A Just Peacemaking Ethic

By Stassen, Glen | Tikkun, September/October 2007 | Go to article overview

A Just Peacemaking Ethic


Stassen, Glen, Tikkun


WHEN I TEACH OR PREACH ON PEACEMAKING IN CHURCHES, I'm often asked, "But what about the Old Testament?'"

The questioner is still stuck in the pro-war, anti-war debate. He (it's usually a he) fears that my talk about how to make peace threatens his commitment to make war now and then. So he turns the Hebrew Bible into his defense for making war.

So I ask him, "Who brought us 'nation shall not lift up sword against nation' and 'beat their spears into ploughshares?" Answer: My favorite prophet (and Jesus' favorite prophet), Isaiah. In the Hebrew Bible.

In American culture many quickly revert to war as the one way to do something active about a wrong; not making war feels to them like not doing anything. These people lack imagination about the practices that work to correct injustices without the devastation of war. If war is not the answer, then what is the answer? With nonviolent direct action, millions of people toppled the violent dictator Eric Honecker and The Wall in East Germany. In that revolution, not one person died. By practicing cooperative conflict resolution and independent initiatives, Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat (with a little help from Jimmy Carter) achieved enough peace that Israel has not fought with Egypt or Jordan since. So did Northern Ireland, by practicing conflict resolution, with a little help from Senator George Mitchell. By practicing economic justice and human rights for Kurds, and thus separating the people from the terrorists, Turkey ended the PKK (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan) movement that had killed 30,000 people. The resultant peace lasted until recently the Iraq War has stirred up some rebellion again. In other examples, just peacemaking practices have brought significant correction to injustice and healing where there was war, or the near likelihood of war: Gandhi in India, Martin Luther King, Jr. in the United States, the peoples' movement in the Philippines, the grassroots human rights and democracy movement throughout Latin America.

Nonviolent direct action, cooperative conflict resolution, economic justice, human rights, transition to democracy from below-these are all practices of the new ethic of just peacemaking. They are bringing healing where there was injustice and dictatorship-without making war.

In order for members of our Abrahamic faiths to rally support for specific practices of peacemaking that work and are scripturally supported, we need a widely known ethic that identifies those practices. It needs to be a publicly known ethic with a specific list of practices. The Ten Commandments is not just a vague essay with scattered suggestions. We need something like The Ten Practices of Just Peacemaking.

When the question that people are asking is whether it is sometimes OK to make war, many evangelical Christians (mis)use the Hebrew Bible to defend waging war. Guided by that debate, what they see in the Hebrew Scriptures is wars. They are so focused on war that they lack imagination about what practices provide alternatives to war and fail to see those practices in the Scriptures.

Now a new ethic is emerging: just peacemaking theory. It's not about debating whether war is ever acceptable. It's about focusing on the practices that work realistically to prevent war. My father volunteered to fight in World War II. Surely he believed in the right to fight some wars. But he came back saying, "Glen, war is so horrible we have to do all we can to prevent World War III and nuclear war." He loved my focus on the ethics of practices that prevent wars. Many veterans know better than the rest of us how devastating war is.

When people's guiding question is whether to support practices that make peace, the Scriptures come alive in refreshing ways. We notice the peacemaking practices of prayer and independent initiatives carried out by a fearful Jacob on his way to seeing Esau after fourteen years of exile. We see Judah asking Joseph, "Can we talk? …

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