Peace and Justice: Challenges for the Churches in Germany Today

Rev. Christine Busch, Evangelical Church in the Rhineland

Rev. Christine Busch, Evangelical Church in the Rhineland

New Testament text for 12.11.2005:

Christ says: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. (John 14,27)

"The goal to which Christian ethics points can only be peace and not war.”[1] That is a key sentence of the Protestant ethics of peace which was formulated by the EKD in 1981 at the peak of the re-armament debate in its memorandum “Frieden wahren, fördern und erneuern” (Maintaining, promoting and renewing peace). This memorandum is a clear statement against war as a Political instrument. It calls for an international order of peace based on global socio-political and ecological reforms. But the important question is whether it is really conceivable and permissible that Christians should participate in safeguarding peace in freedom by the use of atomic weapons. Are Christians allowed to support the strategy of nuclear deterrents? The EKD gives a positive answer. “Even today, the church must … recognise participation in the endeavour to safeguard peace in freedom by means of atomic armaments as a way of acting which it is still possible for Christians”.[2] At the same time, it lists steps to come closer to peace: by removing the causes of crises and conflicts, by agreements on concrete disarmament measures, by developing instruments for conflict prevention and non-violent conflict resolution.

One year later, in 1982, the Federation of Protestant Churches in the GDR adopted a resolution on “Rejecting the spirit and logic of deterrents” which could hardly have made the point more clearly. For Christians in the GDR, nuclear deterrents were completely unacceptable.

One year after that, in 1983, the 6th Assembly of the WCC at Vancouver decided to launch the Conciliar Process for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation. It was understood as an alliance of mutual commitment and mutual accountability, as a ”crucial test for faith” (as Konrad Raiser called it) in view of the threats to peace, the environment and society. In both East and West there was one major, common denominator: to analyse the reality of society, to interpret the signs of the time in the light of the gospel and to take a stand.

These three resolutions on peace ethics by the EKD, the GDR churches and the WCC in 1981, 1982 and 1983 were adopted in the early days of our church partnership which was established in 1980/81. To what extent was peace ethics a common topic for our churches at that time? In Germany, we are aware of and challenged by the fact that our sister church defined itself in 1985 as a Just Peace Church.[3]

I have chosen the approach of the EKD in order to spell out the current challenges of peace ethics for our churches. The resolutions mentioned form the context of the understanding of peace and justice which still has its effects today. Its framework of reference is the ecumenical movement and the conciliar process, two important life streams in the worldwide community of churches. In those days – in the 1980s – neither side saw their community as stopping at the “iron curtain”. Its German expression, the Berlin wall, was permeable for the ideas that were simmering in our heads. I was working at that time as a study director in the western part of the Church of Berlin-Brandenburg and can only confirm how dynamic and constructive the effects of the “rejection of the spirit and logic of deterrents”, which led finally to the concept of a “just peace”, were in both the East and the West.[4] But many peace groups and people committed to the conciliar process felt marginalised by the EKD memorandum.

1. The conciliar challengeAt the 1st European Ecumenical Assembly in May 1989 in Basle, Switzerland, the conciliar reform movement came together around the idea of “conversion to the future”. In the GDR, that stimulated the non-violent resistance which also produced the peaceful revolution. In the FRG and Western Europe, it was the stimulus for the Agenda 21 which was adopted in Rio in 1992 as the UN catologue of tasks in the fields of ecology and development; the gap between the North and the South had long since been recognised by the conciliar movement. The guiding theological principle was conversion to shalom as peace for the nations; this corresponded to the preferential option for non-violence, for the poor and for the protection and promotion of life.

The conciliar process kept visions alive and sharpened consciences. When the borders were opened and the wall came down, when people were streaming to the West and experiencing the freedom to travel, it was more than obvious that Europe really does not stop at the borders of the European Union. It was necessary to make another attempt at solidarity, brotherli/sisterliness and the use of imagination; it was important to overcome ideological clichés but also to share the resources available. The Christian West, the Old World, was making a new start and changing. What did peace, justice, reconciliation and safeguarding the environment mean in a Europe which had changed politically and on a world scale? This question is still an important ecumenical background to the work of our churches. They have set out to be churches for peace and now have to face the question whether they have really become churches for a just peace.My own church, the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland, is hesitant about the answer although it is committed to the conciliar process in its constitution. Its statements on peace ethics and peace policies refer expressly to the leitbild of a just peace and their language is clear. Just about now, some guidelines for the debate on work for peace are being published which discuss the approaches of the EKD and the Church of the Rhineland and take them further so that the Reformation principle semper reformanda can have an effect and cause healthy disquiet.

2. The challenge of the prima ratio (first resort)Where does the EKD stand on the question of whether it wants to be a church for peace or a church for a just peace? In its Peace Memorandum of 1981, it maintains the view that, “To maintain, promote and renew peace is the command which every political responsibility must obey. All political tasks are subordinated to this command of peace. The goal to which Christian ethics points can only be peace and not war.”[5] On this basis, the doctrine of just war which can be traced back to St. Augustine is suspended. The systematic criteria for it, as set out by Thomas Aquinas, are also affected: for the right to warfare (ius ad bellum) these comprise, among others, the criteria of a just cause (causa iusta), legitimate authority (legitima potestas) and good intention (recta intentio) and, for justice in a war, the appropiateness of the means (proportionalitas) and the appropriate form (debitus modus). However, the consequence of the criterion of good intention, ultima ratio (last resort), still remains as an important argument for war as the final means after all other possibilities have been exhausted. This view has given rise to a lot of criticism of the EKD from the pacifist wing. They claim that it has kept an escape route open instead of giving a clear witness and that it has approved of nuclear deterrents.

Following the merger of all the German Protestant churches in the EKD, in 1993 – just at the time when the disagreement over the structure of military chaplaincy was coming to a climax – the Council of the EKD submitted a statement entitled “Schritte auf dem Weg des Friedens. Orientierungspunkte für Friedensethik und Friedenspolitik”[6] (Steps on the way to peace. Pointers for peace ethics and peace policy). It was intended to combine the approaches in the East and the West. In the same year, the EKD synod confirmed “that all possible room for manoeuvre is being developed and exploited in order to deal with the causes of conflicts preventively and non-violently, so that the borderline case of military action really remains a borderline case”, and it called for a clear UN mandate for German Federal troops involved in UN peace keeping missions. The paradigm of just war was thus separated from non-violence as the primary means for avoiding conflicts and reacting to violent disputes: non-violence as the first resort. It had been understood that the doctrine of just war does not limit wars but that, on the contrary, its criteria can serve and have served to justify wars; therefore this doctrine should be set aside. To be consistent, a war can and must never be envisaged at the beginning of a dispute but, at most, at the end after examining all other possibilities.

This is also the line followed by the most recent EKD document on peace ethics of October 2001 entitled “Friedensethik in der Bewährung – eine Zwischenbilanz” (Peace ethics on trial – an interim evaluation). It examines the tasks for Germany, Europe, NATO and the United Nations in relation to classical and asymmetrical wars, crises and terrorism. It particularly emphasises civil conflict management and a preference for civil instruments in safeguarding peace. Humanitarian intervention is accepted as an example of a last resort provided provisions under international law and the UN mandates are observed. Looking back at the war in Kosovo, it refers to the task of the church: should it work on ethical criteria that allow military force to be limited or should it deny any legitimation for military force? At the level of a fundamental ethical discussion, this interim evaluation considers that the controversy has not been and cannot be resolved.[7] But precisely that is a thorn in the flesh of the conciliar process which wants to hear a call for a decision. The conciliar process focuses on the reconciliation which comes from God and makes peace possible without the use of force. Because the dividing wall of hostility has been torn down (Eph.2,14), the seed of peace and justice can sprout in everyday life. If this is your vision, you want clarity, unambiguousness and resoluteness. The disappointment of many people about the positions of the EKD is related to the fact that they are primarily Christian reflection on contemporary political stands (following the correct premise of not engaging in politics but making politics possible).

3. The doctrine of just peaceThis understanding of the doctrine of just peace provides an ethical perspective which embraces all areas of life and uses the key concept of non-violence as the “first resort” to bypass the fundamental question of Christians renouncing violence or indirectly to answer it negatively.Bishop Huber has stated, “The doctrine of just peace does not remove the significance of all the elements of the doctrine of a just war. On the contrary. Certain elements, such as the criteria for the traditional doctrine or the conception of ultima ratio (a last resort), can be reconstructed within the new paradigm and are thus conserved to this extent. It can therefore be said that there is no complete discontinuity between the two doctrines. Indeed, there are some grounds for understanding the doctrine of a just peace as a further development of the doctrine of just war by systematically broadening the former’s horizon and aiming at more agreement on how to understand the basic terms.”[8]

In this sense, one can also establish a link with a key sentence of the ecumenical ethics of peace which stems from the founding of the WCC at Amsterdam in 1948: “War is contrary to the will of God”. Although this is normally understood today as rejection, a witness against war and violence, it was used in those days in the context of trying to limit violence.

There can be no question about the continuing task of spelling out a consistent doctrine of just peace. The conciliar groups and the EKD agree to that extent. “Si vis pacem para pacem” is the maxim used by the peace researchers Senghaas and Senghaas-Knoblauch as a deliberate variation on the classical idea, “si vis pacem para bellum” – if you want peace, prepare for war. In its place, therefore, if you want peace, then prepare for it!

That then requires a sustainable peace policy as demanded and supported by the EKD and its member churches as well. The central concept, just peace, underlines the interdependence between peace, justice and the law, not as a description of a situation but as a dynamic process, a continuous programme. It aims to achieve the preferential option for the poor, for justice, for promoting and protecting life, by reducing and overcoming the causes of a lack of peace. In practice, it is a question of finding ways out of poverty, violence, unfreedom and destruction. The higher aims are to strengthen human rights and democracy as internationally valid norms, to strengthen civil society and the community of states within the United Nations and to bring about a worldwide internal policy and a policy to order the world as a whole. In case of conflict, it must be possible to act coherently even when there are different partial interests.

The conciliar process goes beyond these dimensions. Its thinking starts from “the one context of the reality of God and the world” (Bonhoeffer) in which something new and unexpected, the irrational and visionary force of the kingdom of God that is already dawning, has a changing and renewing effect. “For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life” (Rom.5,10). The cross is the sign that God renounces violence; it brings reconcilation and attracts people to Jesus’ non-violent way so that discipleship means sharing in this way (not imitatio). Understood like that, the church is a community of discipleship and witness which sets aside the rules of this world. Conciliar groups miss this emphatic connection between christology and ecclesiology in the statements of the established churches or the EKD and they do not tire in calling for it; they see the non-violent approach as the appropriate way to peace and justice according to the gospel.

4. The political realityLooking at the situation today, we must recognise that the parameters for peace ethics changed completely with the political changes of 1989/90. The benefit added by disarmament, détente and development policy should have been peace in security. But, following the end of the confrontation between the blocs, what evolved was not a peace dividend or an international order of peace; on the contrary, the predominant outcome was a large number of violent conflicts over ethnic and religious issues.

When the 2nd European Ecumenical Assembly was held in 1997 at Graz, the concern was Europe’s search for reconciliation – reconciliation after the collapse of socialism, after the end of the cold war, after the wars and the disintegration of ex-Yugoslavia. What does safeguarding peace and establishing justice mean in a globalised world that is suffering under turbo-capitalism and now has only one superpower whose strategy is perceived as unilateral? That is still the question for European churches and denominations today. They are still challenged to be peace makers and have to face the question whether they able to get people to listen to this urgent question. A unilateral policy of interests that uses military power can only prejudice the goal of a global community of nations based on justice.

The wars in the Gulf region, in the Balkans and against Iraq have contributed to a new justification of the logic of war. German soldiers were involved in the Kosovo war under the heading of “humanitarian intervention”, and this was approved by the EKD and the German Bishops’ Conference whereas the WCC and the Vatican voiced their disapproval. Later on, the chairman of the EKD Council at that time, Manfred Kock, revised the EKD position and admitted that this war should not have been conducted. The civilian infrastructure had been bombarded in contravention of recognised international law. NATO had made air attacks on Yugoslavia from a great height without a mandate from the UN Security Council; it was only later that mass expulsions and genocide ensued.

Following September 11th, it was the war in Afghanistan and the Iraq war, namely the war on terrorism and the preventive strike, which gave rise to widespread debate on the legitimacy of wars and the use of military force. The arguments of the large churches against the Iraq war were directed particularly to the lack of an authorisation under international law and to the consequences for the civilian population and the region as a whole. The dispute over terrorist violence is mainly concerned about its supposed religious justification. Therefore, in addition to defining the church’s stand between “first resort” and “last resort”, between bellicism and pacificism, there is also the question of the relation between religion and force; we need a new, binding position for inter-religious dialogue.

We are experiencing a militarisation of politics in Europe as well. In the framework of the common foreign and security policy, sanctioned by the EU constitutional treaty, a military agency is being planned for whose operational activities a mobile unit of 60,000 soldiers is to be created. There is still no clear outline for the peace agency which is also being planned. The EU’s goal of promoting peace is based on the concept of military strength and one cannot deny a readiness to use it.

5. The ecumenical challenge: overcoming violence

At the beginning I mentioned the conciliar process and the ecumenical movement as related points of reference which, in my view, have helped to develop and clarify the understanding of peace and justice in our German churches. Special significance must be attributed to the Decade to Overcome Violence which was resolved by the 8th Assembly of the WCC for the years 2001-2010. Its aim is “By means of practical steps towards overcoming violence at the various levels of society, to build up a culture of peace and encourage the churches to play a leading role in the use of non-violent means such as prevention, mediation, intervention and education”.[9] Hence the intention and task of the decade is to transpose the preferential option for non-violence formulated in the conciliar process from the realm of ethical definition to the field of concrete, purposeful, committed action. In so doing, it is as much a question of concrete, local steps as of international campaigns – child soldiers, small arms, trafficking in human beings - in the awareness that such measures can promote the formation of an alternative culture of peace and reconciliation.

hese mattters require one to take sides. The guiding principles for working for a just peace are justice and solidarity; action must be inspired by respect for human dignity and the highest priority is to promote the welfare of all. The work done on conflicts should start preventively wherever possible, namely at a stage before they become violent.

In the context of the conciliar process, the EKD and the ACK (National Council of Churches)[10], we evaluated the decade in April 2005 and identified seven important issues.

1. Launching the ecumenical process “Economy in the service of life”This takes up the debate on the neo-liberal economy – a special form of structural violence – in reference to the resolutions of the WARC at Accra in 2004, the Soesteberg Conference of 2002 and the AGAPE paper of the WCC. “A conception of growth and enrichment based entirely on the market is a profound contradiction of the biblical understanding of life and divides not only societies but also the body of Christ.”[11] In other words, there is an alternative to globalisation. A different world is possible.

2. Peace policy aiming at non-violence and the prevention of violenceThis should be promoted rather than a policy which prefers reflection on criteria for the use of violence. In this context, the understanding of security needs to be clarified.[12]

3. Human rights, justice and international law must be strengthenedIn this case, it is finally a question of an ethics of international relations in relation to rights to security as basic rights without which other rights cannot be enjoyed, and of understanding the indivisibility of human rights.

4. The churches should work on their own history of guiltThey must face up to their own involvement in structures of violence (holocaust, colonialism, racism, etc.). “Today they are being tested to see whether they can fulfil their prophetic calling as watchmen in favour of the victims of violence.”[13]

5. Inter-religious dialogue must be encouraged“Understanding for other religions enables us to discover common roots and differences as an enrichment and supportive force in our common life and inspires us to live as brothers and sisters.”[14]

6. The sustainability of an ecological economy must be strengthened“The participation of individuals in an ecological economy reflects an image of the kingdom of God in which animals, plants, human beings, air and soil cooperate productively for the welfare of all…”[15]

7. The equal importance of and justice in relations between women and men must become a reality. This takes up demands from the first decade of “Churches in Solidarity with Women” and recalls the biblical promise of equal dignity for women and men.

I consider the Decade to Overcome Violence to be a tremendous ecclesiological challenge. The ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5,18) and the practical task of making peace (Mt. 5,9) are set before us – as a public mandate and as characteristics of the church. Here there is still much to be done, whether in the form of exemplary projects like EAPPI in the Near East or in basic courses on conflict management deliberately sponsored by a church to provide training in methods and skills. Dealing non-violently with conflicts does not mean simply passive toleration of violence but actively transforming aggression and confrontation into cooperation. A church which does not only preach this outside but puts it into practice inside as well will also change.6. Conclusions

Just peace is a vision that is not just our idea. It is inspired by the promise of our faith. Over against experiences of a lack of peace and of violence, we relate justice as presented in the norms for human rights to establishing and safeguarding peace. Peace, justice and rights are indissolubly inter-related. We can come closer to them by means of non-violence. Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King are witnesses to this.

“The renewal of the world can come only from the impossible. This ‘impossible’ is God’s blessing,” said Bonhoeffer. Our vision does not stand on feet of clay; it is a flexible stimulus for our path in discipleship. I believe and hope that, in the course of time, we in Germany can become clearer and more united when we have to face the challenges of non-violence and of refraining from violence along this path.

There are several points on which we need greater clarity.

(1) It will do us good if, despite the obvious need to make careful distinctions, we are able to regain the ability to say “yes” or “no” clearly. Coming to a public rejection of the spirit and logic of a phenomenon, as a result of the freedom of the gospel and according to its criteria, can set us free to discover alternatives.

(2) We need to reach agreement about the foundations and economic consequences of globalisation if we wish to succeed in regaining a primacy for policy over the economy.

In the Scriptures, we find an economy of “enough for all”. In the dominant neo-liberal economic system that has no place. Therefore we must clarify openly and soon how we can speak on the dominant structural violence of the economy and on a process for running the economy in the service of life – this can range from appeals to public witness.

(3) The global power of the 60,000 transnational enterprises may be a moral issue for us but, first and foremost, it is a question of a violation of justice for the countries of the South.

Our churches which preach God’s option for the poor are challenged to be convincing: to show their readiness to share, their view of wealth, their way of handling the money entrusted to them, etc.

(4) How much and what form of security should protect a state? What are the limits to surveillance?

Safeguarding the “European fortress” is based on a concept that wishes to exclude migrants and refugees and to defend the resources of the EU against the homeless and the have-nots. A security of “enough for all”, on the other hand, relies on people participating in the good things of life. So it will analyse the threats to security and work to remove their causes. We are called to defend this understanding of security openly.

(5) The ultima ratio (last resort) of using military force is a lasting challenge to our churches. It cannot be right to approve of force because there seems to be no alternative; on the contrary, practical alternatives must be tried in a committed way. We must stand for the effort to use the instruments of non-violent conflict management.

Other points could be added to this list. In each case, it is a question of putting forward a Christian alternative and a Protestant position to change things, pointing to the limitations of unpeaceful means and of violence, of injustice and destruction, despite appearances and against the trend. Our witness is needed. We are not the only ones but it also depends on our entering into concrete conflicts and voicing and moulding the yearning for healing and reconciliation.

How can a binding plan be derived from these reflections? We need to exchange opinions in the context of our fellowship of churches. There is an ecumenical insight that “paper doesn’t work”; at least, paper doesn’t work on its own. Perhaps we need a conference on the subject every five years; perhaps we shall dare to adopt a bilateral stand during these days here. We can undertake our evaluation of the Decade to Overcome Violence as mutual accountability, and exchange living letters between our churches in order to learn how others see things and be able to follow our paths here and there more consistently. The path that lies before us is a challenge; it challenges our belief that another kind of world is possible in this world. We believe the world can be changed because we have long since experienced it; because God has the last word for it and in it; because God repeatedly gives glimpses of the new world in this world’s transitoriness and beauty.



[1] Church head office of the EKD (ed.), Frieden wahren, fördern und erneuern, Gütersloh (1981) ³1982, p.48.

[2] ibid. p.58.

[3] In our files, I found an indication that the General Synod of the UCC had debated as early as 1981 whether it could declare itself a pacifist church. How did the EKU of the time perceive this process which took several years? What effect did it have on its member churches?

[4] The addresses by Christa Grengel and Joachim Garstecki will deal with this approach in greater detail.

[5] op.cit. p.48.

[6] Kirchenamt der EKD, Schritte auf dem Weg des Friedens. Orientierungspunkte für Friedensethik und Friedenspolitik (1994), ³2001

[7] Rat der EKD (Hg), Friedensethik in der Bewährung. Eine Zwischenbilanz, in: Schritte auf dem Weg des Friedens, op. cit. p. 90

[8] Wolfgang Huber, Rückkehr zur Lehre vom gerechten Krieg? (Return to a doctrine of just war?) Lecture on 28.04.2004, unpublished manuscript.

[9] WCC (homepage)

[10] According to its mandate, the ACK is the counterpart to the National Council of Christian Churches in the USA; unfortunately it has a minimum of funding and authority.

[11] Gerechter Friede – Leben in einer Gefährdeten Zukunft, (Just peace – Living in an endangered future), epd-Dokumentation no.30/31, p.7.

[12] In the meantime, more attention has been devoted to dealing with experiences of violence. Looking at the balance between victims and perpetrators makes a new basis for cooperation possible, going beyond a definition of right and wrong to the benefit of both sides. In the follow up to a war or conflict, the work must relate above all to traumatic experiences and aim to make trust possible so that regret, admission of guilt, search for truth, forgiveness and reconciliation are given their due place.

[13] ibid., p.7.