'Just peace' is core of unity, says World Council of Churches' leader

By Stephen Brown
June 5, 2011

Commitment to peace and justice needs to be at the centre of the Christian churches' search for unity if they are to carry conviction, the head of the World Council of Churches has told a convention in Germany.

"If this is not at the heart of the ecumenical movement and if this is not at the heart of the churches we cannot give a credible witness to the world," WCC General Secretary, the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, said at the 1-5 June German Protestant Kirchentag (church convention), which brought more than 120,000 people to Dresden in eastern Germany.

Tveit was speaking at a 3 June event about the WCC's International Ecumenical Peace Convocation. The convocation drew hundreds of participants to Kingston, Jamaica in May to mark the culmination of the church grouping's Decade to Overcome Violence, launched in Berlin in 2001.

The Kingston gathering ended with a message underlining the need "to address violence and to reject war in favour of 'Just Peace', the establishment of peace with justice through a common response to God’s calling" (http://bit.ly/jMCcXq).

In Dresden, Tveit referred to Jesus' prayer that his disciples "may all be one" (John 17:21), a text seen as the basis of the search for Christian unity.

"The unity we are working for as Christians," Tveit said, "is that 'they may be one' so that the world can believe that just peace is possible."

The WCC groups 349 churches, mostly Anglican, Orthodox and Protestant.

Tveit said the WCC intended to make the issues raised in Jamaica a "matter of public debate" in advance of the church grouping's next assembly in 2013 in Busan, South Korea. The assembly meets under the theme, "God of life, lead us to justice and peace".

German Bishop Martin Schindehütte said the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), the country's main Protestant grouping, aims to start a discussion with decision-makers on restructuring the German army.

The aim would be to ensure that the army could function "only with international policing powers and nothing more", said Schindehütte, who heads the EKD's foreign relations department.

One of the keynote speakers at the Jamaica gathering, the Rev. Dr Margot Kässmann, said what had impressed her in Kingston had been the strength and resilience of the people from the global South - Africa, Asia and Latin America.

They had shown "just how limited our perspectives are", said Kässmann, a former head of the EKD and former Lutheran bishop of Hanover.

In Liberia, "amid unspeakable violence, women showed amazing courage" in their actions to bring peace and an end to the civil war there, she added.

Joachim Garstecki, the former General secretary of the German section of the Roman Catholic peace organisation Pax Christi, echoed the need for issues of justice and peace to be seen as central to the identity of churches.

At the same time, "we have to work with all people of good will, of other confessions, other religions and other philosophical perspectives," said Garstecki, a Catholic theologian who before 1989 was a peace expert for East Germany's Protestant churches.

An "Ecumenical Call to Just Peace" presented to delegates at the Jamaica gathering urged Christians "to challenge any theological or other justifications of the use of military power", describing the concept of a "just war" as "obsolete".

The Rev Dr Konrad Raiser, a former WCC General Secretary who led a group that drew up the Ecumenical Call, described the results of the Jamaica gathering as a "first step" towards just peace.

He said, "We are still at the beginning when it comes to understanding what this means for our ecclesial and ecumenical existence."

© Stephen Brown, an Ekklesia associate, is a Geneva-based journalist and the editor of a special issue of The Ecumenical Review to mark the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation. He is also the author of From Disaffection to Dissent: The Conciliar Process for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation as a precursor of the peaceful revolution in the GDR, published in German in 2010 by the Verlag Otto Lembeck, Frankfurt/Main.

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