Is war, or the use of military intervention, ever justified in the pursuit of peace? How do we engage in concrete practices that prevent violent conflict? How is real security achieved? And what implications do our answers have for the life and witness of the church?
In struggling through the ethical complexities of these questions, we often face a stalemate between just war and pacifist positions. While debates between these perspectives are of course significant, they are insufficient. When we become too entangled in arguments over the use of force in the pursuit of peace, our attention is diverted away from a much more crucial question…
How do we effectively prevent violent conflict in the first place?
This was the central question preoccupying Canadian church representatives when we gathered together in Waterloo from February 2-3 for the Just Peace Symposium. Organized by MCC coalition partner Project Ploughshares, this meeting provided a valuable opportunity for 25 leaders and representatives from eight denominations—Anglican, Christian Reformed, Friends (Quaker), Lutheran, Mennonite, Presbyterian, United Church, and Unitarian—to share insights and commitments to peacemaking as articulated by our respective traditions.
Joined by Christian ethicist Glen Stassen, who delivered the symposium’s public lecture on the 10 practices of just peacemaking, we explored what resonated within the just peace framework as well as points for further discussion, reflection, and growth. What this framework aims to do, Stassen said, is to move us beyond the all-too-familiar debates into a new space that focuses on cultivating concrete practices for preventive peacebuilding.
And, so, we listened, shared, and deliberated together: How do we respond in concrete ways to advance just peace in changing times? How do we face the challenges of climate justice, intractable global conflicts, and current official Canadian defence and foreign policy? What is our theological framework for engaging in this work? How do we struggle in and across our respective traditions to understand each other?
It was a full day of wrestling with complex case studies, ethical questions, and theological commitments.
And even while we recognized our differing perspectives on the use of military intervention in certain circumstances, we did all affirm together that war is always a failure—a failure to address the root causes of conflict and prevent war. We all supported a strong preventive approach that takes responsibility for preventing the outbreak of state-sanctioned violence through comprehensive and ongoing efforts to promote peace and justice.
Jenn Wiebe, MCC Ottawa Office Policy Analyst