Perspectives on Violence/Non-Violence
Programme to Overcome Violence/ Faith & Order Consultation
The WCC has long recognized that
Christians have not yet been able to agree on their response to war and
violence. The WCC debate begun many decades ago between Christians who
hold to a theology of pacifism and those who rely on the principles of
the "Just War" remains unresolved. The new Programme to Overcome
Violence was created to "confront and overcome the spirit, logic
and practice of war and to develop new theological approaches, consonant
with the teachings of Christ, which start not with war and move to peace,
but with the need for justice" (WCC Central Committee 1994).
The WCC Programme to Overcome Violence
and Faith and Order are thus engaging in a joint study process to look
at the theological and ecclesiological dimensions of violence as well
as the powerful resources offered by the Christian faith in building cultures
of peace. A consultation held in Boston in April 1998 was a first step
in laying the foundations for and designing a process to engage churches
and others in these issues. The 18 international participants came from
a variety of Christian perspectives and back-grounds, and included theologians,
sociologists, ethicists, and grassroots peacemakers from the Peace to
the City Campaign.
Three goals were set for the Boston
- to identify practical means of
overcoming violence at different levels of society;
- to explore the causes of violence
through case studies from the Peace to the City Campaign, in collaboration
with social scientists, theologians, and practitioners in both fields;
- to reflect on the church as both
an accomplice in violence and a transformer of violence.
The consultation sought to respond
to the following issues which it considered crucial:
- The history of peace initiatives
in the ecumenical movement is instructive and challenging. But there
is growing new awareness of the need for new paradigms for ecumenical
dialogue on the divisive issues of the long-standing pacifist-"just
war" debate and to Christian responsibility to develop active non-violent
alternatives to conflict.
- There is a history of ecumenical
ministry in communities impacted by poverty, conflict and violence.
But there is a need now to confront the global rise of violence through
new approaches to the efforts of the churches to serve as agents of
Christ's peace through building beloved communities capable of resisting
the tide of violence and building a culture of peace.
- Christian initiatives to overcome
violence around the globe already are linked across borders. But there
is a need for churches to affirm para-church and ecumenical groups'
taking initiatives on their behalf, and to forge new alliances between
social scientists, theologians and other civil society actors.
The Consultation agreed that the
study process should:
- enhance the churches' understanding
of the nature and role of violence in local communities, societies,
international relations, and in their own life;
- analyze critically the role of
religious institutions, and more particularly of the churches, in providing
justifications for, contributing to and seeking to overcome violence;
- seek creative new ways for people
in local situations to question and learn from one another, and to explore
new methodologies of cross-cultural contextual theology;
- continue to explore and deepen
understandings of the relationship between ecclesiology and ethics through
focussing on the issue of violence;
- help the churches transcend and
heal their divisions through common witness and action to reduce violence
and build peace;
- encourage churches to develop
cultures of peace as a prophetic sign of a reconciled human community
and of the new creation (Eph. 1).
In discussing and planning for the
study process, it was hoped that two paths would emerge from this study:
one leading to local congregations and action groups, providing them with
models and guides for ministry; the other leading back to the WCC, supplying
it with case studies of churches working for a culture of peace.
POV and Faith and Order are continuing
the design and implementation of the study process. The full report of
the Consultation is being published and will be available this fall.
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