United in a strengthened commitment to peace, we met in Waterloo, Ontario on February 3, 2012 as Canadian church leaders to reflect upon the just peace global ecumenical framework for building peace, resolving conflict, and preventing war, as articulated in the recent World Council of Churches’ (WCC) documents, An Ecumenical Call to Just Peace and the Just Peace Companion.
We shared our perspectives from the traditions and official statements of the Anglican, Friends (Quaker), Christian Reformed, Presbyterian, Mennonite, United Church, Lutheran, and Unitarian communions. We discussed the use of force as understood historically and in contemporary situations of conflict in Canada and abroad. We heard and reflected on particular situations, including the challenge of current official Canadian defence and foreign policy, climate justice, and the many violent conflicts in Sudan.
Throughout the sessions we explored the call to engage proactively in peacebuilding from our respective theological and ethical perspectives and church traditions, acknowledging what resonated within the just peace framework as well as noting where opportunities exist for further discussion, reflection, and growth. All welcomed the development of just peace as an important and renewing perspective on how faith communities respond to situations of conflict. In particular, we reaffirmed our support for a strong preventive approach that tackles the root causes of conflict as well as our responsibility to prevent the outbreak of state-sanctioned violence through comprehensive efforts to promote peace in the community, peace with the Earth, peace in the marketplace, and peace among peoples.
With humility we acknowledged that peace is a gift from God. We as faith communities are called to bear witness to this peace and to strive to achieve it in the concrete places where we live, work, and worship. We acknowledged the role that international law and multilateral institutions such as the United Nations can make in the prevention of war and violence, but the biblical law of love is a more demanding calling, which we as faith communities are to embody. We are to be light and salt in the midst of an alarming and growing worldwide reliance on military deployment and increasing defence budgets to resolve conflicts.
We recalled recent situations where the principles of just peacemaking are being tested:
- The violence-preventing intervention of local clergy that assisted in diffusing tensions between police and Occupy Toronto participants being evicted from their camp in 2011.
- The role of Military Chaplains in multifaith dialogue in the Balkans and Afghanistan, and their ongoing provision of pastoral care to Canadian Forces.
- The efforts of national church staff to contribute peacebuilding and reconciliation options as alternative approaches to Canada’s primary military role in Afghanistan and Libya.
- The different role that men and women play in armed conflicts as perpetrators and victims of violence, and the necessary role that women must play in building peace with justice.
- The stories of churches’ positive contributions to peacebuilding in Colombia and Sudan.
- The common interfaith witness challenging Canada’s lack of commitment to climate justice in 2011.
- The conflict police were placed in during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup riots, being criticized both for not stepping in strongly enough, and for potentially overreacting through forceful intervention.
- The increasingly charged military rhetoric by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister on Iran and its potential for building and using nuclear weapons.
We recognized that the Canadian churches have a particular calling to just peacemaking in action by participating in the truth-telling process of Indian Residential School survivors through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The legacy of the federal government’s Indian Residential School system and the churches’ historic role in these institutions is a crucible of pain and suffering that must be faced by the churches with integrity and hope for a new relationship with Canada’s First Peoples.
Acknowledging that wrestling with ambiguity and complexity is an important Canadian trait, we as church leaders reaffirmed our shared commitment to proactive peacebuilding, while recognizing our differing perspectives on the use of military intervention in certain circumstances. Those from just war traditions recognized the misuse of the just war tradition to justify wars and particularly that the devastating impact of modern weaponry challenges the relevance of a “proportional response” to justify any armed conflict.
Others from the historic peace churches remained deeply concerned by the “last resort” use of force argument present in the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine, and feared that it can too easily become a first resort, or used as a politically expedient selective response. The 2011 international military intervention in Libya challenged the application of R2P as a civilian protection mission when it quickly devolved into support for regime change.
We did, however, affirm together that war is always a failure—a failure to address the root causes of conflict and prevent war—even while we differed on whether or not the use of military forces can be justified, for example, in the police-like protection of vulnerable civilians.
Canada’s increasingly militaristic role in international affairs and its unhelpful stand on climate justice issues underscored the need for a renewed peacemaking effort by the Canadian Churches. There has been a concerted—and largely successful—effort by the Canadian Government to reinvigorate the connection between the Canadian Forces and the Canadian public by linking national symbols such as the flag, the monarchy, and hockey to support for the Canadian Forces. Increased support for militarism also is being expressed in honouring the deaths of Canadian Forces personnel in ramp ceremonies and along the Highway of Heroes.
Canadian churches must find ways to acknowledge and affirm people’s need to publicly express their grief and solidarity with Canadian Forces personnel and their families, even while maintaining a critically engaged conversation on how Canada can make greater contributions to international peace and security through non-military means.
We also affirmed the importance of engaging locally in reflection on the practice of just peace. How do we faithfully implement this vision? How can local congregations, parishes, and meetings better understand the dimensions of just peacemaking and their application locally, nationally, and globally? How can two billion Christians meeting in millions of places of worship worldwide resolutely live out and advance just peace? Incarnating communities of just peacemaking practice in local churches is an imperative that we all affirmed. We have been deeply challenged in our discussions today to join with our international ecumenical partners and others of good will to continue working for a renewed world marked by peace with justice.