The Rev. David Gracie, an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War, says he's not a "tired old leftie." His commitment to non-violence has little to do with Marx and a whole lot to do with Quakers and Mahatma Gandhi, about whom he has written a book.
The Episcopal priest has been associating with Quakers from the American Friends Service Committee and getting arrested since the Vietnam War. Now he's been named to run the peace education division for the organization.
"I've felt a closeness with Quakers for a long time," he said in an interview this week. "I believe I share their basic values and vision."
Chief among those, he said, is "non-violence, an understanding of the Quaker witness to peace and justice and a commitment to working with their decision-making process."
"I found it really worked," he said, referring to the Quaker decision-making method "based on consensus and a group attempting to unite with the truth. They believe the truth will be revealed."
The Friends Service Committee, which is an independent American Quaker organization with a staff of 400, works in three main areas: international issues, community relations and peace education divisions. Gracie, who most recently was a chaplain at Temple University, took over the peace education division in November.
The peace education division deals with various areas of the world, including Central America, South Africa and the Middle East, and with issues such as youth and militarism. The national office produces resource materials and organizes conferences and speaking tours.
Gracie, who will be 58 this month, first encountered the "Quaker witness" when a friend in his native Detroit needed advice on conscientious objection during the Korean War.
"I've been turning for help in that direction since then," he said. "There's been a pattern of that in my life." With advice from the Friends Service Committee, the priest helped set up a draft counseling center during the Vietnam War. The center was co-sponsored by his Episcopal parish and a downtown Detroit United Methodist Church. "That was December 1965, early on in the war. We got on Huntley-Brinkley with it," he said.
Two years later he went to Philadelphia, where the Service Committee is headquartered, and was appointed by Bishop Robert L. DeWitt to be an urban missioner with a mandate to fashion an urban peace and civil rights ministry. There, his antiwar activism led to calls for Bishop DeWitt's resignation in 1968.
Besides draft counseling, Gracie's activist background includes protest marches, sit-ins, teach-ins and chain-ins, challenging the constitutionality of the Vietnam War in court and several arrests.
He also wrote a book, "Gandhi and Charlie," which recounts the "very deep friendship" between the Hindu apostle for nonviolence and the Rev. Charlie Andrews, an Anglican priest who was a missionary to India.
Gracie sighed at the characterization of being an "old leftie," leveled at the Service Committee by evangelical Cal Thomas in a recent syndicated column.
"It'a an old charge itself, and it's been made against other church groups," like the National Council of Churches, the priest said. "If you want something rickety and old, it's war-making and the policy of war as a means of dealing with aggression. What's new is sanctions and negotiation."
"We are always exploring new developments, looking for new ways to do the work of peace." But some old methods will continue to be used. He said 1,500 students recently held an all night teach-in on non-military options to the Persian Gulf crisis at the University of Michigan, site of the one of the first anti-Vietnam War teach-ins.