No War, Just War, Just Peace: Statements by the Anglican Church of Canada 1934-2004

Tasneem Jamal Defence & Human Security

Michael Ingham

Michael Ingham is Chair, Partners in Mission/Eco-Justice Committee, Anglican Church of Canada


This paper reviews the various authoritative statements on violence and war made by governing bodies of the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC) over a period of seventy years beginning in 1934. This brief historical survey shows a consistent pattern of opposition to violence and war as an instrument of national policy while at the same time recognizing the political and (sometimes) religious complexities of international conflicts.

Over these seven decades, the ACC has articulated biblical, theological, and pragmatic principles on the basis of which the nations of the world should consider their decisions to go to war—whether against other nations or against groups internal to their own society—and in this history has established a clear trend toward what is now being called the theory of “Just Peace.”

While sometimes utilizing traditional Christian tests for a “Just War”—most clearly expressed during the leadership of Archbishop Michael Peers (1986-2004)—the principles inherent in these various Canadian Anglican statements lay the foundation for the emerging paradigm of “Just Peace” now before the ecumenical assemblies of the World Council of Churches (WCC). Indeed, ACC statements throughout this period often echo and mirror similar declarations by the WCC and its member churches.

The concept of “Just Peace” was formally endorsed by the ACC in 2004. Its emergence in ecumenical reflection during the WCC’s Decade to Overcome Violence (2001-2010), its further enunciation at the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in Jamaica in May 2011 and in the resource publication [ital.]Just Peace Companion[end ital.] (WCC Publications, 2011), can be traced back through these historical documents. This paper shows how Canadian Anglicans have wrestled with the ethical, biblical, and theological questions raised by international conflicts and war during the last seventy years.

The 1930s: Prelude to war

The Berlin Reichstag Fire in 1933 propelled Adolf Hitler into power in Germany and caused fear of the returning spectre of war throughout Europe. By the following year, civil liberties had been suspended in Germany, its armed forces had begun large-scale re-militarization, and the ferocious anti-Semitic rhetoric of the Nazis was in full flood.

Half a world away, the General Synod of the ACC of 1934 listened to a dramatic petition read to them by the Canadian League of Youth:

The danger of another World War is evident. Tension in Europe and in the Far East grows daily. This tension, which is at once the legacy of the past conflict and the result of intense economic stress, is being adroitly fostered by those interests, the armament makers, whose profits are made out of the suffering of the nations. Further, other interests would profit by a war in some other country than their own: apart from those who supply raw materials to the makers of armaments, there are those to whom foreign aggression appears to offer future markets. These interests exert such pressure upon the governments of the nations that it is almost inevitable that policies will be pursued whose end will be open conflict, unless public opinion is aroused in time to avert the danger.

Standing beside the spectre of war we young people see another horror: oppression. The two dangers are intimately connected. A militant movement is spreading which, under the guise of conserving order, concentrates power in the hands of a military and political oligarchy under which the civil and religious liberties for which our forefathers made such sacrifices are rigorously suppressed. The nation is militarised and the sentiment of patriotism distorted into national hysteria. War is glorified as the “noblest human enterprise.” All opinion which conceives of higher loyalties than those accorded the State is persecuted without mercy.1

In response, the General Synod members said this:

That the Upper House concurring, this General Synod of the Church of England in Canada heartily concurs in the principle enunciated by the Lambeth Conference of 1930, that “war as a method of settling international disputes is incompatible with the teaching and example of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The Synod calls upon the Church, through the leadership of its Clergy and the personal influence of all its members, to help in the creation of a public opinion which will organize peace, and effectually outlaw war, as being contrary to the mind of Christ and, especially under modern conditions, inhuman and devilish. It commends to the prayers and active support of all men of goodwill the League of Nations as being, in spite of its limitations, the best human instrument for preserving international peace as an ideal and a goal, and for fostering that mutual understanding and co-operative spirit among the nations, which are the primary safeguards of peace.

The Synod deplores the increase of armaments among the different nations, in violation of the solemn declaration regarding general reduction contained in the Peace Treaty. It declares the private and uncontrolled traffic in munitions of war to be a moral offence of the first magnitude; and it appeals for the hastening, by every possible means, of complete and universal disarmament.

Complete and universal disarmament has thus been a foundational position of the ACC since before the Second World War. This resolution became a policy benchmark in succeeding years to which subsequent generations of Anglicans referred when discussing new conflicts or periods of rising tension. The statement links international peace with the necessity for “mutual understanding and co-operative spirit among the nations.” Later reflection will use the language of justice rather than merely understanding. But already in the 1930s we have an analysis of war and conflict that goes to the social roots of human inequality and oppression.

It is important to note, however, that the phrase “private and uncontrolled” in the third paragraph was added by amendment, indicating a sentiment in the Synod that not all traffic in munitions is to be regarded as a moral offence. Private arms dealers bear the brunt of this condemnation. A suggestion lingers that lawful authority might merit different moral consideration. Nevertheless the principle of universal and complete disarmament by all nations is unambiguously stated.

This position was muted considerably by the experience of the Second World War. Anglicans were among members of the Canadian Armed Forces that fought in Europe, and some of them were present at the 1952 General Synod that made this observation:

The provision of peaceful measures for the reconciling of all differences among the nations is in accordance with the mind of Christ and must be continually sought. And, while acknowledging that there is abroad in the world mistrust, suspicion and active selfishness and the consequent threat of aggressive war from some quarters, making necessary the maintenance of armed forces under regional and world authority, the Synod calls for never-ceasing efforts to secure international supervision and control of all weapons of destruction.

It was the view of the ACC’s highest body in the post-war period that “the maintenance of armed forces under regional and world authority” was now a necessity—a position different from the pre-war assembly. A number of formal Anglican statements were also being made at this time supporting the formation of the League of Nations as the best hope for establishing conditions for international peace. Universal disarmament, however, was no longer seen to be pragmatic or achievable by many of those returning from the battlefields.

Cold War: Fear of global thermonuclear war

In the late 1950s and early 1960s the growing proliferation of nuclear weapons brought about a profoundly new kind of reflection among Canadian Anglicans on disarmament and the prospects for peace. Although those nations in possession of nuclear weapons were few, the spectre of mass annihilation and the potential for the destruction of humanity itself was well understood. The post-war period was characterized by Cold War polarization, and by East-West ideological and military confrontations throughout the world. The sheer scale of potential destruction in the event of a nuclear war brought a new urgency to the Church’s task.

Two declarations, from among many made at the time, reveal this sense of grave urgency:

The General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada has observed with deep concern the rapid development of weapons of mass destruction and recognizes, as was expected, that they are now in possession of all the more powerful nations, of whom some groups are politically and ideologically ranged against others, and that this factor has created in truth a race for ever more powerful instruments of annihilation, a race to which both groups have succumbed.

The Church believes this to be against the Will of God and the Mind of Christ, and challenges the statesmen of the world jointly to ban the manufacture and use of all weapons and to curtail the production of conventional weapons.

While accepting, as it has, the apparent necessity of our country and other democracies to create and sustain measures and alliances of defensive power, the Church has nevertheless persistently pleaded for continued negotiations among the statesmen of the world, whether within or without the framework of the United Nations, in order that they may find ways of settling disputes—political, economical or otherwise—without recourse to war, of obtaining justice for all by peaceful means, and in particular of setting up such adequate international inspection and control as will enable all nations to abandon the use of all thermo-nuclear weapons. The Synod believes that the time has come when such methods and such objectives must be accepted by all if the world is to be saved from self-destruction.

The Synod recognizes that the goal of peace requires positive action particularly in two directions—in the extension of human rights and basic freedoms to all classes and races of mankind in all countries, and in just distribution of the world’s resources to all, and therefore urges upon our Canadian people and Government, as upon the people and governments of all more favoured nations, more generous and swift assistance to under-developed countries to enable them to achieve economic and political stability and freedoms and to obtain the well-being and spiritual uplift of their peoples.

This quotation is from the General Synod of 1955. It underlines the necessity for “the extension of human rights and basic freedoms” and the “just distribution of the world’s resources to all” as preconditions for peace and an end to the arms race. Canada is urged to be more generous in its programs of international assistance and development, a call regularly repeated throughout the succeeding decades to the present day.

The second is from the General Synod of 1962:

This General Synod records its conviction that the only sane course open to humanity is never to use nuclear weapons; and urges its members to press continuously as a matter of utmost urgency for the abolition, by international agreement, of nuclear bombs, and of other weapons of similar destructive force, the use of which is repugnant to the Christian conscience.

There is no mention here of universal disarmament or the abolition of conventional weapons of war. The 1960s seems to have been a period when the Church felt a clearer sense of condemnation of weapons of mass destruction than of national militarization. Its commitment in 1934 to universal disarmament—never repudiated—nevertheless did not go so far in subsequent decades as to embrace the idea of unilateral disarmament, a position never brought before the ACC for debate.

Instead, the ACC largely supported the peacekeeping role of Canada’s military, encouraged a defensive (rather than offensive) role for Canadian troops, and committed itself and its resources to education and advocacy for peacemaking. Theological colleges were urged to provide training in conflict resolution. Dioceses and parishes were urged to develop teaching and worship material to promote peacemaking. General Synod in 1983 asked all Anglicans

to work with people in all parts of the world for a “just, sustainable, participatory” society as the basis for peaceful relations, and involve themselves with ways of reducing violence at all levels, acknowledging that if everyone were to eliminate his or her own violent reaction, such witness should be a positive sign of our Church’s will to improve our world, beginning with areas over which we have direct control.

This signals a shift in the official statements of the time toward personal responsibility and individual as well as social transformation as the basis for authentic Christian witness. In Canada, the emergence of Project Ploughshares as the main ecumenical agency for theological reflection and combined approaches to government by the mainline churches brought about a new focus on peacemaking that shifted the debates from questions of international policy to the priority of Christian social action.
Ethnic conflicts in Europe and the Middle East: The Just War principles

Fear of global nuclear conflagration, so strong in the 1960s and 1970s, seemed to recede with the end of the Cold War and the establishment of international methods of weapons supervision and inspection, however ineffective. The focus of international tension moved to the Middle East and to Europe itself, with serious conflicts erupting in Iraq (1991 and 2003) and Kosovo (1998). The continuing struggle within Israel/Palestine produced nuanced statements from ACC bodies supporting peace with justice for Palestinians, security and recognition for Israel, and generally encouraging a two-state solution for long-term stability in the area.

The 1991 Gulf War generated a new kind of response from the ACC. Canadian forces were committed to the invasion of Iraq, moving Canadian international policy substantially beyond its post-war peacekeeping focus. For the first time in many decades Canada was at war with a foreign nation, and the Primate of the ACC, Archbishop Michael Peers, introduced into the debate the traditional Christian Just War principles in order to condemn the invasion:

The Christian religion has a tradition of the just war. Normally, there are six tests applied to a conflict to determine whether violence is morally justified. They are:

•    last resort after all other attempts to resolve the conflict

•    right authority in the initiation of hostility

•    right cause in the purpose of war

•    proportionality in the use of force

•    discrimination in the application of force (i.e. protection of non-combatants)

•    reasonable prospect of success.

The commitment of United Nations forces to war last night does not, in my view, meet these tests.

Military force cannot be said to be the option of last resort. South Africa has been in violation of UN resolutions for 40 years, Israel for 23 years, yet in these cases sanctions and negotiations are still being pursued.

• While the commitment of United States, British, and French forces have received the approval of their respective legislative assemblies, the Canadian Parliament has not given approval to the use of Canadian forces in combat roles.

• There is widespread public debate about exactly what cause is being pursued in this conflict. Is the cause the liberation of Kuwait? If so, it may be just. But is it a further attempt by Western powers, in continuance of a long tradition, to dominate Middle Eastern affairs and to subjugate Arab nations by coercion? The industrialised world, including Canada, has supplied weapons of war to the entire region, including Iraq, for its own political and material benefit. In his speech last night, President Bush failed to mention the one word which this war seems to be about—“oil.” If the cause which is being pursued is the preservation of western lifestyles, then this war is not just.

• It is too early to judge whether the force that is being used is commensurate with the force that is being opposed. Certainly, the elimination of Iraqi chemical and nuclear capability is to be welcomed – though this would need to be extended to other nations in the region and in the world as well. But if, in view of early signs of minimal air resistance, the strength of Iraqi forces should prove to have been seriously overestimated by UN commanders, this will be a further indication of a lack of moral justification for the attack.

• Similarly, we have no assurance that there has been protection of the lives of innocent Iraqi civilians. The resort to high-level aerial bombardment is a tactic designed to minimise military casualties not those of non-combatants. The first commitment given by President Bush last night was to the safety of American lives. The total neglect of any mention of the protection of civilians is reprehensible. If the first casualty of war is truth, the early military-controlled news releases of low levels of ground casualties are difficult to believe.

• A reasonable prospect of success exists only if one’s understanding of success is limited to the battlefield. This conflict has the potential to ignite the entire region in unimaginable devastation, to pit the Muslim world against the West for decades to come, and to unleash waves of violent and racist extremism throughout the world, not least in our own country. We have opened Pandora’s box once again.2

Archbishop Peers issued similar statements twice more during his primacy, on Kosovo in 1998 and again on the outbreak of the Second Gulf War in 2003. Using ‘tests’ for the justifiable use of violence, first developed by St. Augustine, he found the case for invasion wanting in every instance. It is important to note that the Just War theory was not intended to provide theological justification for violence, but rather to confound and reject the political and economic calculations that often seem paramount in the decisions to pursue war. Nevertheless, they implicitly contemplate such justification where the tests can be met, and this troublesome fact generated considerable debate among Anglicans for the next decade, with some moving to the conclusion that in a nuclear age there can be no morally acceptable ‘just war’.

General Synod of 1998 passed the following resolution:

That this General Synod, mindful of Christ’s commandment to love our enemies,

• call upon Anglicans to study Just War Theory and its implications for Christian response to war and militarism; and

• request that the Eco-Justice Committee establish a task group to provide basic information and materials that will assist dioceses and parishes in this study and to facilitate the exchange of views in response to this call.

For the next few years work was undertaken to respond to this resolution by a specially created “Just War Working Group,” culminating in the publication in 2001 (with a brief revision in 2003) of an educational resource on peace and non-violence called “Just War? Just Peace.” This included theological and biblical reflections on just war doctrine, Christian traditions of non-violence, the religious aspects of conflicts, stories of peacemaking, and liturgies and sermon notes for local parish use. The timing of this work coincided with the WCC’s Decade to Overcome Violence, and was supported and enhanced by further ecumenical reflection by the churches of Canada through KAIROS and a 2003/4 publication “Cultivating Just Peace: Education for Action Guide.”

The most recent official statements on the subject by the ACC are two resolutions approved by the General Synod of 2004:

That this General Synod reject war as a means of resolving conflict, and call on all
Canadian Anglicans to:

• Oppose the doctrine and policy of pre-emptive or preventive war;

• Work to stop war being used as an instrument of policy;

• Press for the means to teach people the skills of mediation, conflict resolution, and reconciliation;

• Engage in learning and using these skills for peace-building and reconciliation;

• Press for the transfer of resources from war and militarism to urgent social and environmental needs


That this General Synod:
1. Endorse the KAIROS led “Just Peace…True Security Postcard Campaign” that calls on Canada to commit itself to pursuing an Agenda for Just Peace, which will:

• Respect Human Rights: Ensure that the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its corresponding covenants are indivisible, universal and legally enforceable, and take precedence over trade and investment agreements.

• Nurture Social Security: Reorient security spending towards social security, equitable economic development, environmental protection and protection of civil liberties.

• Control Arms Exports: Place additional national controls on arms exports and promote and international treaty to prevent arms transfers to governments that show a pattern of persistent human rights violations.

• Increase Aid: Increase Official Development Assistance to 0.7% of GNP within the next 5 years, respecting the rights of peoples to determine their own development goals.

• Cancel the Debt: Immediately and Unconditionally cancel 100% of the bilateral and multilateral debts of all low-income countries, reject structural adjustment conditionality, and cancel the illegitimate debt of all developing countries.


The concept of “Just Peace” articulated in the WCC’s 2011 “Ecumenical Call to Just Peace” outlines several fundamental principles:

1. The centrality of non-violent resistance to injustice.

2. Social justice, human rights, and the rule of law.

3. Non-discrimination on the basis of race, caste, gender, sexual orientation, culture or religion.

4. Forgiveness and love of enemies, active non-violence, solidarity with the marginalized.

5. Conflict transformation and care for the earth’s resources.

6. Education of character and conscience.

7. Human and ecological security.

The Ecumenical Call discusses the justifiable use of armed force, and concludes “there are extreme circumstances where, as the last resort and the lesser evil, the lawful use of armed force may become necessary.” This is a difficult conclusion for many Christians, and yet it would reflect the broad views of Canadian Anglicans as expressed in these official statements through the years.

A clear and consistent pattern of belief is evident in the documents surveyed here. Violence and war are incompatible with Christ’s teaching. Christian responsibility is to build up communities of peace founded upon justice for all people and for the earth itself. Peacemaking and reconciliation are at the heart of the Christian gospel.


1. The source for all quotations in this paper is the General Synod Archives.

2. Statement by the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, Anglican News Service, January 17, 1991.

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