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Introduction: The Search for Just Peacemaking


[1] My recent research trip to the U. S. Virgin Islands was a window to the complexity of the pervasive violence that marks our lives. In the aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center, all passengers were routinely subjected to electronic body scans, and all carry-on luggage was searched by hand not only for anything that might be used as a weapon but also, I assume, for cocaine in transit from Columbia. On St. Thomas, pervasive domestic violence has moved local congregations to ecumenical cooperation to call and train women as "listening hearts" so they may accompany other women on their difficult journey to escape it and reclaim some sense of safety and well-being. To believe that "God also protects me in time of danger and guards me from every evil"[1] often stretches literal credulity. But if we realize that God may do so through those of us who "fear and love God so that we do not hurt our neighbor in any way, but help [her] in all [her] physical [and other] needs,"[2] such a confession might stretch credulity less often.

[2] In the face of pervasive violence, what does it mean to fear and love God and our neighbor? For Elsa Tamez, the dilemma of violence generates the impulse for "infinite justice" through infinite revenge and creates an infinite number of innocent victims, especially among the poor and the vulnerable. Salvation from this cycle comes, she argues, from infinite forgiveness made possible through Jesus' death and resurrection. "God's justice," she argues, "does not justify crimes but advances another logic which, through forgiveness, can bring transformation and reconciliation to humanity."

[3] However much he may agree with Tamez about the sanctifying power of God's grace, for Gary Simpson an understanding of violence must be more nuanced than it is in her view. But the search for ways of just peacemaking is still urgent. In dialogue with Lutheran theologian, David Yeago, Simpson searches Lutheran interpretation of just war tradition. Arguing that while war may sometimes be just if it restrains or punishes offenders against the peace (and hence war is not necessarily a blind rage for revenge), Simpson finds that the tradition has a strong presumption against war. Often overlooked in readings of Luther's thought on government as a restraint of sin is the divine office to "enlarge justice," as Simpson puts it. This office for Simpson is key for the Lutheran search for just peacemaking. And he lifts up the importance of civil society-"that great plurality of different kinds of associations, affiliations, networks, movements, and institutions for the prevention and promotion of this, that, and the other thing"-in the urgent search for ways of just peacemaking.

[4] One such civil association in the search for just peacemaking is the Lutheran Peace Fellowship, whose national coordinator, Glen Gershmel, writes about the under-utilized potential of non-violence. Gershmel claims that non-violent actions are often more effective and ethical in securing needed social and political change than more violent means. Because, in his opinion, governments, with their police and armed forces, are not inclined to seek non-violent change, civil, political, or religiously based movements must do so. And he calls for the Christian community to be in the forefront of such movements, inspired by the likes of Bishop Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

[5] The U. N. is less a civil association than a governmental organization. Yet the Lutheran World Federation's and the ELCA's man at the U. N., Dennis Frado, describes in some detail the search for just peacemaking there in response to various forms of terrorism. The U. N. report which Frado describes emphasizes not only the need to "deny terrorists the tools of their trade" but also the need to respect and promote human rights as we do so, as well as the need for effective development assistance in order "to build a peaceful, equitable and just society."

[6] As you ponder peace, nonviolence and just peacemaking in conversation with the articles in this issue, readers are also encouraged to read two ELCA public statements. The first is "For Peace in God's World," an ELCA Social Statement found at http://www.elca.org/socialstatements/peace/. The Second is "A Message on Community Violence," found at http://www.elca.org/socialstatements/violence/.

[1]  Martin Luther, Explanation to the First Article of the Apostles&=javascript:goNote(39 Creed, The Small Catechism (Minneapolis and Philadelphia: Augsburg Publishing House and Fortress Press, 1979), p. 11.

[2]  Luther, Explanation to the Fifth Commandment, ibid, p. 5.



© November 2002
Journal of Lutheran Ethics
Volume 2, Issue 11