Working Toward Peace in a World of War

Recently I was reminded of the costs of war. First, as I mentioned recently, seeing terrorist violence break out in the city of Nairobi, near where the young lady my wife Kat and I hosted as an international exchange student goes to school shook me up making the real costs of war come home to me. Someone’s son or daughter always is threatened, and often dies in the face of war.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, hearing and watching that news made me think of this White Lion song:

Yet also recently encountered the cost of war on soldiers as well. This side is one I saw first hand while pastoring a church in Fayetteville, NC, a military town that supports Fort Bragg, NC. I had parishioners whose partners and family members came home scarred and damaged by the physical scars of war. More than one person I met returning from our recent wars also bore deep emotional scars.

Earlier this year, my wife Kat and I took our family to listen to a number of soldiers who sang and performed music of all kinds of genre about their experience of war. One who gripped my attention is the rapper “Soldier Hard”. Take a moment and listen to some of his songs:

War also has costs for family, as this song pictures so well –

My friend Chuck Fager, former head of the Quaker House, several times has told me that these dual costs of war – of the innocents and soldiers alike – is a part of why, as a Quaker, he has always stood against all war. That ministry, now led by Lynn and Stephen Newson, has a part of its central work being available to soldiers and veterans in the Fort Bragg area and beyond experiencing the emotional fall-out of war and helping them find options for putting their lives together after experiencing the costs of war.
Although I myself am not the radical pacifist that my Quaker brothers and sisters are, but instead relate more with Deitrich Bonhoeffer who opposed violence in all its forms but who when he saw the atrocities being committed by Hitler and the NAZI regime was willing to take on arms to prevent greater evil and greater violence from happening, I think that their witness is important.

Too often we American Christians forget that Jesus calls us to embrace a life of non-violence and, wherever and whenever possible, to stand against warfare and for peace. In the sermon on the Mount Jesus tells us both “Blessed are the peacemakers,  for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9) and “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:38-45).

Jesus’ call to us as believers is to strive to be people of peace, who live out the promise of the prophets of waging peace not war, by beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.

Too often we take the opposite tack and in our desire to pray for God and country, end up ending up on the band-wagon of almost endorsing wars and violence in the name of patriotism.

In reality, whether like Gandhi and some of my pacifist friends you don’t believe violence is ever the option even when bombs are falling upon us, or like Bonhoeffer that there is a line in the sand where you have to protect innocents, as Christians we cannot endorse violence as a knee-jerk response or a first resort. If turned to it has to always be a last resort, after every other non-violent means has been exhausted.

True Just War

For those of us who are not pure pacifists like my Quaker brothers and sisters, I think we need to consider what true just war theory teaches.

Here are the traditional tenets of just war:

A just war can only be waged as a last resort. All non-violent options must be exhausted before the use of force can be justified.

  • A war is just only if it is waged by a legitimate authority. Even just causes cannot be served by actions taken by individuals or groups who do not constitute an authority sanctioned by whatever the society and outsiders to the society deem legitimate.
  • A just war can only be fought to redress a wrong suffered. For example, self-defense against an armed attack is always considered to be a just cause (although the justice of the cause is not sufficient–see point #4). Further, a just war can only be fought with “right” intentions: the only permissible objective of a just war is to redress the injury.
  • A war can only be just if it is fought with a reasonable chance of success. Deaths and injury incurred in a hopeless cause are not morally justifiable.
  • The ultimate goal of a just war is to re-establish peace. More specifically, the peace established after the war must be preferable to the peace that would have prevailed if the war had not been fought.
  • The violence used in the war must be proportional to the injury suffered. States are prohibited from using force not necessary to attain the limited objective of addressing the injury suffered.
  • The weapons used in war must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants. Civilians are never permissible targets of war, and every effort must be taken to avoid killing civilians. The deaths of civilians are justified only if they are unavoidable victims of a deliberate attack on a military target.

Look over those various tenets of just war. How many conflicts that our country has been in really fall under these tenets? How many are truly justified?

I personally feel that as a society we are too quick to embrace violence, both in our relationships with each other and with other nations. We are too slow to weigh the cost of wars to our soldiers, to their families, and to the innocents effected by our conflict. We are too slow to seek non-violent solutions.

As someone who is not a pacifist, I think ultimately the question of war needs to be thought of in terms of Neimholler’s classic poem which says,

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

I think whenever non-violence can be chosen, it must be. However ultimately we cannot stand by as individuals or society and let people harm innocents un-opposed. And as with the Holocaust, there are certain tragedies that we may not be able to stop without a police force or military to defend the innocents. However I truly believe many more of the conflicts we face can be dealt with nonviolently than we often realize.

Seeking Just Peace-making

Glen Stassen, in his ground-breaking book Just Peacemaking: Transforming Initiatives for Justice and Peace, argues that we miss the boat by pitting pacifists and just war Christians against each other. In truth both approaches argue for the need to work to limit violence wherever possible. Stassen suggests “just peace-making” as an approach that can unite believers from both perspectives in putting aside differences to build non-violent alternatives to war.

Here are the ten principles of just peace-making he suggests on the website :


1. Support nonviolent direct action.

Biblical basis: Matt. 5:38-42 – Turn the other cheek, give tunic and cloak, go the second mile, give to beggar and borrower; Jesus’ way of transforming initiatives

Nonviolent direct action is spreading widely, ending dictatorship in the Philippines, ending rule by the Shah in Iran, bringing about nonviolent revolutions in Poland, East Germany, and Central Europe, transforming injustice into democratic change in human rights movements in Guatemala, Argentina, and elsewhere in Latin America, in South Africa. Governments and people have the obligation to make room for and to support nonviolent direct action.

2. Take independent initiatives to reduce threat.

Biblical basis: Matt. 5:38-42 – Turn the other cheek, give tunic and cloak, go the second mile, give to beggar and borrower; Jesus’ way of transforming initiatives

Independent initiatives have several characteristics in common. They: (1) are independent of the slow process of negotiation; (2) decrease threat perception and distrust but do not leave the initiator weak; (3) are verifiable actions; (4) and carried out at the announced time regardless of the other side’s bluster; (5) have their purpose clearly announced in order to to shift toward de-escalation and to invite reciprocation; and (6) come in a series. Initiatives should continue in order to keep inviting reciprocation.

3. Use cooperative conflict resolution.

Biblical basis: Matt. 5:21-26 – Go, make peace with your adversary while there is time.

Cooperative conflict resolution (CCR) incorporates practices like: (1) actively partner in developing solutions, not merely passive cooperation; (2) adversaries, listen to each other and experience each others’ perspectives, including culture, spirituality, story, history, and emotion; (3) seek long-term solutions which help prevent future conflict; and (4) seek justice as a core component for sustainable peace. A key test of governments’ claims to be seeking peace is whether they initiate negotiations or refuse them, and develop imaginative solutions that show they understand their adversary’s perspectives and needs.

Examples: (a) President Carter’s achieving peace in the Camp David accords between Egypt and Israel; and (b) peaceful resolution of conflicts with Haiti and North Korea by former president Carter. Unfortunately, Carter’s resolution of the conflict with North Korea was  cancelled at the beginning of the George W. Bush administration, which rescinded the promised delivery of oil for producing electricity so that North Korea would keep their nuclear generation halted. That administration refused to negotiate with North Korea for six years, contrary to the just peacemaking practice of cooperative conflict resolution, and as we see, the result was North Korea’s producing several nuclear bombs.

4. Acknowledge responsibility for conflict and injustice and seek repentance and forgiveness.

Biblical basis: Matt. 7:1-5 – Do not judge, but take the log out of your own eye.

Until recently, it was widely agreed that nations would not express regret, acknowledge responsibility, or give forgiveness. But finally Germany since World War II, Japan and Korea, Clinton in Africa, the U.S. toward Japanese-Americans during World War II, the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and other actions (described by Donald Shriver in An Ethic for Enemies and by Walter Wink in When the Powers Fall) are being recognized as a crucial new practice that can heal longstanding bitterness.


5. Advance democracy, human rights, and religious liberty.

Biblical basis: Matt. 6:19-34 – Do not hoard, but seek God’s reign and justice.

Extensive empirical evidence shows that the spreading of democracy and respect for human rights, including religious liberty, is widening the zones of peace. Democracies fought no wars against one another during the entire twentieth century. They had fewer civil wars. And they generally devoted lower shares of their national products to military expenditures, which decreases threats to other countries. Ties of economic interdependence by trade and investment also decrease the incidence of war. Engagement in international organizations like the UN and regional institutions is a clear predictive factor that they will be much less likely to engage in war.

6. Foster just and sustainable economic development.

Biblical basis: Matt. 6:19-34 – Seek God’s reign and justice.

“[P]eace is not only an absence of war, violence, and hostility; it is also a state of reconciliation, human flourishing, and natural beauty” (Just Peacemaking, 2008, 134). Sustainable development occurs where the needs of today are met without threatening the needs of tomorrow – where those who lack adequate material and economic resources gain access, and those who have learn to control resource use and prevent future exhaustion.


7. Work with emerging cooperative forces in the international system.

Biblical basis: Matt. 5:43ff. – Love your enemies, pray for your persecutors; be all-inclusive as your Father in heaven is.

Four trends have so altered the conditions and practices of international relations as to make it possible now, where it was not possible before, to form and sustain voluntary associations for peace and other valuable common purposes that are in fact working: (1) the decline in the utility of war; (2) the priority of trade and the economy over war; (3) the strength of international exchanges, communications, transactions, and networks; and (4) the gradual ascendancy of liberal representative democracy and a mixture of welfare-state and laissez-faire market economy. We should act so as to strengthen these trends and the international associations that they make possible.

8. Strengthen the United Nations and international efforts for cooperation and human rights.

Biblical basis: Matt. 5:43ff. – Love your enemies, pray for your persecutors; be all-inclusive as your Father in heaven is.

Acting alone, states cannot solve problems of trade, debt, interest rates; of pollution, ozone depletion, acid rain, depletion of fish stocks, global warming; of migrations and refugees seeking asylum; of military security when weapons rapidly penetrate borders. Therefore, collective action is increasingly necessary. U.S. citizens should press their government to pay its UN dues and to act in ways that strengthen the effectiveness of the United Nations, of regional organizations, and of multilateral peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peace building. They resolve conflicts, monitor, nurture, and even enforce truces. They meet human needs for food, hygiene, medicine, education, and economic interaction. Most wars now happen within states, not between states; therefore, collective action needs to include UN-approved humanitarian intervention in cases like the former Yugoslavia, Haiti, Somalia, and Rwanda “when a state’s condition or behavior results in… grave and massive violations of human rights.”

9. Reduce offensive weapons and weapons trade.

Biblical basis: Matt. 5:38ff. – Do not set yourself in revengeful retaliation by evil means, but engage in good means of nonviolent confrontational initiatives

A key factor in the decrease of war between nations is that weapons have become so destructive that war is not worth the price. Reducing offensive weapons and shifting toward defensive force structures strengthens that equation. Banning chemical and biological weapons, and reducing strategic (long-range) nuclear warheads from 3,500 to 1,000 each, are key steps. Arms imports by developing nations in 1995 dropped to one-quarter of their peak in 1988. But the power of money invested by arms manufacturers in politicians’ campaigns is a major obstacle to reductions. The need for movement on this front domestically can be seen in many recent incidents of gun violence.

10. Encourage grassroots peacemaking groups and voluntary associations.

Biblical basis: Matt. 5.1-2, 7:28-29 – Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount to his disciples; Jesus’ strategy of organizing disciples.

The existence of a growing worldwide people’s movement constitutes one more historical force that makes just peacemaking theory possible. They learn peacemaking practices and press governments to employ these practices; governments should protect such associations in law, and give them accurate information.

I want to close by sharing a link to the classic Lennon song, envisioning the future without war we build to.

Peace is a possibility. Let us beat our swords into plowshares, our guns into gardening tools.

And I’m not just whistling Dixie here,

your progressive redneck preacher,

2013-07-10 07.19.16


2 thoughts on “Working Toward Peace in a World of War

  1. DrTony says:

    Reblogged this on Thoughts From The Heart On The Left and commented:
    It is so easy to think that we can solve all of our problems in the same manner that caused them We never consider the cost of war.
    Thanks to Micah for putting this peace up.

  2. So glad to have found you, after you posted on Brian D. McLaren’s FB page about your blog. I will be posting a few times along these lines, though its not the main reason for my blog, am compelled to get involved in the conversation. As a young hippie of the 70’s, converted to peace-loving born again Christian then morphed gradually into a free thinking independent grace-embracer, (wow, a mouthful to describe me in a nutshell), I’ve lived both the DC life (born, raised burbs) and the deep south/redneck (addictions ministry in Okeechobee, FL), swung from pacifist to just war supporter to a state of realizing how completely ignorant I am of what may really be going on in the world!!! Anyway, thanks for these well-organized thoughts, you will be seeing more of me around these parts.

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