The International Ecumenical Peace Convocation: Towards an Ecumenical Theology of Just Peace?

Article excerpt

In 1932, at the International Youth Peace Conference at Ciernohorske, Czechoslovakia, Dietrich Bonhoeffer issued a call to develop a theological foundation for the World Alliance for Promoting International Friendship through the Churches. (2) The plea he made is both simple and convincing. When the churches actually begin to develop a fresh ecumenical self- understanding, this must and will find expression in a new theology:

   As often as the church of Christ has reached a new understanding of
   its nature it has produced a new theology, appropriate to this
   self-understanding. A change in a church's understanding of itself
   is proved genuine by the production of theology. For theology is
   the church's self-understanding of its own nature on the basis of
   its understanding of the revelation of God in Christ, and this
   self-understanding of necessity always begins where there is a new
   trend in the church's understanding of itself. (3)

Bonhoeffer was certain that only a theology that reflected and affirmed a new self-understanding would prove to be real change: from being merely nation-oriented churches to become ecumenically oriented, striving and longing for the catholicity of the church.

The Peace Convocation as marking the Conclusion of the Decade to Overcome Violence, 2001-2010

The ecumenical movement today has ahead of it a major event, which many are looking forward to with great hopes and expectations: the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation 2011 in Kingston, Jamaica, which was set at the ninth assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in 2006 in Porto Alegre, Brazil. This Peace Convocation is one in a series of important milestones in the long succession of ecumenical activity and thinking on the possibilities of non-violent conflict resolution and commitment to justice for all. (4) The immediate inspiration for this event comes from the ecumenical Decade to Overcome Violence--Churches seeking Reconciliation and Peace 2001-2010, and will bring the Decade to its official conclusion. For the past 10 years, churches throughout the world--often with partners from other religions and even from the secular realm--have been beginning fresh peace initiatives, setting up organizations for non-violent conflict resolution, strengthening existing programmes to prevent violence, intensifying initiatives in demand of just relationships, and engaging in theological and ethical reflection on what it means to be churches of just peace. (5)

A good number of churches are now engaged with determination in investigating and exploring non-violent methods of conflict prevention and resolution, civil forms of conflict management, training of civilian peacekeepers, and active work for reconciliation after recourse to violence. Churches are gradually becoming aware of their responsibility to set up non- violent alternatives, if their call to overcome violence is to be credible. It is no longer enough--and never has been--to limit oneself to general demands to the world community for an internationally binding rule of law and respect for universal human rights. In any case, this point should be obvious to the churches.

The experiences, network building and shared thinking that the churches have engaged in over the last 10 years will become visible and tangible during the Peace Convocation. We shall celebrate, with praise and thanksgiving, the fact that the churches have committed themselves to take this path and together have followed it. This event will, however, also be an occasion for confession and repentance for all that has not been achieved--where churches have failed miserably, where they have remained implicated in violence and entrenched behind "thick church walls", and where they have not wholeheartedly fulfilled their obligations. The phrase "entrenched behind thick church walls" can also be appropriately applied to all situations where churches ate timid and inwardlooking and choose to be isolated from the real challenges facing society, supposedly for the sake of self-preservation or maintaining their privileges as churches or ecumenical organizations. …