2008 London Mennonite Theology Forum: Responsibility to Protect

What is the responsibility of the international community when a state is unable or unwilling to protect its own people? This question, long debated under the heading of “humanitarian intervention”, has, in recent years, been a major focus of attention in both the United Nations (UN) and the World Council of Churches (WCC). Late in 2001, the UN’s International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty released a report entitled “The Responsibility to Protect” which stated that sovereign states have a responsibility to protect their own citizens from avoidable catastrophe. If they fail to do so, that responsibility must be borne by the international community. This may necessitate the use of armed intervention.

Since 2001, the WCC has been involved in discussions about the Church’s support for what has become known as R2P. The Historic Peace Churches, represented by Mennonites and Quakers, were involved in these discussions and their input was taken very seriously. The result of the discussions was an affirmation of R2P by the WCC’s 9th Assembly in February 2006, even if such responsibility requires the use of force. Recently, the WCC’s executive committee declared that this responsibility applies to the Darfur region of Sudan and Chad.

For Christian pacifists who oppose the use of violence, this is a serious dilemma. Should Mennonites support R2P on the grounds that armed intervention, while always destructive, may sometimes be required to protect human life? Is such a response a compromise of the radical nonviolence of Jesus, which prohibits us from supporting any standard that might require armed force? Is there a middle ground, or a way to promote a nonviolent understanding of R2P? Can Christian pacifism be flexible? These questions have engendered a passionate debate among Mennonites in Europe and North America. We hope to continue that debate at the 2008 London Mennonite Theology Forum, which will be held in conjunction with the 2008 regional conference of Church & Peace Britain & Ireland.

Joining us will be Doug Hostetter, the Mennonite Central Committee Liaison to the UN, who has been involved in discussions on R2P at the UN level, and Hansuli Gerber, the coordinator of the WCC’s Decade to Overcome Violence, who has been involved in the WCC discussions. Other speakers are still being sought. We will hear reports on the various ecumenical conferences which debated R2P as well as presentations representing the differing points of view. But mostly we will try to grapple with the issues together and talk about how we and our churches might share in the responsibility to protect (e.g. how does the way we live affect people at risk in countries like Sudan?).

The forum/conference will be held at the beautiful and irenic Ammerdown Retreat Centre, near the extraordinary city of Bath. Ammerdown is a former member of Church & Peace and a strong promoter of peace and justice issues. See www.ammerdown.org for more information. We may be offering transportation from London (or London airports) to Ammerdown.

To book, call or email Janelle Thiessen at +44(0)2083408775 or jthiessen@menno.org.uk. For more information, email Vic Thiessen at victhiessen@menno.org.uk