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Ecumenical Peace Convocation calls on Churches to jettison just war theories

 KINGSTON (SE): The phrase, “Glory to God and peace on earth,” was described as being one of the oldest and most often repeated declarations of the desire for peace, by Reverend Olav Fykse Tveit, the general secretary of the World Council of Churches, speaking at the May 17 to 25 International Ecumenical Peace Convocation, attended by over 1,000 people at the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica.

The Reverend Tveit said that to seriously pursue peace in our world, “A radical realism in the form of dreams is required to open the space for serious dialogue on the challenges we are facing together.”
He added, “In addition to dreams and definitions, we need the declarations.” He called the declaration, recorded in the gospel nativity narratives of the angels at Christmas, which has been echoed in Christian liturgies down the centuries, a challenge to Christian Churches to a make a paradigm shift in their thinking on peace and war.

He described it as a call to move their emphasis away from just war theories towards an imaginative call for peaceful solutions to differences.

“The way of just peace is fundamentally different from the concept of just war and much more than criteria for protecting people from the unjust use of force; in addition to silencing weapons, it embraces social justice, the rule of law, respect for human rights and shared human security,” he went on.

Reverend Tveit called the challenge of defining a just peace more difficult than describing a just war. 

He said, “It is a collective dynamic, yet grounded process of freeing human beings from fear and want, of overcoming enmity, discrimination and oppression, and of establishing conditions for just relationships that privilege the experience of the most vulnerable and respect for the integrity of creation.”

However, he added that the desire must also be present, burning in the heart of every Christian.

“If we don’t have dreams about what we want to come true, we are not quite realistic,” he said.

The World Council of Churches general secretary said that there is a growing consensus among Christian Churches on matters of war and peace, though disagreements remain on addressing specific issues, such as protecting civilian populations in conflicts, like the current violence in Libya, and the requirements for a peace that promises justice to all parties in Israel and Palestine.

The convocation points out that we struggle to protect people from injustice, war and violence. The gathering said that it struggled to get its head around the concept of the responsibility to protect the vulnerable and its possible misuse.

Consequently, all participants were charged with encouraging the bodies that they represent to work on clarifying their positions and ideas on this issue.

The convocation also made a blanket condemnation of nuclear arms, saying, “As Churches, we are in are in a position to teach non-violence to the powerful, if only we dare. For we are followers of the one who came as a helpless infant, died on the cross, told us to lay aside our swords, taught us to love our enemies and was resurrected from the dead.”

A statement released at the conclusion of the convocation in the West Indies says that all participants are as one in their desire to see war defined as an illegal activity and highlighting peace as being a central value in all religious traditions.

“With partners of other faiths, we recognised that peace is a core value in all religions and the promise of peace extends to all people, regardless of their traditions and commitments. Through intensified interreligious dialogue, we seek common ground with all world religions,” the statement reads.

The convocation acknowledged that religions bring different approaches towards their work for a just peace.

Some begin from personal conversion and morality; others stress the need to focus on mutual support and correction with the body of Christ, while others encourage commitment to the broader social movements and public Church witness.

“Each approach has its merits,” the statement notes. “They are not mutually exclusive. In fact they belong inseparably together. Even in our diversity, we can speak with one voice.”

However, the statement also notes that Christian Churches must also search their own souls and histories, as they too are in need of conversion. It notes that they have often been compliant in systems of violence, injustice, militarism, racism, casteism, intolerance and discrimination.

“We ask God to forgive our sins and to transform us as agents of righteousness and advocates of just peace,” the statement proclaims.

During its week-long meeting, the convocation addressed peace from four standpoints; peace in the community, peace on earth, peace in the marketplace and peace among the peoples.

It pointed to a global economy that exercises a structural violence that victimises people, not only through the use of weapons or physical force, but the passive acceptance by the powers-that-be of widespread poverty, inequalities in social classes—often derived from ethnic origins, and the uncontrolled drive for growth brought about by neoliberal systems.

To this it adds the scandal of the enormous amounts of money spent on armaments, which diverts budget money away from social issues such as education, health care, infrastructure development, housing, food security and other social services.

The convocation also reminded the delegates that violence is contrary to God’s will and claimed that history shows it never really resolves conflict issues.

“It is for this reason we are moving beyond the theories of just war towards a commitment to just peace,” the statement reads.

However, the moderator of the World Council of Churches, Reverend Walter Altmann, said that the statement cannot stand on its own, but must be seen in the context of an ecumenical experience.

“As we return (home), each of us becomes a living message for the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation,” he said, adding that the complexity of the issues still to be addressed will require much further work, reflection and action.

Reverend Tveit said that one of the major signs of hope at the convocation was the number of Churches that chose to send young people as delegates.

“We rejoice that young people participated in this meeting in a wide variety of roles,” he said. “We thank those Churches and organisations that sent young people as their representatives.”

The moderator of the preparatory committee for the convocation, Fernando Enns, said that where Churches position themselves is vital to the mission of achieving a just and lasting peace in our world.

“The Church shall not speak to the marginalised; the Church must be where the marginalised are,” he stressed. “We are only beginning to grasp the possibilities we have when we really respect one another.”
Despite the fact that making peace has been an integral part of Church mission and witness, the convocation noted that, in reality, it is not as common as we may tend to think.

However, the general secretary of the Jamaica Council of Churches, Reverend Gary Harriott, pointed out, “Our journey must continue. You and I, we shall hold each other accountable. The Church is either accepting the call to just peace, or it is not a Church at all.”

‘The way of just peace is fundamentally different from the concept of just war and much more than criteria for protecting people from the unjust use of force; in addition to silencing weapons, it embraces social justice, the rule of law, respect for human rights and shared human security’