A Call to Peacemaking

Wars and rumors of wars abound. "It dawns slowly on the friends of Africa that huge tracts of the continent are being overtaken by the scourges of war," The Washington Post said editorially in mid-October. At the same time debate swirled around a possible NATO bombing campaign, a problematic attempt to address the sufferings of Kosovo. Another bombing claimed more than 100 lives in the 15-year-old civil war in Sri Lanka. Iran and Afghanistan moved threateningly toward each other. The end of the Cold War may have lowered our anxieties about nuclear oblivion, perhaps too much, but it did not end conflict around the globe.

The core question is what people of faith can do in response to a world rent with violence. Just Peacemaking, edited by Glen Stassen, a professor of Christian ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, is a straightforward book of less than 200 pages that makes some important suggestions. It is uneven, as would be any document with 10 essays written by 16 people. But the writers present themes, touch on debates, and tell stories that will have wide appeal.

Just Peacemaking's introduction tells of a growing sense that the old controversy between pacifism and just war theory is a dead end—leading inevitably to debates over whether to go to war and overlooking the question of what to do to make peace. The emerging concept of just peacemaking fills out the original promise of the other two approaches. As Stassen, Duane Friesen, and John Langan write in the book's introduction, the just peacemaking approach "encourages pacifists to fulfill what their name (derived from the Latin pacemfacere) means, 'peacemakers.' And it calls just war theorists to fill in the contents of their underdeveloped principles of last resort and just intention—to spell out what resorts must be tried before trying the last resort of war, and what intention there is to restore a just and enduring peace. It asks both to act on their stated intentions."

With its assurances that it is possible to make peace, the book encourages us to act. Peacemaking is taking place all over the globe. Its power is growing. The Nobel Peace Prize for 1998 went to two people who have worked valiantly with dozens of local groups to bring an end to the interminable violence in Northern Ireland. As that announcement was made, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat met on Maryland's Eastern Shore to try to move their intractable situation closer to resolution.

THE BOOK tells stories of the impact of, yes, Gandhi and King, but also the contribution of the nuclear freeze movement and the East German churches, among many others, to the collapse of the Wall. That understanding contrasts with the predominant theory that military might brought the collapse of the Eastern bloc. Also singled out are the Guatemalan mothers, Witness for Peace, and a host of others that have brought growing relief to tortured Central America. Just Peacemaking serves as an antidote to the fatalism that could immobilize us. It challenges us to act on our own stated intentions.

John Cartwright and Susan Thistlethwaite define "nonviolent direct actions," including civil disobedience (which some in the School of the Americas Watch prefer to call "holy obedience"). Stassen, who wrote "God's Transcending Initiatives" (Sojourners, April 1992), discusses "independent initiatives," actions taken unilaterally to reduce the other's suspicion. He gives the example of the series of steps taken by the Soviet Union and the United States a decade ago that significantly reduced nuclear weapons. Alan Geyer tells of participating in an attempt to get the U.S. government to take responsibility for its policy. The White House was asked to acknowledge legitimate Iranian grievances while finding unacceptable Iran's holding of U.S. hostages in 1980. Had the United States done so, the hostage crisis might have ended sooner and a much improved relationship possibly could have developed between the two nations.

Other contributors write of conflict resolution, sustainable development, advancing human rights, reducing arms sales, strengthening international cooperation (certainly this would include meeting the U.S. treaty obligations to the United Nations), and participation in grassroots peacemaking groups. The book emphasizes that acting alone is not biblically, personally, or politically sound.

Just Peacemaking is the product of five years of deliberation among 23 people—from different disciplines, denominations, and vocations—who came together through the Society for Christian Ethics. They met twice for several days of lively engagement, once in the Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, Kentucky, and once at the Carter Center in Atlanta. The result of their work is a provocative challenge to practice peacemaking.

LEON HOWELL is a veteran journalist and editor of Ethics in the Present Tense, a collection of articles from Christianity & Crisis, a magazine he edited.

Just Peacemaking: Ten Practices for Abolishing War. Edited by Glen Stassen. The Pilgrim Press, 1998.

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