#MCC100Years: Human Rights as a Secular Path to Peace

Welcome to 2020! This is a big year for MCC, as we celebrate 100 years of relief, development and peace. One way we want to mark this year is by sharing articles and stories from the archives of MCC’s Peace Office Newsletter, now known as Intersections, on this blog. Calling for change and for a more peaceful and just world has been foundational to MCC’s work for decades. MCC has published articles about economic justice, domestic violence, land claims, military spending, conscientious objection, peace theology, and many more. While some of the postures MCC has taken over the years aren’t positions we may take today, the courage to think critically and speak publicly as a faith-based organization around issues that are easily politicized is something to celebrate as we look forward. May these glimpses into conversations of the past continue to inform our thinking and work into this next phase of relief, development and peace in the name of Christ.

To start, we want to share this piece on Human Rights as a Secular Path to Peace by Ricardo Esquivia Ballestas, a longtime friend of MCC Colombia and director of MCC partner Sembrandopaz. When this piece was written in 1998, Ricardo was the director of MCC partner Justapaz. His original piece was translated by Bonnie Klassen and has now been condensed for our blog.

Human Rights as a Secular Path to Peace

We can talk about peace. In fact, each one of us may understand it from the perspective of many different concepts. I believe that it cannot be enclosed by one definition, nor reduced to one conceptualization. We must not point to our conceptions of peace as yet another divisive factor, nor use them as weapons for our various wars.

For me, peace is encompassing and alive. I see peace as a fundamental part of life, as the essential horizon of human life, as the historical path, process and goal of humanity. It is the divine element or ingredient that gives meaning to our existence.

I am not an academic scholar of peace, only a humble seeker, driven by the pain and anxiety that violence and war produce. l am a seeker following the path that, according to Jesus, leads us to abundant life and to a special peace, so different from the other concepts of peace.

Every night during the nine days before Christmas in Colombia, family and friends gather to sing and pray together. In Bogota, DiPaz, an ecumencial peace platform where MCC partner Justapaz particpates, organized a novena in memory of all those who have been assassinated by armed groups in 2017 in defense of their land and community. People from different faith traditions and organizations, including members of Justapaz and MCC Colombia, gathered to light candles, pray, and sing in a public act of rememberance. (MCC photo/Anna Vogt)

Peace is God’s will

I believe that it is God’s will that we live in peace. Perhaps one of the most repeated commands in the Bible is that we seek and live out peace.

The Bible says that peace is the fruit of justice. The result of justice will be peace, and the end of justice will be rest and security forever (Isaiah 32: 17). These biblical passages lead us to consider first the vision for justice, for according to these criteria, without justice there is no peace. From this perspective, peace is the product of a process towards justice.

Justice is another value about which many concepts, visions and perspectives exist. For some, it is some sort of retributive claim, so legalistic that at times it becomes a search for revenge. For others, it is simply living by the laws of the government where they live, without challenging anything, since they believe that all governments exercise the will of God.

Others spiritualize justice to the point that it only exists in heaven; therefore, they need not complicate their lives with such earthly matters. On their way towards angelic perfection, they limit themselves to enjoying the good life that the system offers them, without asking questions. There are also those who affirm that justice means giving to each one what he or she deserves.

Biblical peace refers to a state of well-being or shalom, a journey towards the satisfaction of fundamental needs, leading us towards a full life, free, happy and joyful, in which we respect the dignity of others. Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they might have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Peace is life in abundance.

For me, justice involves all actions that take us, as individuals and as a community, toward the satisfaction of fundamental needs, toward abundant life, toward peace. It is necessary to be just, that these actions support and promote life development for individual persons and for their communities. A just solidarity embodies this harmonic combination of rights and duties of the individual and the community.

Juan David Ayala Palma, of MCC Colombia partner Mencoldes. On September 21 the International Day of Ceasefires and Non-violencea group of Colombian Mennonites celebrate “Pan y Paz” or Bread and Peace. They march in the street and hand out bread, reminding those they met that peace is not possible without social justice. They advocate for the Colombian state to implement just economic policies. (MCC photo/Anna Vogt)

Many, or maybe a few, will agree with this concept of justice as a restorative, healing action that creatively reconstructs and transforms relationships broken by violence and moves humanity towards peace. This is a vision taken from the values of the Kingdom of God that Jesus taught about in his message. Other values directed towards justice can be taken from the teachings of the Buddha, others from Mohammed, from Kane, from Socrates, from Confucius, from Shaman, or from their cultural, political, ideological or religious visions.

God is present in all of the universe, in all of the earth, and all human beings are created by God. The image and semblance of God exists in every human being, and from this image emanates the value and dignity of each one. For that reason, everyone has the capacity to receive God’s revelation and form their culture and their lifestyle in such a way that they together become a people and draw close to the perfect message that Jesus preached and lived.

However, each person or group of people tends to consider itself possessors of the truth and to see things only from this perspective.

Not all human beings have decided to accept and live according to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Moreover, even among those who follow Jesus, different beliefs lead us to confront each other, to the point that we have wars between Catholics and Protestants. We discriminate against, marginalize or kill our neighbour as we try to comply with the peace and life that Jesus gives us.

To live in peace, human beings need justice. Justice is the process that allows us to satisfy our needs, while respecting and supporting the dignity of others. It is the process that leads us towards peace. However, we have many beliefs and demands regarding justice that bring us difficulties and destructive conflicts.

These cultural and philosophic differences should be harmonically brought together through a body of values, that all of humanity can accept and respect.

Human rights as ethical code

This body of norms and values that gathers the understanding of life and peace from the greatest number of cultures and creeds possible, as conditions of life for humanity is called human rights.

Human rights are the secular form in which humanity, in a minimal way, begins to accept the values of God’s Kingdom. In their dual role as rights and duties, they are a suitable lens allowing us to perceive, from a secular perspective, the spectacular, divine dignity of God in every man and woman with whom we relate.

They are at the same time a window and platform of hope by which the salvation message of our Lord Jesus Christ can reach to the ends of the earth, as the Great Commission orders.

Ricardo ends his message with a call for Anabaptist church unity and a network that would link congregations working for peace and justice. For Mennonites in Colombia struggling with a context of violence, they envisioned a structure in which churches around the world would share their struggles and support one another. This vision was realized by Mennonite World Conference through creating a space for shared prayer requests for peace.


Ricardo Esquivia, Director of MCC partner Sembrandopaz, in Sincelejo, Colombia. (MCC Photo/Colin Vandenberg)

One thought

  1. Ricardo is spot on! The UN Declaration of Human Rights is a codification of the peace that he seeks–and a secular articulation that moves close to Jesus proclamation of “the kingdom of God.”

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