PROGRAMME TO OVERCOME VIOLENCE:
Assumptions and Principles
of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs
Christians need to face all these situations and others with discernment and humility, confessing that too frequently we fail to heed Christ's call to witness to, and help lay the foundations for, justice and peace. In the World Council of Churches, we renew our commitment both to this call and to a process of challenging ourselves and our churches to mutual accountability in work together to overcome violence, to be agents of reconciliation, and to build peace grounded in communities of justice. We hold fast to the hope that God will be faithful to God's promise of peace and wellbeing for all.
Economic, political, social and cultural structures that promote or acquiesce in violence can be transformed and reconstructed to be systems that promote peace with justice. People who perpetuate and participate in violence, or whose lifestyles contribute to the violence others experience, can be converted to become peacemakers. Those victimized by violence can find healing and wholeness. These understandings are grounded first in our faith in the Resurrection, the Christian experience of life in the midst of death. These understandings also arise from a conviction and analysis that the survival of humanity sustained in creation depends on such transformations. Peace is practical. Peace is possible. Peace is a Gospel vision and a Christian imperative.
Conflict is a normal aspect of life in human community, a reality experienced by most people. Yet conflict does not necessarily lead to violence and war. Individuals, families, churches, societies and the international community need to focus on living creatively with conflict, learning to manage some conflicts and finding the means to resolve, reconcile or transform others. Christians and churches need to foster local and global cultures that value dialogue and respect the richness of diversity. These are not easy options but ones that often involve tough struggle.
Violence originates in part from systems and structures that rob people of the opportunity for humane living conditions which help sustain their lives. One such system is globalization, the transnationalization of capital and production based on a single, world-wide logic of exchange. Globalization increasingly centralizes control and power, removing decisions about fundamental matters of economic, social and political life from the local and national level to the global level. This system also imposes on individuals and societies world-wide norms of economic growth, consumerism, privatization, individualism, and the presumption of winners and losers. These norms, accompanied by such remote control, accentuate and accelerate human fragmentation, isolation, and exclusion for the profit of the few, contributing significantly to violence among individuals, groups, and nations.
A second system from which violence originates is military rivalry among nation-states. The destructive capacity of both small- and large-scale weapons has increased dramatically in this century, leading many analysts to conclude that such devastating power renders any previous ethical justifications for war obsolete and makes military preparedness incapable of providing national or global security. Many of the old industrial economies in both the West and East harbour deeply entrenched weapons and war-related production complexes, most of which are largely disconnected from widely-shared, realistic assessments about requirements for these nations' security. Many newly industrialized economies employ weapons production and arms trade primarily as a strategy for economic growth rather than meeting defense needs. Manufacturing and trade in armaments and weaponry for profit contributes to war within and between nations. Military stockpiles and arms races drain societies of resources necessary to meet human needs. Military research and development divert precious skills and technology from addressing pressing social problems. Militarism pervades many societies, resulting in human degradation, isolation and exclusion. Pervasive armaments, together with the concept that military might leads to national security, fosters violence within and between countries.
Violence also originates in human hearts and minds. Human sin divides community - people from people, people from God. Individuals and groups often impose stereotypes and labels on each other and, at times, tend to demonize adversaries or, more simply, those who are different.
Families worldwide often employ whipping and beating as a presumed means of discipline - parents against children and husbands against wives. Yet the short term injuries and the long-term psychological and social damage of such practices, especially as children grow up learning to model the behaviour of their parents, outweigh any benefits gained.
Overcoming violence requires addressing causes and symptoms like these and more, at structural, individual, and intermediate levels. Such holistic approaches are essential for credibility, integrity and building trust.
Churches and other religious communities possess a powerful and unique resource for creating cultures of peace with justice: the possibility of fostering a spirituality for life. Religious communities can help cultivate the inner resources and strength people need to face the challenge of violence, offering opportunities for confession, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation to individuals and groups. Christian understandings of grace, love, and redemption undergird the possibility of the church's witness to peace with justice.
Cultures of peace with justice restore fractured communities, grounding themselves in trusting and caring personal relationships; protect the most vulnerable (the old, differently abled, children) and help them to partake in the fullness of life; overcome barriers, cross borders, build bridges of collaborative and cooperative relations as well as inclusive communities; fulfil material and spiritual needs as well as those of identity within community; provide a space for everyone who agrees to join in an alliance against the rising tide of violence in their societies and in the world; and teach children as well as adults respect and appreciation of diversity.
Violent conflicts and wars are best resolved by those within the situation, at times assisted by others who have the confidence of the conflicting parties and who are well acquainted with the context, culture, and history of the situation. Local, national and international mechanisms to enhance negotiation, mediation and the peaceful settlement of disputes need to be created or, where existing, enhanced.
Advocacy for justice is integral to building a lasting foundation for peace. All people have the right to resist oppression in their search for justice, peace, and a sustainable environment. Everyone has the right to be included, to participate in making decisions about issues that affect their lives, whether in economic, political, social, cultural, or family matters. People also have the right to live in secure homes, communities and nations, free of the threat of violence. In the modern world where systems of technology, communication and transportation are global, security for particular individuals, groups and nations ultimately depends on the commitment to security for all.
Tension exists between people's right, on the one hand, to self defense and to resist oppression and, on the other hand, their right to freedom from violence. These tensions are not easily resolved. Yet, churches, societies, movements for social justice, and individual christians largely fail to explore fully various institutions and processes for nonviolent approaches to personal, community and national security, too easily capitulating to a mentality that violence is a normal and effective means for defense or systematic change. Exploration and implementation of short and long term nonviolent strategies at all levels of human organization can only be developed with commitment, conviction, creativity, determination and perseverance.