Hundreds of delegates from around the world are gathering in Jamaica for an International Ecumenical Peace Convocation - at which they will hear a call to challenge theological and other justifications for military power, and a parallel call to support nonviolent resistance to injustice.
The IEPC runs from 17 to 25 May 2011 in Jamaica’s capital, Kingston, and is organised by the Geneva-headquartered World Council of Churches. It marks the culmination of the WCC’s Decade to Overcome Violence, launched in Berlin in 2001.
In advance of the event, the WCC General Secretary, the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit - a Norwegian Lutheran - noted the meeting is taking place at a time of major global political shifts, often accompanied by violence and conflict.
“But peace is not just about ending conflicts,” he said. “It is also about seeking justice and building sustainable conditions for peace.”
The theme of the meeting is, “Glory to God and Peace on Earth”, and is built around creating peace in four areas – peace in the community, peace with the earth, peace in the marketplace and peace among the peoples.
Central to the nine-day gathering in Jamaica is the idea of 'just peace'. This is inspired by the biblical idea of “shalom” (Hebrew for peace) according to which there is an inseparable link between justice and peace.
“It challenges an understanding of peace focusing primarily on the absence of conflict … without addressing the root causes of social and political conflicts,” said former WCC General Secretary, the Rev Dr Konrad Raiser, addressing a WCC meeting earlier this year.
Raiser has been the moderator of a group drawing up an “Ecumenical Call to Just Peace” being presented to delegates at the Jamaica gathering.
He said the group that drafted the statement is convinced that it is possible to overcome long-standing divisions between Christians on the use of armed force in situations of severe conflict. The basic elements of a practice of ”non-violent conflict transformation” are already at hand, to be received and applied by churches, Raiser suggested.
The Ecumenical Call notes “extreme circumstances” where the lawful use of armed force may become necessary to protect vulnerable groups of people exposed to imminent lethal threats.
“Yet, even then we recognise the use of armed force in situations of conflict as both a sign of serious failure and a new obstacle on the Way of Just Peace,” it states.
The document goes on to urge Christians “to challenge any theological or other justifications of the use of military power”, and it describes the concept of a “just war” as “obsolete”.
Instead, the document highlights the central role of “non-violent resistance” in promoting just peace, and in confronting government oppression and abuse, as well as business practices that exploit vulnerable communities and the environment.
It says, “Recognising that the strength of the powerful depends on the obedience and compliance of citizens, of soldiers and, increasingly, of consumers, nonviolent strategies may include acts of civil disobedience and non-compliance.”
Speakers at the main opening session on 18 May are scheduled to include the Rev Dr Margot Kässmann, the former leader of Germany’s Protestants; Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the external affairs department of the Russian Orthodox Church; and Canon Dr Paul Oestreicher, head of the Centre for International Reconciliation of Coventry Cathedral in England from 1985 to 1997.
Kässmann, then heading the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), created a major debate in 2010 with a New Year sermon in which she questioned German military action in Afghanistan. Hilarion has headed the Moscow Patriarchate’s external relations department since 2009.
German-born Oestreicher – an Anglican priest and Quaker - fled to New Zealand with his family to escape Nazi persecution. He later moved to Britain, where he became chair of the British section of Amnesty International and vice-president of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
The gathering is also to be addressed by Martin Luther King III, executive director of the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change, and eldest son of the US civil rights leader.
The World Council of Churches (WCC) groups 349 churches – principally Anglican, Protestant and Orthodox, but also including indigenous and peace churches – from around the world.
* IEPC resources page: www.protestantnews.eu/europe/8242 
* An Ecumenical Call to Just Peace: www.overcomingviolence.org/en/resources-dov/wcc-resources/documents/decl... 
* All Ekklesia's material on IPEC: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/ipec 
© Stephen Brown is a Geneva-based journalist and writer, regular Ekklesia contributor, and the editor of a special issue of the Ecumenical Review journal – “Peace on Earth – Peace with the Earth” – to mark the IEPC. Writers include Margot Kässmann, Jürgen Moltmann, Munib A. Younan and others. See: http://bit.ly/gwt0Is