In the non-hierarchical structure of Sierra Interfaith Action for Peace, there are no leaders, no followers and no titles. The group is made up of individuals whose vision for their own lives, their community and for society as a whole includes peace and justice, even—or especially—when remaining peaceful is tough. Patricia Gehr has been part of Sierra Interfaith since its inception in the early 1980s and, although she has no official title, she is in charge of facilitating the group’s meetings. Gehr, who lives in Reno with her husband, Denton, holds two masters degrees from the University of Nevada, Reno—one in special education and another in counseling psychology. In response to the war at hand, Sierra Interfaith participates in peace vigils every Monday night at 5:30 p.m. in front of the federal building at 400 S. Virginia St.
What goes on at a peace vigil?
We go over a non-violence guide, then we sing a patriotic song and [read] quotes from people like Martin Luther King, Jr. or Ghandi. Then we sing a peace song, and the closing is the Prayer for a Decade of Nonviolence.
Has anyone suggested that you’re un-patriotic because of your anti-war position?
Well, personally I can’t say I’ve been accused of being non-patriotic, but I know that’s out there, and occasionally someone will shout “cowards” or flip us off [at a vigil]. There’s a lot of respect in our group for veterans and people who are serving in the military. We don’t think bombing will solve the problem, but I still respect those who disagree. I think that terrorists are criminals and should be brought to trial. We have both American flags and peace flags [at the vigil]. We love our country, but we have both a right and a responsibility to protest the bombing. We are also, like everyone else, still grieving for all those who were killed or injured during the Sept. 11 attacks. We feel … fear, anger, all of those emotions. But I believe if we hold to the principles of nonviolence that we can learn skills for responding nonviolently, despite our emotions.
Tell me more about your philosophy.
The scriptures that have to do with loving your enemies and doing good to others are ones that I hope to take seriously. I felt that, after the Sept. 11 attacks, we had this opportunity that was lost when we started bombing. The scripture, “[Do not be overcome by evil], but overcome evil with good” [Romans 13:1], comes to my mind a lot. I think it’s a difficult thing, because my natural response is one of anger and defense. I need to understand [that concept] better, to know how it can be applied in everyday life. I don’t want to give the impression that we always have good thoughts and peaceful thoughts, but we want to hold to the vision of nonviolence and move in that direction. People say we’re unrealistic, too idealistic and that war is inevitable. I don’t think that moves us in the direction of peace.
Have you always been concerned about issues of peace?
I think I was certainly an ordinary little girl, fighting with my sister and all, but something about not fighting [always] appealed to me. I try to understand the other person’s point of view. I think that … no matter where they come from, people want the same thing for themselves and for their children.