Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Sou. Bapt.Ethics Prof. Breaks w/ Just War Theory

As reported in Associated Baptist Press, Southern Baptist ethicist David P. Gushee has broken with the Just War Tradition–at least to some degree. Gushee is Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy and Director of the Carl Henry Center for Christian Leadership at Union University in Jackson, TN. In June, he had strong criticisms of the war in Iraq from a Just War standpoint.

But Gushee no longer thinks that Christian ministers and leaders, like himself, need to be spending the majority of their time and energy wondering if war X is morally justified.

Rather, returning to the center of our faith in Jesus Christ, Gushee affirms that Christian churches are to be communities of peace, working to make peace in the world.

I have known Dave Gushee since 1994 and this both does and doesn’t constitute a major change for him. He has never been pro-war and has always been in favor of just peacemaking practices. But Gushee, perhaps because of his deep studies of the Holocaust, had always been a strong defender of JWT–and had advocated armed interventions to stop genocides in Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, and Darfur in the Sudan. To say that the church’s primary ethical responsibility in this area is to become communities of peace is a different emphasis. I still have to ask Dave if he now believes all Christians should refrain from military service and become conscientious objectors–as would seem to be the conclusion of this development.

This development also fits with Dave’s strong stand as part of the Religious Campaign Against Torture which aims to stop all torture, beginning with that practiced by Americans, including closing the Gitmo gulag and the secret prisons in Eastern Europe. Dave defended this campaign even in the conservative Christianity Today.

Now, how far does this change give hope for reform within the Southern Baptist Convention? It’s hard to say. Several years back, Dave worked with the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission on biomedical issues, but the Commission’s Exec. Director, Richard Land, found Dave too sympathetic with “liberal” perspectives on economic, environmental, and racial justice–and too outspoken in defense of the full equality of women and men. Since refusing to sign the 2000 revision of the Baptist Faith & Message, Dave has not been courted by the SBC’s inner circles. But, unlike myself and others, he has remained in the SBC instead of moving to another Baptist group, and teaches at a school known for having a conservative understanding of Baptist faith and life. Does this mean a new openess to peacemaking in the SBC, or will this result in Gushee’s further marginalization? Only time will tell.

August 31, 2006 Posted by | Baptists, just peacemaking, just war theory | 4 Comments

Jerusalem Churches Challenge Christian Zionism!


29-Aug-06Local Heads of Churches In Jerusalem

“Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

Christian Zionism is a modern theological and political movement that embraces the most extreme ideological positions of Zionism, thereby becoming detrimental to a just peace within Palestine and Israel. The Christian Zionist programme provides a worldview where the Gospel is identified with the ideology of empire, colonialism and militarism. In its extreme form, it places an emphasis on apocalyptic events leading to the end of history rather than living Christ’s love and justice today.

We categorically reject Christian Zionist doctrines as false teaching that corrupts the biblical message of love, justice and reconciliation.

We further reject the contemporary alliance of Christian Zionist leaders and organizations with elements in the governments of Israel and the United States that are presently imposing their unilateral pre-emptive borders and domination over Palestine. This inevitably leads to unending cycles of violence that undermine the security of all peoples of the Middle East and the rest of the world.

We reject the teachings of Christian Zionism that facilitate and support these policies as they advance racial exclusivity and perpetual war rather than the gospel of universal love, redemption and reconciliation taught by Jesus Christ. Rather than condemn the world to the doom of Armageddon we call upon everyone to liberate themselves from the ideologies of militarism and occupation. Instead, let them pursue the healing of the nations!

We call upon Christians in Churches on every continent to pray for the Palestinian and Israeli people, both of whom are suffering as victims of occupation and militarism. These discriminative actions are turning Palestine into impoverished ghettos surrounded by exclusive Israeli settlements. The establishment of the illegal settlements and the construction of the Separation Wall on confiscated Palestinian land undermines the viability of a Palestinian state as well as peace and security in the entire region.

We call upon all Churches that remain silent, to break their silence and speak for reconciliation with justice in the Holy Land.

Therefore, we commit ourselves to the following principles as an alternative way:

  • We affirm that all people are created in the image of God. In turn they are called to honor the dignity of every human being and to respect their inalienable rights.

  • We affirm that Israelis and Palestinians are capable of living together within peace, justice and security.

  • We affirm that Palestinians are one people, both Muslim and Christian. We reject all attempts to subvert and fragment their unity.

  • We call upon all people to reject the narrow world view of Christian Zionism and other ideologies that privilege one people at the expense of others.

  • We are committed to non-violent resistance as the most effective means to end the illegal occupation in order to attain a just and lasting peace.

  • With urgency we warn that Christian Zionism and its alliances are justifying colonization, apartheid and empire-building.

  • God demands that justice be done. No enduring peace, security or reconciliation is possible without the foundation of justice. The demands of justice will not disappear. The struggle for justice must be pursued diligently and persistently but non-violently.
    “What does the Lord require of you, to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

This is where we take our stand. We stand for justice. We can do no other. Justice alone guarantees a peace that will lead to reconciliation with a life of security and prosperity for all the peoples of our Land. By standing on the side of justice, we open ourselves to the work of peace – and working for peace makes us children of God.

“God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Cor 5:19)

His Beattitude Patriarch Michel Sabbah,Latin Patriarchate, Jerusalem

Archbishop Swerios Malki Mourad,Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate, Jerusalem

Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal,Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East

Bishop Munib Younan,Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land


My only comment: How can others sign on to this?

August 30, 2006 Posted by | Christian zionism. | 2 Comments

Racial Profiling vs. Terrorism

A new poll shows that Americans back the racial profiling of people who “look Middle Eastern” at airports as a way to increase security against terrorist attacks. Blogger Wasp Jerky thinks that make sense since everyone knows that white Americans never commit terrorist acts. Oh, except for these people. My thanks to WJ for telling the truth in a very funny manner.

August 30, 2006 Posted by | race, terrorism prevention | 1 Comment

JPT Practice #1 Nonviolent Direct Action

My post on the developing Practices of Just Peacemaking proved too long for most readers. So, I will try briefer posts on each practice, inviting dialogue each time. None of the practices is expected to be a magic cure for war or violence, but they work together, reinforcing each other to prevent some wars, end others, and reduce violence in other places.

JPT practice # 1: Support nonviolent direct action.

First coming to global attention in the campaigns of Gandhi and King, this practice has spread globally in many contexts. This is not personal pacifism. The majority of participants in organized nonviolent direct action were not morally opposed to violence (as Gandhi and King were), but used it for pragmatic reasons. Nonviolent direct action (NVDA) is a method of struggle against a foe that has a greater amount of coercive power in traditional senses. It takes courage, discipline, and creativity. It doesn’t always work. However, its success rate is much higher than usually recognized.

In 1905, the original Russian revolution (before the 1917 Communist takeover) nonviolently overthrew the Czar. Gandhi studied this campaign from South Africa for examples. In 1923, a disarmed and impoverished Germany used nonviolent direct action to repel the French in the Ruhrkampf. During WWII, Danes and Bulgarians used NVDA to preotect their Jews from the Holocaust and, in the heart of Germany, German women married to Jewish men managed to free their husbands from the SS prison using nonviolent methods. (This is known to historians as “The White Rose campaign.”)

In 1944, El Salvador overthrew its military dictator nonviolently. In 1986, Philippine “people power” ousted the U.S. backed dictator, Marcos (a good friend of Ron and Nancy Reagan, who offered the Marcos’ asylum in Hawaii!) and ushered in a democracy–partly by subverting the loyalties of the military sent to crush them. In 1989, PERHAPS aided by economic strains on the USSR brought on by the arms race with the USA, but certainly the result of decades of planning by small citizens groups, Eastern Europe experienced 14 revolutions–only Romania’s turned violent. In 1991, Boris Yeltsin (no pacifist!) led a nonviolent resistance to a hardline attempted coup of the USSR–and, like with the Philippines, the nonviolent citizens were able to persuade the army sent to crush them to switch sides. In 2000, the student group Otpol (‘Struggle’) led a textbook nonviolent revolution against the brutal Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic. In 2003, Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution” was nonviolent. Even the 1979 Iranian revolution from the Shah was nonviolent–although the subsequent capture of the U.S. embassy hostages and the Ayatollah’s regime which followed were brutal in the extreme.

Other nonviolent campaigns, however, in Burma, Tibet, and China were brutally repressed.
Nonviolent direct action is a strategy that lances the festering boil of violence and injustifce and often produces healing without the resort to war. Boycotts, strikes, citizen embargoes, marches, mass civil disobedience, shunnings or (by contrast), actively fraternizing with enemy soldiers, accompaniment, are just some of the nearly 200 methods so far catalogued in the menu of interventions and defensive strategies being developed by nonviolent direct action campaigns. Support for such campaigns, studying when they work and when they fail and finding ways to make them stronger naturally reduces the numbers of wars and violent revolutions. Not enough study has yet been given to ways to make 3rd party nonviolent intervention work on more than a small scale.

August 29, 2006 Posted by | just peacemaking, nonviolence | 4 Comments

Darfur Crisis Worsening!

The crisis in the Darfur region of the Sudan is set to worsen, warn African and human rights groups. The world worked quickly to stop the crisis in Lebanon, but during the time that about 1,000 Lebanese were killed, another 10,000 were killed in Darfur. Hundreds of thousands of Darfur’s people have been killed or displaced since that crisis began, with much less global outcry? Is the difference racial? Do we care less because the Darfur Sudanese are black whereas the Lebanese are lighter-skinned?

If U.N. Sec.-Gen. Kofi-Annan succeeds in getting Sudan’s govt. to allow a UN peacekeeping force in the area, will it be as difficult to get nations to supply troops as it has been for southern Lebanon?

What actions can church groups be taking independent of government types? Is the Sudanese crisis on the moral radar of your church?

August 29, 2006 Posted by | Africa, human rights., just peacemaking | 3 Comments


I thought I needed a template change on this blog and I think this is the way to go. Unfortunately, that means I lost all my modifications, including blogroll and links. Give me a few days, friends and gentle readers. Sigh.

August 28, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Mentors, #3, Molly T. Marshall

Continuing my irregular posting of tributes to my intellectual and spiritual roots. Currently Rev. Dr. Molly T. Marshall is President of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, KS, the first woman to head a Baptist seminary or divinity school in North America. She is also Professor of Theology, Worship, and Spiritual Formation at CBTS, an American Baptist seminary that now also has strong ties to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

I first met Molly in January of 1986 when I arrived on the campus of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. Molly, herself twice an alumna of SBTS, a former missionary to Israel, campus minister, youth minister, and interim pastor (one of the earliest ordained women in the SBC), had been hired in ’84 as Asst. Professor of Christian Theology. I was first introduced to her as Dr. Molly Marshall-Green. [Let me take this opportunity to quench a persistent rumor. She is STILL happily married to Douglass M. Green, M.D., a retired family doctor. They have never been divorced. But Molly’s hyphenated name had never been legally changed and was causing her considerable problems in the SBC. So, she dropped it to just use her original surname in ’88.]

I was looking forward to taking classes with Molly. I had come from a church with women deacons and was theoretically in favor of women in ministry, although at that point I had never met one. But I was also nervous. Molly was widely rumored to be an “extreme feminist theologian,” and, although I had specifically determined to take every controversial professor at SBTS to learn the truth about conservative charges, I was a bit nervous. The extent of my previous exposure to feminism had been to vote (and lose) for Florida to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.

I found a gracious woman who pushed students to explore ideas fearlessly, including those of “raging liberals.” But Molly’s favorite theologian, to judge by numbers of quotations in class, was the Apostle Paul with a close second going to the Reformer Martin Luther! Yes, she had studied with the Anglican Bishop John A.T. Robinson, a fascinating figure who combined a conservative approach to the New Testament with a very liberal theology! But, no, Molly has never been a universalist–I read her dissertation from cover to cover in one long day in the library to check out that rumor!

Like many Baptist theologians, she is a creative eclectic–powerfully influenced by her teacher, Dale Moody, by the Catholic theologian Karl Rahner, by Juergen Moltmann, Letty Russell, Elizabeth A. Johnson, Elizabeth Schuessler-Fiorenza, but also writing in creative dialogue with conservative evangelicals like Bernard Ramm, Clark Pinnock, and, in New Testament Theology, George Eldon Ladd. In class she assigned texts by a wide range of authors, often asking students to compare and contrast an evangelical text with another from a different tradition–and never telling them where they must “come out” at the the end. Hardly the radical others made her out to be!

I remember asking Molly once, after reading a strong feminist critique of all-masculine God-language at the same time I was reading both St. Athanasius and Juergan Moltmann on the Trinity, if it were possible to take the feminist critique of God-language seriously while remaining a thoroughgoing Trinitarian. Molly got that twinkle that all students and colleagues know portends a quip from her irreverent sense of humor, “Oh, yes, Mr. White [my name at the time], but you will forever after be doomed to very complex sentences!” And so it has proved–helped by my thoroughly Trinitarian feminist teacher.

In 1988, Molly survived a hostile trustee board and was granted tenure and promoted to Associate Professor at SBTS. But the story was not over. When Al Mohler was elected to succeed Roy Honeycutt as President of SBTS in 1994, it was with clear instructions to fire Molly Marshall. But firing a tenured professor is not easy. He accused her of violating the Abstract of Principles, the statement of faith that all faculty must teach within at SBTS. What he meant was that she violated Mohler’s supposedly infallible interpretation of the document. When Molly voluntarily wrote a long paper expositing her understanding of every article of the Abstract and offered to meet to discuss point-by-point, Mohler sent the dean to tell her that it was no good, “they already had the votes” on the trustee board. Molly had been convicted by president and trustees of heresy without any formal charges or the chance to defend herself fairly. Molly tried to follow Jesus’ directions in Matthew 18 to go to her brother and make peace, but he, the supposed inerrantist, refused to follow Jesus’ words and even meet with her. She considered suing since being fired is usually disastrous for any academic career. She agreed to resign if she were allowed to finish supervising her remaining Ph.D. students–putting others before herself even in the face of pure evil and vicious lies. (The contrast can be seen in the fact that Molly never mentions Mohler or says anything about the current SBTS, whereas he has bad-mouthed her seminary and her in articles and his blog and on his radio show.)

Fortunately, in the graceful providence of God, the story does not end there. At the end of ’95, Central BTS hired Molly as full Professor of Christian Theology, Worship, and Spiritual Formation. She and Douglass moved to Kansas, the American Baptists accepted her SBC ordination, and she has enjoyed a powerful ministry as guest preacher in many pulpits while working with a small, 100 year old seminary. She is still, as I knew her, a “midwife of grace,” to theology students and church members alike.

I owe much to this woman:

  • She introduced Kate and myself and later officiated at our wedding.
  • Our oldest daughter, Molly Katharine White (b. ’95) is named after her. (The elder Molly calls my daughter “Molly the Younger,” while my daughter calls her namesake, “Dr. Molly.”)
  • I learned to read very widely in theology and to think theologically–integrating Scripture, the traditions of the church, and input from human experience.

Conservatives who think of her as a heretic are ignorant and most have never met her. She began each class with a hymn and doubtless still does. She sight-read from her Nestle-Aland Greek NT as she lectured. She quotes large sections of the Church Fathers (and some of the newly rediscovered Church Mothers!) from memory, and can often be found volunteering time and money for the poor and marginalized, especially (for deeply personal reasons) prisoners and their families.

I like to think the student has also influenced the teacher. Although she still loves Luther, over the years I have noticed her pay more attention to the Anabaptist tradition and its impact on early Baptists. (She could, of course, gotten this from many places, but we all have our little conceits and this is mine.) Perhaps that was reflected in her stint as Bible study leader for the 2004 summer conference of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America.

August 27, 2006 Posted by | Baptists, heroes, mentors | 11 Comments

Mainstream Baptists

A new group blog has been developed called Mainstream Baptists. The term “mainstream” in the title does not refer to the views of the current majority of Baptists in America (which would be far more conservative or even right-wing), but to the mainstream of the 400 year old Baptist tradition. The blog is the brainchild of Rev. Dr. Bruce Prescott from Norman, Oklahoma, who runs the “Mainstream Baptists Network.” It will focus mostly on reinforcing the traditional Baptist perspective championing liberty of conscience (called by some “soul competency” or “soul freedom”), religious liberty for all, and church-state separation. But the 15 (so far) bloggers will also comment on other issues of importance to non-fundamentalist Baptists in the centrist-to-progressive theological spectrum, especially “public square” issues.

The hope is that media types who are used to hearing only from the Religious Right when Baptists are mentioned, will discover the site and learn the broader tradition.

To my continued surprise, I have been invited to participate in this blog. My surprise has to do with the fact that, as an inheritor of the Anabaptist-Social Gospel-Liberationist strand of Baptist life, I represent a distinct minority strand of the larger Baptist tradition. My tradition has always been a part of Baptist life, but we’ve never been “mainstream.” Still, since I care strongly about the issues to which the blog is dedicated, I’m glad to be included. On these issues, there is very little difference between Leveller types like me and the mainstream of the tradition.

Today, I posted on “The Sovereignty of God and Church-State Separation.” But don’t just read my post, check out some of the other great contributions.

Let me introduce you to some of the others on the current team: In addition to Bruce Prescott and myself, there’s:

  • Rev. Amy Butler, Senior Minister at Calvary Baptist Church, a multi-racial, multi-ethnic congregation in the heart of Washington, D.C. Amy writes a great blog called “Talk with the Preacher.”
  • Natalie Burris, of Tuttle, Oklahoma, a young woman conversant with contemporary theology, who is considering seminary or graduate school (or both). She writes a blog called Panta ta Ethne.” If your Greek is rusty that translates as “to all the nations,” or “to all peoples.” Natalie’s blog is strong on the multicultural universal nature of the gospel.
  • Dr. Jim West, is pastor of Petros Baptist Church in Tennessee. A biblical scholar with a strong interest in Reformation theology (especially Zwingli), Jim is proof that the breed of pastor-theologians has not quite gone extinct. He stubbornly remains Southern Baptist in hopes of one day seeing reform and renewal when the current era of fundamentalist domination is over. His blog combines his interests in theology and biblical studies with commentary on current events.
  • Pastor Scott Stearsman, Senior pastor of Kirkwood Baptist Church, Kirkwood, MO, connects that church to ministries throughout the world through several partnerships with various Baptist groups. From browsing his profile and online sermons, I gather that he combines his training in classical philosophy (Ph.D., U. of Oklahoma) with mission experience abroad, and a pastor’s heart to give him a vision of mission, ministry, and servanthood, which is global.
  • Will Prescott, son of Bruce, and blogging as “Runbdp,” is a writer, aspiring novelist and screenwriter, and a graduate student at Oklahoma University. His blog, “Future Bard,” previously called “Young and Relentless,” combines his interests in the arts with interests in religion and politics. Today, those political sentiments would be considered “left of center,” but I am old enough to remember when they were very much mainstream and today’s center the “far right,” (and today’s “right” was off the page of acceptability in American discourse). Seeing folk Will’s age hold these convictions gives me hope that I might live long enough to see those kinds of views become “mainstream American” again.
  • Dr. Paul D. Simmons, one of my former teachers, is new to blogging–even newer than I am. Formerly Professor of Christian Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (when it was a center of learning and not an indoctrination camp), these days Paul teaches ethics courses in the philosophy department of the University of Louisville, and biomedical ethics courses at U of L’s School of Medicine. He is a well-known biomedical ethicist, who has also written on sexual ethics, and much on religious liberty and church-state separation. A Christian humanist, Paul has worked long for dialogue between Baptists and secular humanists, knowing that, while we have sharp differences in places, we share common commitments to liberty of conscience, free inquiry and investigation, commitment to secular government (but differing over the desirability of a secular society), free speech, and the marketplace of ideas.
  • Dr. Albert Reyes, is the President of the Baptist University of the Americas, formerly known as the Hispanic Baptist Theological School, which trains Hispanic/Latino Christian leadership through Bible institutes in Texas, Mexico, and one in Alabama. These prepare women and men for ministry in Latin American, U.S. Latino, and cross-cultural contexts, sending many on to further work in seminaries. Dr. Reyes’ blog, “Pan Dulce,” is for “seekers of wisdom, ministry ideas, and pathways to sanity in daily life.”
  • Aaron Weaver, blogging as “Big Daddy Weave,” is a 23 year old son, nephew, and grandson of ministers educated at my alma mater, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. A native of Georgia who did an internship with Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) (one of my own heroes), Aaron previously worked for the Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty. He is now a graduate student at Baylor University in Waco and a self-described theological moderate and political progressive.
  • Mark Whitten, blogging as MadisonFan, is the author of The Myth of Christian America: What You Need to Know About the Separation of Church and State (Smyth & Helwys, 1999). He teaches philosophy and religion at Tomball College, Tomball, TX & is president of the the Greater Houston chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
  • Martin Tiller, a former youth minister in Richmond, VA teaching in public schools, blogs as Matthew61. He also owns a digital video production company and some of his work is geared toward churches. He writes an interesting blog called “Thoughts of a Minister.” The blog is, as it describes itself, “thoughts from a Baptist minister in Virginia who is trying to raise an alternative voice to the Religious Right.” His wife is a Youth and Outreach Minister.
  • “Howie Luvzus” is the blogging pseudonymn of someone who was greatly hurt by Southern Baptists and is trying to recover and minister with grace–all in the context of New Orleans, the city America is trying to forget! Although often bittersweet, his blog is also one of the funniest Christian entries to the “blogosphere.”
  • Bruce Gourley, Associate Director of Mercer University’s Center for Baptist Studies, and online editor for Baptists Today, is also a Ph.D. student in history at Auburn University, writing a dissertation on Georgia Baptists during the Civil War. He is also an internet entrepeneur and the owner of BaptistLife.com, a photographer, and a Baptist minister. He has a new blog known as “A Baptist Perspective.”
  • Brian Kaylor, a Ph.D. student in Communications at the University of Missouri, has pastored a rural church and now works as a communications specialist for a Christian organization. Brian works to help Christians communicate better, even when they disagree. Strangely, his blog is called, “For God’s Sake, Shut Up!”
  • Tim Sean Youmans, a minister in Shawnee, Oklahoma, has a fascinating blog known by the unlikely title of “Anabaptist Monk.”

It’s a great group with a fascinating range of interests, backgrounds, contexts, and perspectives. We obviously need more women and persons of color (several who have been invited turned us down due to schedule conflicts), so I hope our diversity expands as some come aboard.

I hope you’ll check us out and, if you do, leave some comments so that we get feedback.

August 26, 2006 Posted by | Baptists, blogs | 1 Comment

Mottos for Communion Tables

Darrell Pursiful notes that Protestant communion tables usually engrave the quote from 1 Cor. 11:24, “This Do in Remembrance of Me.” While acknowledging its biblical appropriateness, Darrell has a few other suggestions, just as biblical, that might transform church life in healthy ways. Check it out here.

August 25, 2006 Posted by | church, eucharist | 3 Comments

The Practices of Just Peacemaking

In preparing for an extended defense of gospel nonviolence, I first reminded readers of basic principles of Just War Theory, the major ethic of Western civilization on war and peace issues for the last 16 centuries. I then pointed to internal weaknesses of JWT as noticed by proponents of the tradition themselves. Those weaknesses were noticed by several church groups during the 1980s and 1990s who called for a “positive ethic of peace.” We need an ethic, many voices said, that not only tells when it is permissable to go to war and under what conditions wars may be fought justly, but tells us how to make peace without appeasement, how to pursue peace justly. Pacifists agreed. So, with my mentor, Glen Stassen, taking the lead, a group of theologians, biblical scholars, international relations experts, and people with much experience in peacemaking, developed a new ethic, “just peacemaking,” whose practices are catching on because they combine moral seriousness with pragmatic realism. The new tradition is spreading despite the setbacks of global terrorism and preemptive war doctrines in the 21st C.

One note: Although Just Peacemaking has been uniting pacifists and those in the just war tradition in active work for peace, it cannot replace either of those older ethics. The best efforts of peacemakers sometimes fail and wars break out. When that happens, the pacifist will refuse to fight or support the war and the just war theorist will evaluate the particular war before deciding to support or not. Both can, of course, continue to work on peacemaking efforts during the war. Just Peacemaking, then, should be seen as a complimentary ethic, rather than a replacement for either pacifism or Just War Theory.

The 10 Practices of Just Peacemaking:


  1. Support nonviolent direct action. First coming to global attention in the campaigns of Gandhi and King, this practice has spread globally in many contexts. Nonviolent direct action is a strategy that lances the festering boil of violence and injustifce and often produces healing without the resort to war. Boycotts, strikes, citizen embargoes, marches, mass civil disobedience, shunnings or (by contrast), actively fraternizing with enemy soldiers, accompaniment, are just some of the nearly 200 methods so far catalogued in the menu of interventions and defensive strategies being developed by nonviolent direct action campaigns. Support for such campaigns, studying when they work and when they fail and finding ways to make them stronger naturally reduces the numbers of wars and violent revolutions.
  2. Take independent initiatives to reduce threats. In situations of conflict, an arms buildup or any form of escalation can lead to or expand a war. But so can unilateral disarmaments or appeasements. What is needed is a series of surprising, independent initiatives that reduce threat levels and act as “confidence building measures” that often open up new possibilities of peacemaking. It is important that such actions are public, visible, happen at the times announced, and invite reciprocation.
  3. Talk with the adversary using proven methods of cooperative conflict resolution. Some politicians have refused to negotiate, claiming that speaking with party x should be a reward for good behavior. This is ridiculous. Strong leaders are not afraid to talk. One has to talk to make peace. Conflict resolution methods have developed which enable smart negotiators to be tough on the problem, rather than tough on the people involved. In every field, from business to foreign policy, principled negotiation techniques are making proven headway. Ignoring these practices for ultimatums or, by contrast, appeasements, is foolish.
  4. Acknowledge responsibility for conflict and injustice and seek repentance and forgiveness. Seldom is all the blame for a war or conflict only on one side. Acknowledge the wrongs your side has done and repent and seek forgiveness. This invites reciprocation and healing. It used to be believed that only individuals can repent or forgive; groups and nations could not, nor ever acknowledge any wrongdoing without appearing weak. To the contrary, such repentance has often led to healing and failure to do so has led to resentments and future wars. The experience of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Committee greatly strengthened this practice and many nations are using it as a model.
  5. Advance Democracy, Human Rights, and Religious Liberty. It should go without saying, but recent years have proven otherwise: One cannot and should not try to “advance democracy” by means of military invasion or coercion. Democratic movements must arise indigenously. Established democracies seldom go to war with other democracies and, not needing to fear uprisings from repressed peoples, can spend much less on military budgets. (The U.S. is a glaring exception here, but is thereby becoming less democratic; more a plutocratic oligarchy.) As Roger Williams, Richard Overton and others knew long ago, the lack of human rights and religious liberty is a major cause of war. Protecting and spreading these norms works for just and lasting peace.
  6. Foster Just and Sustainable Economic Development. Patterns of economic hardship and exploitation can lead to “resource wars,” and poor people become desperate and are thus vulnerable to recruitment by terrorist fanatics (or power-mad government demagogues) offering cheap and easy solutions through violence. Fair trade, development that works with rather than against healthy eco-systems, these things are not only just in themselves, but win “hearts and minds” that can otherwise be seduced into violence.
  7. Work with emerging cooperative forces in the international system. Everything which works to connect nations makes wars more difficult. Actions which weaken international institutions and cooperative forces make wars more frequent and more likely.
  8. Strengthen the United Nations and International Efforts for Cooperation and Human Rights. Goes with # 7. The UN is far from perfect. It needs internal reform. But its efforts to promote global health, end poverty, spread human rights norms, and make peace have, despite all this often proven successful in its 50 year existence. Those efforts, and similar developments such as the International Criminal Court, need to be strengthened. “Lone wolf” foreign policies which undermine the UN and the international system are perceived by others as imperial and sow the seeds for future wars.
  9. Reduce offensive weapons and the weapons trade. Okay, to a pacifist like myself, all weapons are “offensive,” but this refers to weapons whose nature makes them more useful for attack than defense. Work to eliminate “weapons of mass destruction,” (chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons) are vital–and no nation can simultaneously work to prevent the spread of these weapons, and insist on its own right to possess them and develop more. Further, some “conventional” weapons are, by nature, more offensive, such as cluster bombs which do much more damage to civilians than combat troops and landmines which, long after wars are over, continue to kill and maim civilian populations. Efforts to ban these weapons, often supported by prominent military figures, must be supported. The same goes for the weapons trade. The more people one sells weapons to, the more likely one is fomenting war. The U.S. is the largest dealer of arms–leading to its troops often facing weapons “made in the U.S.A.”
  10. Encourage Grassroots Peacemaking Groups and Voluntary Associations. Many of the above practices must become common among diplomats and policy elites, but some, such as nonviolent direct action, can be done by anyone. Also, peacemaking cannot be left to elites and experts. Grassroots groups can often take independent actions for peace before governments and they can and must pressure governments to make their own efforts for peace.

People often ask me as a pacifist, “If you are against war, what are you for?” It’s a fair question and the above practices are a large part of my answer. They also help Just War folk. After all, if war is to be a “last resort,” then one needs concrete ideas of what “resorts” can and must be tried first. One can explore these practices specifically regarding struggles against terrorism here.

August 25, 2006 Posted by | just peacemaking | 25 Comments