"Our commitment to peace as churches and as Christians, is something we have inherited at birth, or, indeed, from the birth of the baby of Bethlehem," said Bishop Dr Martin Schindehütte of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) at a day preparing for the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation.
The peace forum was part of the Second Ecumenical Kirchentag (German for 'church convention') in Munich, which ended last week.
The forum involved Kirchentag participants in panel discussions with peace campaigners, politicians, bishops and representatives of the World Council of Churches (WCC) on the various aspects of a 'just peace'. That is to be the focus of the Peace Convocation, to take place in May 2011 on the invitation of the WCC in Kingston, Jamaica.
The idea of a just peace presents an alternative to the concept of the 'just war', according to which war can be justified under particular circumstances.
The concern that it might be possible for war to become acceptable again was expressed by the Catholic Bishop of Fulda, Dr Heinz Josef Algermissen, President of Pax Christi Germany, in a panel discussion with the title "How do we build peace?" He claimed that practically no discussion at all on that issue was taking place in society.
With regard to Afghanistan, he said, "We shall not build peace as long as there is still structural violence." He went on to say that the question must be asked "How do we create justice in Afghanistan?" and added that justice cannot be ensured as long as much more money is being spent on military intervention.
The chairperson of the Council of the EKD, Dr Nikolaus Schneider, added that military intervention does not create peace, for "security is not peace". For him, there can be no peace without security. But "security without peace becomes oppression."
The WCC General Secretary, the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, explained that the concept of a just peace can be applied to other situations beyond the German Afghanistan debate, for example to the violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, or to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
He added that the churches in Germany had an important contribution to make, because they knew from their own history how important respect for human rights is, and thus understood the Palestinians’ problems. Similarly, they knew about the particular responsibility that Christians have towards Jews and carefully fostered relationships with them. "The German churches are able to understand why this conflict is so difficult to solve, but also that it must be solved."
Peace between the nations is only one aspect in the concept of peace that the churches have been developing in the course of the Decade to Overcome Violence 2001-2010. In order to make peace an enduring reality, education on peaceful relationships in everyday life, an end to the violence of exploitative economic structures and an end to the destructive relationship with the created world are also required.
Schneider quoted fair trade as a successful example: it had begun with the sale of a few products after worship in church congregations, and since then had taken a firm hold generally in society.
On the issue of peace education, Nicolau Jemusse Luis, leader of the Swords into Ploughshares programme of the Christian Council of Mozambique, said, "I wish to issue a challenge to you: do not any longer buy toy weapons for our children, but rather collect together all toys that are in the form of weapons and destroy them."
That was an appeal with which Gisela Mayer, spokesperson of the action group "Amoklauf Winnenden" agreed. Together with other grieving parents she had launched a campaign to create a more peaceful environment for children, after a school student in March 2009 had shot her daughter, a teacher at the school, and a number of his fellow students.
"What sort of beings are we that see the practice of efficiently killing as a leisure or sporting activity?" she asked, and added, "What do our children need in order not to need violence?" It was her hope for the Peace Convocation that the churches would send out a clear and distinct message "that the struggle for peace will never come to an end, and exactly for that reason must begin afresh every day."
Experiences of work for peace in various areas which have been collected by the churches during the Decade to Overcome Violence will be incorporated into a "Declaration for a Just Peace".
"That will represent an attempt to keep us aware of what we have learned," said Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser, former WCC General Secretary and co-ordinator of the international group drawing up the Declaration. The aim of the Decade, which was inaugurated in a symbolic act in 2001 in Berlin, was, he explained, "to move the hope for peace from the periphery into the centre of church life."
The conclusion of the Peace Forum in Munich was marked by an invitation to become part of a Christian wave of prayer for peace in May 2011. In the course of evening prayers on the theme "Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth" Bishop Schindehütte called upon people to set out like the shepherds of Bethlehem and pass on the message of peace on the Sunday during the Peace Convocation, 22 May 2011 – in Kingston or in their own locality.
Church congregations around the world are being invited on that day to join in prayer for peace. "A wave of prayer will go out from Jamaica – not a La-Ola-wave, but an Ora et Labora wave. Together we shall pray and work for peace," Bishop Schindehütte concluded.
The concern that not only WCC member churches but also the Catholic Church in Germany should take part in the call to pray for peace was welcomed by the Archbishop of Freiburg, Dr Robert Zollitsch.
As president of the German Bishops’ Conference he promised to discuss the text of the prayer with his fellow bishops.
International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (IEPC) - http://www.overcomingviolence.org/en/peace-convocation.html