Nobel Peace Prize and resonant values

Nobel Peace Prize and resonant values

One of the excellent museums in Oslo, Norway, is the Nobel Peace Centre. I visited the museum while holidaying in Norway recently and was struck by how the values and outcomes that the Peace Prize selection committee looks for resonate with the values of the Uniting Church. This creates controversy much of the time, which is also something very familiar to the UCA! 

It’s a very good museum, with exhibitions that capture well the purpose of the Peace Prize and the values driving the Nobel Committee in its selection process.  

The first hall hosts temporary exhibitions about peace and conflict issues. The exhibition, I saw was called ‘Detours’, which focuses on refugee issues. It included photography from conflict regions, with images of conflict as well as photos of love stories among Syrian refugees. The latter offered an overt counter to the “war porn” pictures that the Western media focuses on. Some of the images used absurdist humour to make a point about living in the midst of such tragic circumstances. A third section is pictures taken by children: “Syria is my only home” shares their desires and fears. 

Detours also has two sections about listening to people. One traced the diaries of young women who were living and studying overseas when the war in Syria broke out. They have a different inner conflict to deal with, being physically free and safe, yet feeling trapped away from home and family.  The other recorded text messages were between people in Syria and family or friends in refugee camps just outside the country. A very poignant message from a man to his refugee friend includes a picture of the refugee’s home being destroyed by a bomb. 

The next section of the museum is called the Golden Hall. Here the current Peace Prize recipient is commemorated. At present this is the Colombian President Santos. Formerly a minister in the Government during a bloody period of Civil War, he was elected on a promise to keep the war going “to take revenge” for the many deaths. But he secretly changed his attitude and began peace talks with the guerrilla, even in the face of a referendum for peace being rejected. A fragile peace has resulted and there is a long way to go to transition the economy away from relying on supplying cocaine to the American and European markets. A more immediate challenge is highlighted in the exhibition through a photograph of a man who works as a land mine clearer. 

The third hall is a somewhat futuristic feeling space called the Nobel Field. 127 iPads mark the path through this exhibition, each providing interactive access to information about one of the 127 laureates. I spent some time reading about two of the Christian ministers who have won the Peace Prize: Dr Martin Luther King whose civil rights activism through nonviolence is well known; and Nathan Soderblom, recognised for his advocacy for Christians to lead the way in seeking policies for peace.  

Alfred Nobel is honoured in the fourth hall of the museum, then the final room acknowledges the controversies that have surrounded many of the Peace Prize awards. These date back to the first time the Red Cross was awarded the Prize, a common retort being that they don’t work for peace, they “just patch up soldiers”. This room shows how the criteria and issues considered have expanded over the years, with human rights becoming prominent in the 1960’s and more recently work in the climate change area being recognised as a significant peace issue. 

The Nobel Peace Centre is an excellent museum that challenges visitors to think about values which, I believe, flow directly from the deep inner human recognition that we are made in God’s image and that our purpose on earth is to live that out in love and peace with one another. As our newly installed General Secretary has reminded us often, we ought to be driven by the desire to be a fellowship of reconciliation through which Christ witnesses to the world. Although the Nobel Peace Prize isn’t a Christian Prize, it reflects these values well. If you’re ever in Oslo I commend an afternoon at the Peace Prize museum. 


Warren Bird, Executive Director, Uniting Financial Services


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