Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Possibilities of Just Peacemaking

Among the books I received for Christmas was David Clough and Brian Stilter’s collective study Faith and Force: A Christian Debate about War. It’s an academic work that's highly readable, and it offers an excellent consideration of both Christian pacifism and just war tradition. (They also discuss the problems of two other positions: Christian realism and the holy war mentality.) One of the book’s highlights is a chapter-by-chapter series of debates between Clough (an English theologian, Methodist, and pacifist) and Stiltner (an American theologian, Catholic, and just war adherent), which originally began via e-mail in 2003 and provided the inspiration for their collaboration. As they explore “the authenticity and practicality” of both positions in relation to humanitarian intervention, the current Iraq War, and responding to acts of terrorism, their debates reiterate and clarify major arguments, divergences, and shared points of commonality.

That last aspect—commonality—is an important one. In my own efforts to maintain a critical attitude towards war and military intervention, I’ve struggled to define exactly where I stand. The pacifism that Clough advocates is largely compelling, and he asks difficult but necessary questions about relying on military solutions. I think he’s correct to argue that even in cases of a humanitarian crisis (where military intervention is perhaps most justifiable), war remains “an exceedingly blunt instrument to attempt the protection of civilians” (100). Conversely, I find that Stiltner' position is appealing in that he is more willing to find common ethical ground with others outside of the Christian church. He also presents reasonable arguments for the necessity of military responses when other alternatives are no longer possible. An internal debate arose as I considered their arguments: if war is necessary, when? How can we avoid resorting to violent means in a turbulent world?

Thankfully, both Clough and Stiltner anticipate this problem, and one of their common-ground solutions is quite promising: the theory of just peacemaking. As they write, just peacemaking theory involves “a collection of ten practices providing practical alternatives to war that was developed by pacifist and nonpacifist Christian ethicists working collaboratively” (66-67). Theologian Glen H. Stassen organized this particular project in the early 1990s, which resulted in the book Just Peacemaking: Ten Practices for Abolishing War. The practices that Stassen and his collaborators originally outlined are as follows:

--Support nonviolent direct action.
--Take independent initiative to reduce threats.
--Use cooperative conflict resolution.
--Acknowledge responsibility for conflict and injustice, and seek repentance and forgiveness.

--Advance democracy, human rights, and religious liberty.
--Foster just and sustainable development.

Love and Community
--Work with emerging cooperative forces in the international system.
--Strengthen the UN and international efforts for cooperation and human rights.
--Reduce offensive weapons and weapons trade.
--Encourage grassroots peacemaking groups and voluntary associations.

The overarching goal of the above practices is to, as Clough and Stiltner write, “establish a peaceful and just resolution of conflicts using bloodless means” (67). Obviously, it would be difficult for many of us to directly fulfill certain practices; reducing arms trade and strengthening the UN are clearly “macro-” level political goals. Yet other practices are entirely possible on an everyday “micro-” level, such as participating in peacemaking groups, doing what we can to fight injustice, and employing conflict resolution techniques in our own lives. Moreover, while these practices are designed with Christians in mind, they are by no means limited to Christians, as terms such as democracy, conflict resolution, and sustainable development signify.

For Clough and Stiltner, the key is that “[t]hose who participate in the just peacemaking project temporarily set theoretical disagreements to one side and focus on what practical measures they can support” (68; emphasis mine). That certainly doesn’t render irrelevant any individual attempts (like my own) to hash out a sound theoretical position. It does, however, offer encouragement to begin practicing peaceful actions with others in our lives as we ponder the larger ethical issues that that accompany war and military solutions.

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