A Lutheran Response to Glory to God and Peace on Earth

Tasneem Jamal Defence & Human Security

David Pfrimmer

The Message of the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation, May 15-25, 2011, Kingston, Jamaica

David Pfrimmer is with the Waterloo Lutheran Seminary

Twin Paradoxes in Canada

The militarized metaphorical paradox: A national narrative of the ennobled “warrior nation” increasingly prepared to use military rhetoric and force at a time when, as Steven Pinker of Harvard argued, “The decline of violence may be the most significant and least appreciated development in the history of our species.1

The religious ecclesiastical paradox: Faith leaders and communities are more prepared than ever to cross the borders between them to build deeper understanding and common work for justice and peace at a time when they seem to leave uncontested in the public square the allegation that “religion is the cause of violence.”

A Theology of the Cross (theologia crucis) not a Theology of Glory (theologia gloria)

A Lutheran reading of Glory to God and Peace on Earth needs to be read with some humility that avoids rendering God’s redemptive action through Jesus’ life, his death on the cross, and his Easter resurrection into simply a political strategy for political, social, or ecological projects regardless of how noble they may be.

Martin Luther understood Christians in particular as simultaneously “saint and sinner.”2 Lutherans have historically had a pessimistic and paradoxical view of human nature, largely because of observable human failings, while advocating a message of human flourishing.

Luther argues that, while God may work through particular people and institutions, “establishing peace is a work that God alone can perform; it is not the work of a prince or of any government.”3 Luther does not mean that we should not work for peace, but that true and authentic peace is God’s gift and work.

The Just War Tradition not the Just Another War Tradition

“We need to understand that war, even in those very rare moments that make the use of force tragically necessary, is the failure of politics and a consequence of our human sinfulness” (Former ELCIC National Bishop Raymond Schultz, February 2003, opposing second Iraq War).

Glory to God and Peace on Earth rightly notes, “we are moving beyond the doctrine of just war towards a commitment to Just Peace.” Such a move requires a thicker expanded reading of the evolving Just War traditions that includes jus ante bellum (the obligation to peace before war), jus ad bellum (just criteria in initiating war), jus in bello (the just prosecution of war), and articulating jus post bellum (building a just peace post-conflict).4

While Lutherans look to the just war traditions, they are rethinking its meaning and application in the light of the changed nature of the threats to human and ecological security. One example has been the work done by the Commission on International Affairs in the Church of Norway’s Council on Ecumenical and International Relations entitled Vulnerability and Security, Current Challenges in Security Policy from an Ethical and Theological Perspective.

Culpable Nonviolence in the Face of Violent Repression and Tyranny
While Lutherans argue the resort to the use of military force is a last resort when all other avenues fail, history offers numerous examples of Lutheran culpability—to our great shame—with repressive violence and tyranny (e.g., Luther’s response to the Peasant’s Rebellion 1524-­‐25, Luther’s Anti-­‐Jewish writings, the persecution of Anabaptists during the Reformation, “German Lutherans” support of the Nazi regime and tacit complicity in the holocaust, etc.).   

While Glory to God and Peace on Earth correctly cautions about employing the Responsibility to Protect concept, how does one makes choices when the decision involves the lesser of two evils in the face of violent repression and tyranny? This is a serious dilemma for Lutherans.

A Typology for “Just Peace” and “Just Policing”

Glory to God and Peace on Earth provides a helpful descriptive typology for “Just Peace;” “Peace in the community,” “Peace with the Earth,” “Peace in the Market place,” and “Peace among Peoples.” A further question is: How do churches develop more detailed prescriptive responses for peace builders to these new forms of violence that threaten our common security?

ELCIC Lutherans have welcomed the somewhat unique ecumenical convergence in Canada of Christians in the historic peace churches and those in the just war tradition to the idea of “just policing.” Such a convergence has allowed churches to be faithful to their theological tradition while at the same time agreeing to a common strategy for peacebuilding in the public sphere. “Just Policing” embodies a uniquely Canadian approach to adopting positions and actions that allow for some ambiguity.

The strategies “just policing” adopted might better be described as a form of “international community policing” that pursues traditional approaches to international law enforcement with preventive measures that engage the international community in diplomatic problem solving and peacebuilding. In many ways, these resemble the 10 practices advocated in the Just Peacemaking Initiative.


1. World becoming less violent: despite global conflict, statistics show violence in steady decline, Huffington Post, November 22, 2011.

2. This paradoxical view of the Christian can be found throughout Luther’s writings. One prominent example is in Luther’s exposition of Genesis 27, E 34, 110f.

3. Luther’s exposition of Deuteronomy 6:1-5, August 29, 1529, E 36, 271.

4. See Mark J. Allman and Tobias L. Winright, 2010, After the Smoke Clears: The Just War Tradition and Post War Justice, Orbis Books: Maryknoll, New York for a fuller treatment of what they describe as the emerging category jus post bellum in just war thinking. They also point out that many uses of thinking leave out significant elements of the tradition.

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