Just Peace

Dr. Konrad Raiser, former general-secretary of the World Council of Churches held a lecture in Amsterdam as key-note-speaker with the presentation of the book ‘Ecumenism and Peace’, written by dr. Fernando Enns. You can read his text here: 

Just Peace as a new paradigm in ecumenical theological ethics

Remarks as part of the public presentation of the book by F. Enns “Ecumenism and Peace”


I have gladly agreed to address you on the occasion of the presentation of the newest book by Dr. Fernando Enns entitled “Ökumene und Frieden” (Ecumenism and Peace). There is no real need in this context to introduce the author with whom I have maintained a relationship of collegial friendship for the last almost twenty years. As you know, he has been and still is intensively involved in the work of the World Council of Churches while having served at the same time as a teacher of ecumenics at the Universities of Heidelberg, Hamburg and now Amsterdam. As a Mennonite Theologian of the younger generation he has made an important contribution to ecumenical thought especially in the field of the ethics of peace. His first book under the title “Friedenskirche in der Ökumene. Mennonitische Wurzeln einer Ethik der Gewaltfreiheit“ (Peace church in the ecumenical movement. Mennonite roots of an ethics of non-violence) has demonstrated the widely unacknowledged potential of the Mennonite tradition for developing an ecumenical peace ethics. Since then he has been the initiator and one of the leading minds behind the ecumenical “Decade to Overcome Violence: Churches Seeking Reconciliation and Peace”. His recent book that is being presented today represents the rich harvest of more than 15 years of reflection and action, of ecumenical teaching and praxis. For students as well as for academic colleagues with special interest in the fields of ecumenism and peace it is a precious source of inspiration, detailed information and critical reflection.


The book has three distinct parts. The first part focuses on the processes of developing a coherent theoretical framework for ecumenical theology touching on issues of ecclesiology, scripture and tradition, concepts and models of Christian unity, the relationship of truth and doctrine and leading to a relational understanding of ecumenism “on the way”. In a series of brief analyses he deals with specific testing grounds for this understanding of ecumenics, e.g. the inter-confessional dialogues, the discussions about the theology and practise of baptism, as well as the relationship between ecumenism and mission. Given the special interest today in the questions of the ethics of peace I want to draw particular attention to his very nuanced analysis of the Catholic-Mennonite dialogue on the witness for peace. Because of the fundamental difference between these two traditions, their ability to reach common affirmations regarding the central importance of the witness for peace in the life of the Christian community has made a significant contribution to ecumenical discussion.


The second part of the book turns to ecumenical action with the focus on the theology and ethics of peace. It builds on the numerous detailed analyses that Fernando Enns has been able to present and publish during these past more than ten years. The first section traces the historical development of ecumenical reflection and action on issues of peace and reconciliation from the early ecumenical conferences in the first part of the last century up to the conciliar process on justice, peace and the integrity of creation and the subsequent reflections about the link between ecclesiology and ethics. This is followed by a comprehensive presentation and analysis of Decade to Overcome Violence from 2001-2010 including a brief evaluation of the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation at Kingston in May 2011. Since Fernando Enns has been at the centre of the Decade since its initiation at the WCC assembly in Harare 1998 his assessment of the Decade and its contribution to ecumenical thought and action on peace, reconciliation, violence and non-violence is of particular value.


One of the issues that were debated controversially in the course of the Decade was the question of the legitimacy of military interventions for the protection of endangered populations. With two public declarations the WCC had participated in the discussion about the so called “Responsibility to Protect”. While appreciating the emphasis placed in the ecumenical statements on the ministry of “just peace making”, on the primacy of the prevention of violent conflict and the clear indication of the “limits of the use of force”, responses to these declarations from the tradition of the Historic Peace Churches expressed their continuing scepticism and resistance against the use of violent means, even for the purpose of protection. The European network of Peace Churches said in their response: “Violence in any form can never serve to bring about lasting peace with justice. Only the path of loving one’s neighbour and loving one’s enemy holds any promise. We invite all churches to resist together with us the temptation of justifying the use of deadly weapons even as a last resort”. The section  where Fernando Enns presents the different aspects of this debate in the ecumenical movement is a prominent example of his ability to reach beyond the traditional differences between an ethics of peace based on the traditional criteria of the “just war” and the position of a principled pacifism as represented by the Historic Peace Churches.


At the end of this section Fernando Enns mentions the fact that both the WCC assembly at Porto Alegre (2006) as well as the Peace Convocation at Kinston 2011 recognized the need to pursue further this ethical reflection related to the question of the legitimacy of interventions for the protection of endangered peoples. The assembly had recommended that the WCC engage the member churches in a consultative process with a view to developing a new, theologically rooted declaration on peace with a special emphasis on the concept of “just peace” and “just peace-making”. This process which was conducted between 2008 and 2010 has not been able to arrive at a comprehensive ecumenical declaration of peace, as envisaged by the assembly, mainly because the limited readiness of the member churches to engage in the debate. However, it has resulted in a relatively brief “Ecumenical Call to Just Peace” which has been shared with the churches already prior to the Peace Convocation with the expectation that it might eventually enable the forthcoming WCC assembly at Busan in October of this year to reach “a new ecumenical consensus of justice and peace”.


In his book Fernando Enns has not been able to present and discuss this most recent development in the ecumenical debate about the ethics of peace. By suggesting that I should place my presentation of his book under title “Just peace as a new paradigm in ecumenical theological ethics” he has however indicated that he considers the reflections which lead to the Ecumenical Call to Just Peace as a very promising perspective for the continuing ecumenical discussion. I will therefore at this point interrupt my presentation of his book with a brief excursus on the concept and vision of “just peace” and its implications for an ecumenical theological ethics.




In fact, the Ecumenical Call is based on the conviction that “Just Peace” embodies “a fundamental shift in ethical practise. It implies a different framework of analysis and criteria for action.” It invites the churches to a “transformed ethical discourse that guides the community in the praxis of non-violent conflict transformation and in fostering conditions for progress towards peace”. The vision of “just peace” reaches beyond the effort of reconciling the tension between “pacifism” and the theory of “just war”. It stands for a discourse that does not start from the potential or actual reality of war in order to move to peace, but focuses attention of the praxis of non-violent, peaceful reconciliation of conflict. It invites the churches to face the challenge, formulated by the WCC Central Committee already in 1994, of giving up “any theological or other justification of the use of military power and to become a koinonia dedicated to the pursuit of a just peace”.


The Ecumenical Call interprets “just peace” not simply as the final result of a deliberate strategy, an end state of affairs to be reached, but rather as a continuous process, a way of life under promise of God’s peace revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It focuses attention on the ongoing tasks of conflict transformation and the building of a “culture of peace”. Following the “way of just peace” will require developing and cultivating “the capacity of openness to the other, the unexpected, the readiness constantly to transcend one’s position and to redraw the boundaries of peace, to make it more and more inclusive. It will, therefore, struggle against all forms of ethnocentrism, xenophobia and ideologies that fuel enmity. The process must be rooted in the fundamental recognition that all life is created for and sustained in community. It thus points to a continuous task of moral and spiritual formation strengthening the capacity for mutual recognition and reciprocity. It will acknowledge human vulnerability and thus the need for basic security; but rather than building up defensive barriers, it seeks to transform vulnerability into a mark of true humanity: the acknowledgement of mutual dependence and responsibility for one another.” (Just Peace Companion, ch. 3, 45).


This presentation of the concept of “just peace” has broader implications for an ecumenical theological ethics, especially with regard to the relationship between justice and peace. For a long time ecumenical social thought and action has been guided by the conviction that the struggle for and the achievement of justice is a necessary precondition for reaching peace. Recent experiences have shown dramatically that the work of furthering justice is hampered, if not undermined by the pervasive presence of violence in all its forms. It has become clear that there can be no justice unless the cycle of violence with its devious logic is broken and overcome. The culture of violence today has to be recognized as one of the causes of poverty and injustice. Overcoming violence and engaging in efforts of peace building have, therefore, become preconditions for a more just world. The Ecumenical Call to Just Peace therefore opens with the affirmation of “Justice embracing peace”. “Without peace, can there be justice? Without justice, can there be peace? Too often, we pursue justice at the expense of peace, and peace at the expense of justice….When justice and peace are lacking, or set in opposition, we need to reform our ways”. The change of discourse and paradigm that stands behind the concept of the just peace does not only affect the understanding of peace, but also the criteria and the praxis of justice. This is reflected in the ecumenical discussion through concepts like “restorative justice” and “transformative justice” which have been developed by representatives of the Historic Peace Churches and have been tested in the struggles in post-Apartheid South Africa.


The paradigm shift for ecumenical theological ethics which is signalled in the Ecumenical Call to Just Peace presents the ecumenical fellowship with fundamental challenges that are still waiting to be accepted and translated into the life and witness of the churches. At this point it appears unlikely that already the forthcoming assembly of the WCC will be able to articulate a new consensus on justice and peace. The transformation that is required in ethical analysis and with regard to the criteria for action goes beyond what the churches are prepared to accept at this stage. However, every effort should be made to ensure that the challenge implied in the vision of “just peace” will be clearly presented at the assembly and that the proposal for a seven-year “ecumenical pilgrimage on justice and peace” following the assembly will be accepted as the commitment to enter the “way of just peace”.



Returning after this excursus to the presentation of the book I still want to refer briefly to the concluding section of this second part where Fernando Enns presents in summary form his proposal for an ecumenical peace-church ecclesiology which he had developed in several earlier contributions to the ecumenical discussion during the Decade to Overcome Violence. Central to this ecclesiology is an understanding of the church as koinonia in trinitarian perspective. He is able to integrate into his conception the work of the Commission on Faith and Order on an ecumenical convergence statement on the church, as well as the earlier reflections on ecclesiology and ethics. Taking up impulses from Orthodox theology he describes the “peace church” as the “icon of the trinity”. He states: “The church is peace church because it is rooted in an alternative quality of communion/community…It is the calling of the churches to grow into a koinonia of peace, because the church is itself imago trinitatis. – The denominational designation of “peace-church” could thus be dropped, because the praxis of non-violent peacemaking would have become integral to the nature of the church and would no longer represent a criterion of difference”.


The third part of the book presents basic elements of an ecumenical theology from the perspective of the Historic Peace Churches, focussing in particular on the theological profile of his own MennoniteChurch. He begins with a brief introduction to the history and tradition of the peace churches and their common commitment to the ethos of non-violence. This is followed by a section presenting the Mennonites as a “pluralist minority church”; with their emphasis on religious liberty and the praxis of peace-making they have a particular potential to respond to the growth of pluralism as a challenge to the churches in the ecumenical fellowship. A third section discusses from a Baptist-Mennonite perspective the new ecumenical discussions about the understanding of the process of justification by faith. He underlines in particular that justification must not be limited to the individual experience of being accepted and reconciled with God, but that justification has to be seen as the dynamic which makes possible reconciled and non-violent relationships between human persons and with creation as a whole.


In conclusion Fernando Enns presents four different approaches to a contemporary Mennonite theology. In spite of their diversity he considers that these approaches share clear commonalities which serve as “regulative principles” and clearly characterize them as an expression of the Mennonite tradition in comparison with other traditions in the ecumenical movement. These commonalities include the close link between ethics and dogmatics; a distinct ecclesiology, i.e. the self-understanding as a “voluntary peace-church which, in a certain non-conformity, seeks to live out and witness to an alternative to the dominant culture”; and finally the principle of non-violence.


It should be clear from this brief survey of a densely argued and written book that Fernando Enns has convincingly presented his credentials as one of the leading theological representatives of the peace-church tradition continuing in the younger generation the significant ecumenical witness and contribution of John Howard Yoder. Thanks to his tenacity and his genuinely dialogical way of doing theology he has significantly contributed to opening the space for an ecumenical discussion in which the voice and witness of the peace churches is being taken seriously. His book deserves to be made available in an English language version so that it might become part of the text books for ecumenical theological education. The paradigm shift that is signalled in the concept of “just peace” will have to be appropriated by a new generation of future church leaders if it is eventually to make a visible difference in the life and witness of the churches in the ecumenical fellowship.     


 Konrad Raiser, Berlin, January 2013       
Photo: Konrad Raiser (left) before the lecture