Making peace the Christian priority

By Juan Michel
24 Dec 2008

Peace is a way of life, says the Rev Dr Geiko Müller-Fahrenholz, and it is the mission of the churches to bring up new generations of Christians to live out God's peace in all aspects of their lives.

A German theologian, Müller-Fahrenholz coordinated the group that produced the "Initial Statement Towards an Ecumenical Declaration on Just Peace" - a first draft for the declaration that will be presented at the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in Kingston, Jamaica in May 2011. In the following interview, he explains the how's and why's of the process.

The International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in 2011 is sometimes described as a "harvest festival" for the Decade to Overcome Violence, which the World Council of Churches (WCC) launched in 2001. What does that mean, and what has been achieved so far?

The Peace Convocation will not only be a "harvest festival" but also a "planting season". The hope is that fresh initiatives will be developed, for the work against violence needs to continue. The Decade to Overcome Violence needs to be understood as the beginning of a new phase in the churches' awareness of what peace means today.

There has been such a wide array of work within the decade that a brief summary is bound to be unfair. A notable emphasis has been on peace education, starting from kindergarten to training educators in conflict mediation skills. In many theological schools, students have begun to work on their own peace declarations. These are attempts to define the tasks of peace theology and peace ethics today and also to identify ways of concrete involvement.

What impact do you expect the peace declaration to have?

Basically, a "peace declaration" is meant to enable the churches to reframe their understanding of what "God's peace" means for their witness in today's world. Hence you might call our effort a "mission statement". It will be up to the churches to draw concrete consequences in accordance to the situations in which they are called to live out their faith.

The first draft for the peace declaration was recently sent to WCC member churches. What is its main message?

The Initial Statement Towards an Ecumenical Declaration on Just Peace emphasizes that our starting point is God's peace, as manifested in the life and death of Jesus Christ. It is not "our peace". We do not have to invent it. God's peace speaks to all aspects of our life and work. Peace or just peace, therefore, is not just an issue of political ethics among many others. It is the frame which determines our approach to all ethical issues.

Therefore, the statement addresses the churches as agents of peace-building and identifies various ways in which this can be done. Since the churches are present at all levels of life, from the personal to the global, peace-building has to do with different aspects and tasks. Justice is a basic one, so is reconciliation.

Finally, the statement offers a new framework for the peace issues by putting "peace with creation" at the centre. Hence it goes beyond the anthropocentric concepts of peace which have dominated the churches' agenda thus far. If humanity cannot make peace with the earth all other forms of peace are bound to fail. This is the biggest challenge that not only the churches need to live up to.

The draft lists concrete steps churches can take to help prevent and overcome armed conflicts. What kind of action do you expect the churches to take?

The statement is quite clear about the sad impact that Christian churches had by legitimizing armed conflicts for centuries. They need to repent for that. Hence churches – and other religions, I might add – need to learn to say a clear "No" to the temptation of siding with the powerful and mighty.

On the other hand, as we look at our world today with its globalized violence, misery and abuses, but also with its abject fascination with violence in the media and video games industries, peace must be regarded as a way of life that guides and encompasses all we think and do.

Peace is not a gift that you have or do not have. It is something we learn to love in a life-long effort. It is a spiritual discipline, a process of formation away from fear and greed, away from the fascination with evil and violence. And this begins with the ways in which we raise our children.

According to the draft peace declaration, "the scope of just peace-building encompasses the whole of earthly life": just relations between peoples, family members, workers, employers and consumers, human beings and nature. Is it possible to deal with such a wide range of issues at the same time?

Of course it is possible. We humans play many roles at the same time – as parents, employers or employees, citizens, consumers and so on. If we begin to realize that just peace is a way of life, then this informs all our activities.

What are the next steps towards an ecumenical declaration on just peace?

The Initial Statement is designed to be something of a "starter". It has been sent to the WCC's member churches with the expectation that they will formulate responses, relate good examples, suggest new approaches. Responses have started to come in. Two peace-musicals for children are being developed in Germany alone!

In early 2010 a second drafting team will go through all these reactions and compose a second version of an "Ecumenical Declaration on Just Peace". In fact, it is the participation that matters, not so much the final product.

My hope is that the Ecumenical Peace Convocation in Kingston will come up with a text that enables the churches and all others who care to be involved to commit themselves to promoting the culture of peace God has promised.

Further information:

International Ecumenical Peace Convocation: http://overcomingviolence.org/iepc

Initial Statement Towards an Ecumenical Declaration on Just Peace: http://overcomingviolence.org/index.php?id=6526

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