Peace needs us
Giving new incentives to the 3rd European Ecumenical convention 2007
Hearing 7. September 2007, 14:00 15:30
Orthodox Theological Faculty Location 3
Moderation: Dr. Gisela Kurth
Peace is prophecy and commandment of the Bible. In the Conciliar Process of Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation the ecumenical community of Christians took this commandment to heart. At the world assembly in Seoul in 1990, Christians decided to adopt a programme comprising a comprehensive commitment to non-violence, which includes the rejection of military interventions and the aim to abjure war as a legal means of resolving conflicts as well as the commitment to deal with personal relationships in a non-violent way. Since 2001, in the Dekade zur Überwindung der Gewalt (Decade to Overcome Violence), the Conciliar Process has found the area it intends to focus on and is still highly relevant today.
The challenges which need to be faced today can be summarised in the vision of a Peace with Justice. This vision contains the notion that it is necessary to stand up for our universal human rights and create more equitable conditions as a basis for long-lasting peace, and it also contains the task to overcome violence on all levels. This vision stands in stark contrast to the reality of our world and one might be tempted to regard it as an unachievable and distant aim. Nevertheless, this task remains a practical and ethical challenge which everybody needs to face up to in order to guard against violating one’s core values or losing one’s humaneness.
We Christians are called on to realign all our actions in order to achieve Peace with Justice and to try to realise this vision by showing the highest possible degree of commitment to this cause.
In November 2005, the AGDF officially launched its campaign “Peace Needs Us”. The material we provide for this campaign is designed to give new impetus in order to
- explain and call attention to the principle of “overcoming violence” as a guiding idea for the path towards peace and to
- question the seemingly inevitable trend in the general political, social and economic development which favours globalisation and militaristic policies, and to point to alternatives for the purpose of creating “just peace”.
1. Peace requires economic fairness and the integrity of God’s Creation
The biggest threat to peace is the concentration of power and wealth in certain regions of our world. People and natural resources are increasingly being controlled and exploited for private, financial and commercial purposes. The free flow and concentration of capital, the unscrupulous implementation of economic plans and the maximisation of profit clearly obtain priority nowadays; economic growth is the highest ideal.
Economic liberalism entails political, social and cultural backlashes which affect the lives of all people in this world and increase inequality, poverty and environmental degradation. Challenged by the churches of the southern hemisphere, the World Council of Churches, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Lutheran World Federation called for an “obligatory process of perception, learning and confession”. The destructive forces of the current economic and financial system need to be countered by an economic system which “serves life”, a change in the system itself needs to be brought about. The final goal will be to achieve a more just distribution of the natural assets of this world.
2. Creating security for all instead of safeguarding interests
The aim of foreign and security policy is to safeguard our interests and to protect against external threats which we created ourselves by engaging into power politics and enforcing our privileges at the expense of poor countries. In order to justify the attempt to keep away from us all the crises in the many regions of the world which come about as a consequence of our actions politicians talk about the need of “extended security”. The rising global threats to the security of Germany and Europe are the result of the competition of economic and geopolitical interests, e.g. the dependence on energy resources, the competition for natural resources and markets as well as their protection against crises and threats. The European Security Strategy of 2003, to which the new white paper of the German Bundeswehr (German Armed Forces) refers, states that “in terms of new threats the first line of defence will often be abroad. (…) For this reason we need to be prepared to act before a new crisis erupts. It is never too early to guard against conflicts and threats”. What lies beneath such considerations is a worldwide scenario of violence in which “the West” protects itself and “safeguards” cultural and material resources unilaterally vis-à-vis the vast majority of people in the world who remain excluded from this process. What has been practiced for a long time in terms of migration and refugee policy is now being practiced in terms of the world’s natural resources.
What is needed now is a new understanding of security; one that acknowledges that all people – men, women and children – seek and need safety and security. This new understanding searches for the causes of the threats to human existence and aims at eliminating these causes. According to the United Nations, “human security” accrues from poverty reduction, from social development, from the protection of the natural environment and from the respect for human rights. In order to fully implement this understanding of security step by step, it will be necessary to realign existing political standards and aims and to rethink political strategies. This calls for a new awareness and attitude within the populations of the West.
3. War is contrary to the will of God
As long as achieving security in the sense of safeguarding interests comes about by military force, one can anticipate more wars, more violence and more dead people. Today military power and the use of military force are part of political calculations again. It is especially the United States that employs power politics, but in Europe, a militarisation of politics is happening as well. The German Bundeswehr has turned into an army of mobile forces and acts increasingly worldwide within the framework of NATO, EU or UN missions. Due to “civil-military cooperation”, humanitarian aid and civil conflict transformation are on the brink of becoming misappropriated. More and more money is being spent on more effective and more malicious weaponry. It is even the development of nuclear weapons and the planning of their “tactical deployment” that are enjoying a comeback now. The defence and arms exports industries are booming, Germany is one of the largest arms exporters in the world.
It must be the stated aim of Christians (and the churches) to counter warmongers in order to prevent the military resolution of conflicts. It is of paramount importance to break the vicious circle of armament, warfare and destruction. Therefore, it is necessary to have contentious open debates with politicians who prefer to engage in power politics and who are prepared all too soon to deploy forces to the troubled regions of the world. In addition to the critical reporting by the German “Joint Conference Church and Development” on arms exports, the Churches should get involved in counteracting the influence of the arms industry and lobby for disarmament. In addition to that, “the churches (…) need to reprimand states as long as it is necessary to make them recognise the irrefutable fact that the use of nuclear weapons cannot be morally justified” (9. Plenary meeting of the World Council of the Churches, Porto Alegre, 2006).
4. Peace and the prevention of violence begins in our society
Condemning political violence can only appear credible if non-violence is also practiced in the personal sphere of life. Violence between men and women and towards children occurs every day. The coexistence of people with different origins and different cultural and religious backgrounds is repeatedly and increasingly becoming threatened by violence.
Non-violence is a holistic attitude which affects every sphere of life – the personal sphere, family, school and work as well as the social and political sphere. People who desire peace first need to learn and follow the path of non-violence. Non-violence does not mean inaction or the absence of conflict. Non-violence is an active way of living which requires determination and moral courage. Crucial requirements for a culture of peace are solidarity between men and women, between parents and children, as well as non-violence and mutual respect between migrants and locals.
Where people live together there will never be an entirely peaceful coexistence. Social, cultural and religious tensions can be an opportunity for improving social development. Problems arise, however, when these tensions are perceived as threats and when people employ violence in order to deal with these threats. In this process “structural” violence can arise as well, when the media, for example, put Muslims under general suspicion of being fundamentalist extremists.
In people’s everyday social interactions, conflicts are usually resolved without violence. Nonetheless, crisis management is sometimes needed when tense situations arise and conflicts appear to escalate, or when violence has already broken out. People who work for social action campaigns intend to counter this violence with the help of the Church and political programmes. In recent years, methods and programmes for violence prevention, non-violent conflict transformation and intervention have been developed under the designation “civil conflict transformation”. These programmes have come to prove their worth in many situations and are used at schools, in communities, in companies and social hot spots, at home and abroad. It is necessary to promote them even more and employ them systematically. The prevention of violence in areas, such as education and the media, is absolute necessity. In the end our work needs to focus on changing the mindsets and attitudes of people who engage in conflicts, as well as creating forms of coexistence in order ensure peace and stability where people live together side by side. The Church can make an important contribution to this process.
5. Violence can only be overcome by peaceful means
Whether it is the toppling of the dictatorship on the Philippines in 1986, the change of government in the Ukraine or the German reunification: there were many cases in history which demonstrated how violence can be overcome peacefully. Certain events nowadays, however, reconfirm the experiences of past events that violence cannot create peace. Both facts confirm our position that violence cannot be overcome by resorting to violence oneself and they remind us that we have to solely employ non-violent means in all situations if we want create lasting peace. People who think it necessary to retain the right to resort to military force as a “final means” put up with the risk that military force could be used one day – today these people cite more and more often “humanitarian” reasons which, however, turn out to be more than unconvincing.
Methods and instruments of civil, non-violent conflict transformation can be used for nearly all kinds of conflicts with high chances of success. In doing so, various actors need to become active on various levels. Politicians can draw on a variety of non-military instruments which they can use for interventions in danger areas. And in addition to that there are trained specialists and peace services of which NGOs as well as ecclesiastical and ecumenical services form part. The highly uneven distribution of financial resources and manpower for military purposes on one side and for the purposes of non-violent conflict resolution on the other side just shows how little importance politicians attach to the latter. Therefore it is important to underscore the demand of the EKD (German Protestant Church) synod that “all political areas of the EU should be reassessed as to what extent they can help devising an integrated strategy for the prevention and resolution of conflicts. (…) In view of the setup of the European Defence Agency, (the synod) calls upon the European Commission to press ahead with the further development and institutionalisation of an effective instrument for the coordination of civil means.” The EKD thereby supports the demands by the Conference of the European Churches to establish a European peace agency. The Churches need to try to achieve this goal by intensifying their efforts concerning conflict prevention and reconciliation and by lobbying for this cause.
6. Supporting international law
People can only achieve peace by acting in concert. Peace cannot be achieved and preserved by excluding certain people (“we against them”), but only by including all people (“we all together”). For this reason, expanding and supporting the international community, the United Nations and international law is of paramount importance. This entails the closing of regulation gaps concerning intrastate and interstate conflicts. The implementation of international law requires accepted and efficient international institutions and instruments, and amongst other things, a reform of the United Nations. European countries which have are a common hurtful past of failed politics of power and violence and which also have cultural and economic power could play an important factor in this process.
This, however, is a task for civil initiatives and NGOs, such as the churches. More and more people acknowledge their contribution to peace as well as to the international community. People who work for NGOs are usually not bound to economic or political interests; they are closer to the problems of victims and can address and tackle these problems more easily. NGOs should have more influence on the national as well as international level, precisely because of the fact that their programmes and aims are geared to helping victims and that they are supposed to change and improve unjust conditions.
7. The ecumenical commitment to peace – no religiously motivated violence
Within the framework of the Conciliar Process, the churches and committed Christians have made many achievements which need to be brought into people’s attention; it is our duty to follow this taken path. The recommendations to which the ACK in Germany in 2006 gave its blessing for the realisation of the Charta Oecumenica of the European Churches contain important considerations as to how – apart from the aforementioned areas – churches and communities can contribute to the aim of turning European powers into powers of peace. Churches, for example, “are required to educate people about conflicts of the past and to provide peace services in the various regions on the spot”. It is recommended “to form community groups in which people stand up for justice, peace, the preservation of the Creation and the overcoming of violence.”
Furthermore, the plan is to strengthen ties with Jews and to seek a closer partnership with Muslims. It is important to recognise that Judaism, Christianity and Islam are religions which have, like all religions, ambivalent histories. For people who exercise these religions, peace is prophecy and commandment. Nevertheless, history shows that these religions are not only religions of peace, but that believers also brought about injustice and violence. Time and again these people are inclined to boil reality down to a worldview of good and evil and fight the alleged evil with violence. In doing so they betray their own commandment of peace, they turn the faiths into political ideologies and misuse them for their own purposes.
Peace is the very core message of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths. That applies especially to the Christian faith: practicing peace, even if this means sustaining violence, is one of the core messages of Jesus Christ. One of the main challenges to believers in the Jewish, Christian and Islamic faiths will be to withstand misuse and to emphasise the authentic message of their respective religion. It is imperative to encourage other believers to participate in peace services, to mobilise the powers of peace and to unfold the spirituality of a Peace with Justice. Believers have to approach those victims who have to face injustice, fear, trauma and destruction of life and they have to bring peace into violence-ridden areas.
Peace begins where people are prepared to enter areas of conflict and where they – as a sign of peace – fight for justice and reconciliation alongside the victims. In doing so, believers hope to follow a path which can bring salvation and create new life.