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Just Peacemaking – A Better Way

April 10, 2013

For centuries there have been two main approaches Christians took to dealing with war – Pacifism and Just War Theory. Each of these had their strengths and weaknesses, but in reality they each lacked something. There is a more recent development in Christian approaches to war. It is called Just Peacemaking. This is an effort to take the strengths of pacifism and the strengths of just war theory and make something which will better prevent war. Many times pacifism is not involved in the governmental process of war. Whereas the just war theory has since become nothing more than a checklist to ensure going to war is appropriate. These are two extremes, whereas just peacemaking is an active process trying to prevent war through distinct and deliberate actions.

This theory will not be effective for government agencies without outside influence. “Just peacemaking theory is intended to give a road map for people, grass-roots groups, voluntary associations, groups in churches, synagogues, mosques, and other meetings. It shows people what to do to fan the flames of peace.”[1] Change will come when people have new solutions. This theory developed over time because “there is a growing sense of the inadequacy of the debate between just war theory and pacifism. Debates dominated by those paradigms inevitably focus on whether or not to make war.”[2] This theory is different. It looks for solutions to prevent war and a way to properly exit war once one has entered into it. It does not deny the right, and at extreme times, the necessity for war, but presupposes there is a way to prevent a number of conflicts we have seen.

This theory is built on ten practices. To outline all ten here would be space prohibitive; some will be highlighted. A major effort of this theory is to build cooperative partnerships in the existing international systems. Do not think only governmental agencies, but also non-governmental agencies. Another factor to be considered is the promotion of justice issues. There are important issues, such as: supporting democracy, human rights and religious liberty.[3] These are critical issues in peacemaking, as they will promote a sense of safety and belonging, a sense of investment in a community.

An area which can hold great benefits is making efforts to construct peacemaking initiatives. One peacemaking initiative in the United Nations today is the limitation of offensive weapons trade. In theory, the more difficult it is to procure these types of armaments, the process to war will be slowed. Another peacemaking initiative would be independent efforts to reduce hostile activities. Often, one part of a government can hold up the process of peacemaking, so if one office is ready to move to peace the work of peacemaking can start. This can be done with the use of a mediator for conflict. Over the years Jimmy Carter and Henry Kissinger have played that role to some success.

One key issue in constructing peace is voluntary admissions of responsibility for injustice and conflict. This should lead to repentance of the transgressions and seeking forgiveness. This process was seen in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa after apartheid. The Commission was intent on restoration of the nation through an admission, repent and forgive paradigm. This process brought closure for many people and allowed the nation to move forward without harboring resentment. Moreover, it allowed the two sides to work side by side in the rebuilding of a new nation.

In some circles, the redistribution of wealth is added to the just peacemaking theory. The belief is the great majority of conflicts start due to lack of resources, natural and financial. There is also a belief the terrorists’ true issue is not necessarily religion, but a lack of financial resources. This is typically true with poor nation’s internal and external conflicts. Many suggest a coerced redistribution of wealth inside a nation, and between nations.

One benefit of the just peacemaking paradigm is for the most part it is not tied to any one particular religion. There has been an effort to try to avoid religious language. This will make it a system which will transmit a similar message to any faith background which desires a peaceful resolution. After all, peace and security is not a Muslim, Christian, or Jewish issue. It is a humankind issue.

This by no means covers every nuance of this theory, yet it does highlight the major points. Just war theory and pacifism have not been effective in the prevention of war. In the current era, just war theory has been manipulated, or ignored to suit the desire for war. A true effort at peacemaking works to prevent war before the conflict rises. It enlists every person, in every nation to continually work towards peaceful resolution to issues. It is a radical change in paradigm. This theory does not neglect the right of a nation to participate in war, nor does it believe war will never be necessary. It does lay the groundwork to reduce armed conflicts, and to end the conflict in a manner that respects both sides by laying the groundwork for more productive conflict resolution in the future.


[1] Glen Harold Stassen. “New Paradigm : Just Peacemaking Theory.” Council Of Societies For The Study Of Religion Bulletin 25, no. 3-4 (September 1, 1996): 27-32. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed February 21, 2013). 27

[2] Stassen, 27

[3] Stassen, 28

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4 Comments
  1. I found your discussion of Just Peacemaking very interesting. On the one hand, and unfortunately, its merits find too few examples in history to provide clear support, although I’ll admit to not being a historian. It would seem to me that President Reagan’s success in contributing to the end of the “cold war” (for a time until recently?) was in his application of “peace through strength” combined with “trust but verify.” He seems to have convinced Gorbachev that he was genuine, willing to build understanding and trust, and that weapons could be reduced IF trust could be developed.

    On the other hand, I’m skeptical that much progress can be made (e.g. in current hotspots involving Islamic extremists) apart from addressing religious faith considerations. My understanding is that Islamic teaching anticipates, welcomes, (yea, promotes?) jihad against heathen, non-Islamic peoples who disregard Allah’s and Mohammed’s teachings. Therefore, I’m of the opinion at present that any efforts toward “just peacemaking” must take into consideration not only the nature of some religions that foment violence (or which are coercive and suppressive to free expression of religious faith), and also take into consideration the sin and evil that all men and women must contend with daily. This is not to say “just peacemaking” is not a valid approach, but one whose very merits are worth considering IF the spiritual realities of the individual human heart and the implications of the sin nature at the institutional level are taken into consideration.

    • John, thank you for your comments. Please take a look at my lengthly response to your comments on September 4. Your questions deserved a longer response than I felt belong here.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Unintended Consequences of War | anafalz
  2. Just Peacemaking – A Response | anafalz

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