, where they are known for selling organic produce at the farmers’ market, and as peace activists who regularly wrote letters to the editor of the “Athens News.” The newspaper reported in an obituary yesterday, “On a regular basis, one or both of the Gishes could be found with a few other people standing on Court Street outside the Athens County Courthouse, holding signs calling for peace, in a weekly lunch hour vigil.” Art Gish also “repeatedly placed first in the reader-nominated Athens NEWS Best of Athens awards, as ‘Best Leading Citizen,’” the newspaper said (go to www.athensnews.com/ohio/article-31680-prominent-local-activist-dies-in-farming-accident.html for the obituary online).

Two photographs offer starkly contrasting images of Gish’s life and work–both true to his convictions and commitments, and to his faith:

One photograph was widely reproduced, an Associated Press (AP) image by photographer Lefteris Pitarakis, taken in 2003 as Gish stood in front of an Israeli tank in Hebron (go to http://mideastchristians.virtualactivism.net/articles/amongapples.htm where Art Gish’s reflection on the incident is reprinted along with the photograph).

The other image by photographer Sahal Abdulle was taken the following year, in 2004, as Gish worked the land, with hoe in hand (go to www.lightstalkers.org/images/show/274381).

Newsline is produced by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of news services for the Church of the Brethren, cobnews@brethren.org or 800-323-8039 ext. 260. The next regular issue of Newsline is scheduled for Aug. 11. Newsline stories may be reprinted if Newsline is cited as the source. To unsubscribe or change your e-mail preferences go to www.brethren.org/newsline .

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