A Contribution from The Presbyterian Church in Canada

Tasneem Jamal Defence & Human Security

Author
Stephen Allen

Stephen Allen is Associate Secretary, Justice Ministries, The Presbyterian Church in Canada

Introduction

Statements and policies on peacemaking (and other issues) are considered and approved (or not) by the General Assembly of The Presbyterian Church in Canada. General Assembly is the highest court in the church.

The Presbyterian Church in Canada affirms the Sovereignty of God over all creation. Human beings are created in the image of God.

Living Faith

Living Faith is a subordinate standard of The Presbyterian Church in Canada. Subordinate standards are confessional standards subordinate to scripture in the life of the church. Living Faith has this to say about peace:

Christ, the Prince of Peace
calls his followers to seek peace in the world.

We know that nations have fought in self-defence
and that war at times may be unavoidable.
But the tragic evil that comes with war,
the slaughter of men, women and children
must rouse us to work for peace.

We protest against the world arms race
that diminishes our ability to fight
hunger, ignorance, poverty and disease.

We fear nuclear war and
the devastation it would bring.

We affirm that God is at work
when people are ashamed of the inhumanity of war
and work for peace with justice.

We pray for peace
to him who is the Prince of Peace.

—Living Faith: A Statement of Christian Belief, 1984, pp 8.5.1–8.5.3       

The true state of peace is far more profound than simply the absence of war—something well understood by Project Ploughshares.

Shalom

The Biblical view of peace is captured in the Hebrew word shalom. Shalom conveys blessing, harmony, rest or wholeness. Shalom involves the relationship between humans and God and the relationship among humans and with the whole of creation.

For Christians, doing justice, showing love and working for peace are central to the mission of God’s people. The creation of a new humanity began with Christ and we see in Christ, God’s purpose to bring all things in the universe together in Christ.

Just war

The Presbyterian Church in Canada acknowledges that nations, including our own, have fought in self-defence and that war at times may be unavoidable. Engaging in war represents a failure and reflects human beings’ sinful nature. The theory of just war assumes a reluctance toward entering into conflict and assumes a deep desire for a resolution and a lasting peace.

Being peacemakers

Those who follow Jesus are called to a radical commitment to seek justice and peace for all people. Jesus did not promise that following him will lead to being well liked or respected in the community. Being a peacemaker comes with risk.

In summary:

    • Christians are called to be active participants in the process of peacemaking.
    • There can be no peace without justice. God’s peace cannot be separated from God’s righteousness, justice and steadfast love.
    • As a witness to God’s reign, the church must address the well organized roots of violence.

Some statements & policies approved by General Assembly (GA)

This is not an exhaustive list of statements and policies approved by General Assembly, but is intended to highlight statements and policies regarding peacemaking and conflict that have been considered by General Assembly.

  • 86th GA (1960): Urged the Government of Canada to use its influence to: a) stop testing of nuclear weapons, b) halt the production of nuclear weapons through international inspection and control, c) press for the prohibition of nuclear warfare, d) accelerate global cooperation in the development of atomic power for peaceful purposes.
  • 108th GA (1982): Stated its opposition to testing cruise missiles in Canada and offered prayers and support to the UN Special Session on Disarmament scheduled later in the fall in New York.
  • 118th GA (1992): Adopted the statement “Theology of Peacemaking” as a starting point for developing a fuller statement on peacemaking.
  • 120th GA (1994): Adopted a revised statement on Peacemaking.
  • 121st GA (1995): Called for a ban on anti-personnel landmines.
  • 124th GA (1998): Called on the Government of Canada to work with other nations to initiate and conclude by 2000 a convention setting out a timetable for the abolition of nuclear weapons.
  • 128th GA (2002): Called on the Government of Canada to seek a political solution re: the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq and for the Government to state its opposition to a strategy of offensive military action against Iraq.
  • 130th GA (2004): Recommended that Canada not participate in the Ballistic Missile Defense System.
  • 133rd GA (2007): The International Affairs Committee requested that courts of the church study the document from the Canadian Council of Churches on the Responsibility to Protect, called The Canadian Churches and The Responsibility to Protect.
  • 134th GA (2008): A number of presbyteries, congregations and individuals studied and commented on The Canadian Churches and The Responsibility to Protect. Overall, the document was well received. There was general support for the principles of prevention and rebuilding and qualified support for protection. This support included use of peaceful methods of intervention, such as diplomatic and economic measures. One question raised in a number of responses (and it was an issue members of the International Affairs Committee struggled with) is which institution decides if military intervention, as a last resort, is necessary to protect civilians. If the decision is made by the UN Security Council, there is the risk that intervention could be misused, misapplied or abused. R2P should not become a tool of powerful states to dominate weaker ones.

General Assembly decided that The Presbyterian Church in Canada would retain its own judgement and the right to support, oppose or withhold comment on a situation where military intervention is used, and is justified based on the Responsibility to Protect.

General Assembly endorsed The Canadian Churches and The Responsibility to Protect.

These statements and policies on peacemaking can be found in the Social Action Handbook (SAH) which is available at www.presbyterian.ca/ministry/justice. See in particular Book 5.

Healing and reconciliation

In 2006, the General Assembly approved a healing and reconciliation program. The program focuses on individuals and courts of the church building bridges with Aboriginal people in Canada. The Presbyterian Church in Canada ran two residential schools. The church is a signatory to the All Parties Agreement on Indian Residential Schools. The Healing and Reconciliation Program provides small grants to support collaborative initiatives by Presbyterians and Aboriginal organizations—a central principle in these initiatives is partnership and mutuality.

The Healing and Reconciliation Program supports the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada at the community, regional and national levels. The first challenging step in building a new relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians is truth telling. This means acknowledging the painful legacy of residential schools.

An Ecumenical Call to Just Peace

The General Assembly of The Presbyterian Church in Canada has not studied the World Council of Churches’ document An Ecumenical Call to Just Peace.

The church would find much to commend in the document. For example, the section in the document entitled “Main directions” is consistent with statements and policies approved by General Assembly over the years. “To respect the sanctity of life and build peace among peoples, churches must work to strengthen international human rights law as well as treaties and instruments of mutual accountability and conflict resolution.”

Where there may be some debate is the following assertion as stated in paragraph #23, “to consider the concept of ‘just war’ and its customary use to be obsolete.” As stated earlier, The Presbyterian Church in Canada’s statement on the theory of just war assumes reluctance toward entering into conflict and assumes a deep desire for a resolution and a lasting peace.

Concluding remarks

God’s vision of peace with justice moves us beyond oppression, insecurity and injustice. We are called to be agents of peace, not for reasons of personal or national security, but because of our new nature in Christ (2 Corinthians 5: 17).

True peace—and Christians must insist on this—comes only when justice is tempered by mercy, and forgiveness and reconciliation are offered and accepted. A peaceful society is above all, a just society.

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