Has War Become Dysfunctional?

By Jeanine Elliott, Bethel Congregational United Church of Christ

Just-Peace banner smIn 1971, Robert Moss, then second president of the UCC, wrote in the United Church Herald, “In our kind of world, war has become dysfunctional. We now need to put as much effort into defining a just peace as we have done in the past in defining a just war.”[1]

Today we don’t even know what a war is.  On any given day, we can list conflicts between nations or peoples that result in death and injury of civilians and military alike.  This day we see Kiev, Bangkok, Syria, Central African Republic, Caracas, Iraq, and Afghanistan in conflict. Next week we may have a different list. We know our political leaders and those around the globe must wake each morning to see what parts of the world are on fire. At the same time, civilians in those areas may have no idea the anxiety, pain, and suffering the day will bring for them.  Most of these conflicts are not defined as wars.  Civil unrest hardly seems a big enough term to describe them.  Armed conflict may not reflect the imbalances of power.

As Christians, we seek peace among the peoples of our world.  But what is our path? How do we get to peaceful resolutions to conflicts that seek justice and reconciliation?  How do we think about the use of force, or even violence, in the service of peace and justice?

In the early 1980’s, the General Synods of the UCC (XIII and XIV) approved resolutions calling upon the UCC to become a “peace” church.  An extensive study process resulted in a proclamation in 1985 at General Synod XV:

Affirms the United Church of Christ to be a Just Peace church and defines Just Peace as the interrelation of friendship, justice and common security from violence.  Place the UCC General Synod in opposition to the institution of war.[2]

Linking peace and justice is one thing when one is sitting in a study group or praying for peace on Sunday.  It is quite another when we try to make sense of what is happening in Syria or Kiev, or even on our city streets or in our schools and workplaces. In the nearly three decades since the General Synod pronouncement, we see more and more ways that violent problem-solving strategies are dysfunctional.  Wars and violence do not end conflict; they often beget more violence. The victims of war are everywhere.  The people who live in places frequented by war and violence know no security.  They live and die as if no one cares about their right to God-given humanity.  Those who do the fighting, who are asked to use violence to curb violence, suffer as well.  Some die, some are physically maimed, and even more suffer a life-long struggle with PTSD.

Living in violence has social and spiritual consequences.  Some people learn to use that violence, directing it toward others.  Some bring the violence inside, where it torments the spirit.  Some develop addictions as self-medication, and others turn to suicide.  Violence doesn’t work.  What does work?  We don’t know yet, but we can trust that God is still speaking.

A Rolling Justice article should have an action component.  Is there any interest among our churches in picking up the Just Peace theme?  There are local issues to be explored (e.g., bullying in schools and workplace, domestic and sexual violence, veteran issues such as PTSD treatment and homelessness, weapon use by individuals and law enforcement groups).  We have global issues to consider from a Just Peace perspective (e.g., providing for victims of violent conflict, educating ourselves and our communities about the sources and resolution of conflict, exploring strategies on nonviolent actions and change).  We might choose, as a congregation, to declare ourselves a Just Peace church. Currently only 16 of the 47 Central Pacific Conference churches are Just Peace Churches.  Plenty of work lies ahead if we are to become a more loving, forgiving, and just world.

[1] Quoted in A Just Peace Church, edited by Susan Thistlethwaite.  United Church Press, 1986.

[2] p. 134, A Just Peace Church, ed. by Susan Thistlethwaite.  United Church Press, 1986



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