Christians explore nonviolent approaches to protecting victims of violence

By staff writers
17 Jul 2008

Christians working against violence are convening a major symposium this weekend on the responsibility to protect people exposed to violence, abuse and genocide and its relation to peacemaking.

The event at the Ammerdown Centre in Bath, from 18-20 July 2008, combines two meetings - the Church & Peace Britain & Ireland Regional Conference 2008 and the London Mennonite Theology Forum.

Keynote speakers include Doug Hostetter (Mennonite Central Committee Liaison to the United Nations), Hansuli Gerber (World Council of Churches Decade to Overcome Violence Co-ordinator) and Marie-Noëlle von der Recke (Church & Peace General Secretary).

The key questions being considered are: What is the responsibility of the international community when a state is unable or unwilling to protect its own people? Should armed force be used? And must Christians committed to nonviolence compromise on their pacifism stance when innocent lives hang in the balance?

In 2001, the United Nations (UN) determined that the international community must bear the responsibility to protect innocent citizens at risk of genocide when sovereign states fail to do so, and that this may necessitate armed intervention.

At its 9th Assembly the World Council of Churches (WCC) approved a resolution affirming what has become known as R2P - the Responsibility to Protect.

Though the WCC statement assigns first priority to the prevention of genocidal conflict situations, it does not rule out protective measures using lethal force as a last resort.

For Christians who oppose the use of violence, this can pose a dilemma. Should peace church adherents support R2P on the grounds that armed intervention, while always destructive, may sometimes be required to protect human life? Is there a way to promote a nonviolent understanding of R2P? If sp, what form(s) could a responsible solidarity take that remains faithful to the Gospel call of nonviolence?

One key issue is the way in which the relationship between the church and the state - and international bodies - is conceived. Another is how the theology of nonviolence developed for use within the Christian community applies, and does not apply, to situations where those acting do not share a similar outlook and commitment.

Mennonites in Europe have been involved in this discussion at various levels and have been debating this issue for some time, as spokesperson told Ekklesia.

Vic Theissen, director of the London Mennonite Centre, added: "This is an opportunity for us to continue the discussion within the framework of the 2008 Regional Conference of Church & Peace Britain & Ireland, and contribute to the ecumenical debate on the responsibility to protect."

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Available from Ekklesia: 118 Days: Christian Peacemaker Teams Held Hostage in Iraq, edited by Tricia Gates Brown (CPT, 2008) - http://tinyurl.com/3z6pqm

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