21.05.11 18:00 Age: 289 days

Finding the strength to pursue a just peace


In war-torn or violent communities – and perhaps in so-called peaceful ones – reaching a state of just peace takes strength and courage.


Participants at the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (IEPC) discussed on Friday how to help local people find the strength within themselves, and within their communities to resolve conflict and end violence through peaceful means.


The IEPC is being held in Kingston, Jamaica from 17-25 May and is sponsored by the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Caribbean Conference of Churches (CCC) and the Jamaica Council of Churches (JCC).


During the workshop called “Empowerment for Just Peace”, presenters shared practices of peace from historical and theological perspectives then culled ideas from workshop attendees for ways to strengthen this effort.


Margareta Ingelstam, the coordinator of the Just Peace working group of the Swedish churches, shared her learning from organizing the Ecumenical Monitoring Programme on South Africa decades ago.


“South African churches wanted assistance with international eyes when the situation was very brutal,” she recalled. “The churches asked other churches in the world to come as monitors and in Sweden we started planning and thinking about how to do this. That was a very truthful and rich time in my professional life.”


After organizing monitoring systems, Ingelstam said the next natural step churches should take is to educate and train people – or empower them – to resolve conflict themselves. “Ideally, a service goes into the conflict areas and sees to it that the local people themselves who own the conflict would also be the key actors in ending the conflict.”


Ingelstam also believes that peace monitoring teams should arrive in local areas before conflict erupts into violence. “Most conflicts have to be taken care of early before they become violent. What is needed is not only a few mediators but thousands of people who are empowerers of the people in global conflicts,” she said.


Education should be the most important part of bringing peace to a community, she added. “People are ready to try non-violent strategies.”

Theology matters


To be involved in conflict resolution from a faith perspective, churches should carefully consider whether or not a community has already been manipulated by a damaging theology, pointed out the Rev. Dr Sofia Camnerin, another member of the Just Peace working group and a member of the WCC Central Committee.


“Theology matters,” she said. “As human beings, we learn through language and images. Language has the power to influence our lives.”


Theologians, though they may seem ensconced harmlessly in academia, are ultimately powerful, and churches trying to aid violence-ridden regions must be both conscious and careful of that power.


“Today we know that there are theological interpretations that are dangerous to victims of violence,” Camnerin said. “For example, when we accentuate the need for forgiveness and obedience, that is especially dangerous for children living in oppressive families.”


Within a theology, when the experience of violence is needed for love and salvation – when suffering is necessary for salvation – that theology poses a great danger to a vulnerable community trying to find a faith expression.


With the passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 more than a decade ago, the work group for Just Peace hopes that women will become even stronger players in a worldwide quest for non-violent resolutions.


“You must involve women in the decision-making process, not just the peace work,” said the Rev. Dr K. G. Hammar, another member of the working group who led the Church of Sweden as Archbishop of Uppsala from 1997 to 2006.


Historically and generally speaking, women have always been physically weaker than men, he said, and so have had to continually rely on non-violent means for resolving conflict within societies.


“Peace is created from within,” Hammar said. “This is more in accordance with women's experience. It's very obvious when you look into women's history that it's a history of vulnerability, abuse and exploitation. They are not tempted to achieve their goals using violence.”


As Christians, Hammar agreed with Camnerin that that care must be taken when tying theology and peacemaking together: “The cross is the ultimate symbol of our vulnerability,” he said.


IEPC website


IEPC photo galleries


IEPC videos


High resolution photos of the event may be requested free of charge via photos.oikoumene.org