Church and Peace
In the aftermath of World War II, Christians on all sides of the conflict were forced to ponder the sobering consequences of modern warfare. The sheer devastation of the war — symbolized by the firebombing of Dresden and the use of atomic weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki — raised new questions about the logic of “just war” arguments.
In 1948, when the World Council of Churches convened for the first time in Amsterdam, its members publicly acknowledged that “war as a means of settling disputes is incompatible with the teaching and example of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Recognizing that the theological case for Christian pacifism merited a broader hearing, the WCC invited representatives of Mennonites, Quakers and the Church of the Brethren, along with the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, to shape theological conversations on war and peacemaking.
In 1957, this initiative led to the formation of Eirene, an international Christian service agency that promoted ecumenical conversations on the gospel of peace and helped to connect young volunteers with peace-related service.
In 1978, Eirene reorganized as Church and Peace — a European network of peace churches and peace-oriented groups committed to “the conviction that the peace testimony is a characteristic of the Church of Jesus Christ.” Church and Peace has since provided a context for European Christians to engage around pacifism and give a public witness to their convictions. Church and Peace numbers about 100 individual and corporate members in western, eastern and southeastern Europe.
Currently, three of the eight board members are Mennonites. German and Dutch Mennonite peace committee members are especially active.
The Church and Peace Newsletter, published twice a year, offers a window into the 57-year-old organization. The fall issue generally includes a report of the annual Church and Peace conference and essays by volunteers on their work in places like Syria, Bosnia or Israel/Palestine. The spring issue often features profiles of peacemaking efforts, along with news from conflict zones, reflections on peace and announcements.
Edited by the current general secretary of Church and Peace, Davorka Lovreković, the spring 2014 issue reports on the recent WCC Assembly in Busan, South Korea, with attention to the ongoing debate within the WCC regarding Christian pacifism and the “responsibility to protect.” Another essay describes a meeting between peace-minded Christians and Muslims in Rijeka, Croatia, to promote an initiative called “Believers for Peace.” The declaration they affirmed calls on believers of all Abrahamic traditions to commit to “live as the texts of my faith teach so that its peaceful principles can be seen in my behavior.” A final article featured an interview, translated from Ukrainian, with two Orthodox monks who risked their lives standing between demonstrators and riot police in Kiev at the height of recent tensions. The issue closes with an admonition to pray on May 15, International Conscientious Objector Day, that upcoming European elections lead to a more just society.
Only 12 pages, the newsletter is more a forum for information than a space for extended theological reflection. But as memories of World War II grow dim, it reminds readers that throughout the world the violence of war persists and that people of faith are called to bear witness to peace. More information can be found at church-and-peace.org.
John D. Roth is professor of history at Goshen (Ind.) College and director of the Institute for the Study of Global Anabaptism.
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