Note: What follows are excerpts from this social statement. To read the entire statement, including endnotes and its implementing resolutions, please go to elca.org/socialstatements.)
Adopted by more than a two-thirds majority vote (803-30) as a social statement of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America by the fourth Churchwide Assembly on August 20, 1995, at Minneapolis, Minnesota.
At the end of a tumultuous and violent century, we share with people everywhere hope for a more peaceful and just world. With this statement on international peace, we strive to strengthen our global perspective as individual Christians and as a church body, in spite of strong currents that push us to turn in on ourselves. As our world discards the mind-set of the Cold War and faces the new threats and opportunities of a changing time, we join with others in searching for what makes for peace.
Most importantly, this statement recalls that the basis of the Church’s peace-calling is in God’s final peace, the peace of God’s eternal reign. That calling is to proclaim the Gospel of God’s final peace and to work for earthly peace. This statement understands earthly peace to mean relationships among and within nations that are just, harmonious, and free from war. It offers direction as we act to keep and to build earthly peace on the eve of a new millennium.
1. THE GOD OF PEACE
All humans also are bound together in sin. Sin, the rupture in our relation with God, profoundly disrupts creation. Centeredness in self, rather than in God, destroys the bonds of human community. In bondage to sin, we fall captive to fear. Sin entangles our social structures. The Bible describes the power of sin: ingratitude, deceit, distrust, hatred, greed, envy, arrogance, sloth, corruption, debauchery, aggression, cruelty, oppression, and injustice. These violate community and generate killing and war.
God’s promise is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Rejected by humans, Jesus was confirmed by God who raised him from the dead in the power of the Holy Spirit, so that “on earth” there might be “peace” (Luke 2:14). In bringing this peace,
- Jesus taught love for one’s enemies;
- he reached out to the oppressed, downtrodden, and rejected of the earth;
- he prayed for his enemies while himself being rejected on the cross;
- above all, through Jesus’ violent death, God redeemed the world, “for…while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son” (Romans 5:10).
“The Gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15) heals our broken relationship with God, removing the ultimate root of violence and injustice. The Gospel breaks down the dividing walls of hostility among people, creates a new humanity—making Christ Jesus “our peace” (Ephesians 2:13- 22)—and promises the reconciliation of all things in Christ.
2. THE CHURCH, A COMMUNITY FOR PEACE
A. Divine Calling
Publicly gathering to proclaim and celebrate God’s Gospel of peace, the Church uniquely contributes to earthly peace. Its most valuable mission for peace is to keep alive news of God’s resolve for peace, declaring that all are responsible to God for earthly peace and announcing forgiveness, healing, and hope in the name of Jesus Christ. In praying for peace in the world, in interceding for all who suffer from war and injustice and for those in authority, the Church acts for peace.
By equipping the faithful to act for peace in all their communities, the Church contributes to earthly peace. In recalling our identity in baptism, in gathering in peace around the Lord’s Table, in telling the biblical narrative, in teaching faith, hope, and love, the Church provides the basics of peacemaking for all of life. The Church is the school of the Holy Spirit, who molds and equips us to be peacemakers. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22). With its ministry of Word and Sacrament, the Church sustains believers in their conscientious decisions, including people who serve in the military and defense industries, and people who refuse to participate in all wars or in a particular war.
B. Faithful Presence
When the Church fulfills the mandates of its divine calling, it helps in word and deed to create an environment conducive to peace. When the Church forsakes these mandates, it also fails to serve earthly peace. Through faithfulness in its life and activities as a community for peace, the Church in the power of the Holy Spirit becomes a presence for peace that disturbs, reconciles, serves, and deliberates.
The Church is a disturbing presence when it refuses to be silent and instead speaks the truth in times when people shout out, “‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14). The Church is this presence when it names and resists idols that lead to false security, injustice, and war, and calls for repentance. We therefore denounce beliefs and actions that:
- elevate our nation or any nation or people to the role of God;
- find ultimate security in weapons and warfare;
- ordain the inherent right of one people, race, or civilization to rule over others;
- promise a perfect, peaceful society through the efforts of a self-sufficient humanity;
- despair of any possibility for peace.
As a reconciling presence, the Church creates bonds among different peoples, whether local or distant. It has special opportunities to bring conflicting parties together and to keep tenuous lines of communication open during times of crisis and war.
The Church is called to be a serving presence in society. The Church serves when it holds power accountable, advocates justice, stands with those who are poor and vulnerable, provides sanctuary, and meets human need.
The Church as a community for peace is also to be a deliberating presence in society. As a community of moral deliberation, the Church is a setting of freedom and respect where believers with different perspectives may learn from one another in the unity of faith. Issues that shape our world—including dilemmas of military service and confronting human evil through nonviolence— are proper themes for discussion in the Church.
3. IN GOD’S WORLD, A FAITH…
A. Active for Peace
Trust in God’s promise of final peace freely given in Jesus Christ alone drives us to engage fully in the quest to build earthly peace. Yet we know this quest is complex and our accomplishments provisional. Faith in the crucified and risen Lord strengthens us to persist even when God seems absent in a violent and unjust world, and when weariness and hopelessness threaten to overwhelm us.
B. Guided by Biblical Insight
In faith we receive our world as God’s creation. We affirm therefore that earthly peace is built on the recognition of the unity and goodness of created existence, the oneness of humanity, and the dignity of every person. Peace is difference in unity. It requires both respect for the uniqueness of others—finite persons in particular communities—and acknowledgement of a common humanity. We advocate an earthly peace that builds on freedom and responsibility, encourages compassion, and embraces justice and care of the earth.
We support structures and processes for ordering relationships that are sufficiently just, open, and dynamic for people to confront injustice and conflict nonviolently.
Earthly peace is not the same as the promised peace of God’s present and future eternal reign. As a human achievement built in the middle of strife, earthly peace is often fleeting and always partial. It is difficult to build and maintain.
C. Lived in Our Time
In hope we live out our faith in community with others and together strive for earthly peace. As we do so, we experience a world that is increasingly interconnected. People work, buy, and sell in a global market. The media make us present at happenings around the world, and new communication technologies increase available information. Economic and technological developments make increased integration both possible and necessary. The global dangers of nuclear weapons, environmental degradation, and population pressure also create greater interdependence. International trafficking in illegal drugs contributes to violence in all parts of the world.
4. POLITICAL RESPONSIBILITY
A. Acting As Citizens
We recognize the awesome responsibility political leaders, policy makers, and diplomats have for peace in our unsettled time. In a democracy all citizens share in this responsibility. We encourage participation by Christians in the affairs of government.
Our faith as Christians gives a distinctive quality to our life as citizens. Love born of faith calls us not to harm others and to help them in every need. The Scriptures provide us direction. Yet we do not possess uniquely Christian international policies or a divine or biblical politics for our nation. For political guidance we also must rely upon reason and compassion, and examine and draw upon common human experience through which, we believe, God is at work creating and preserving the world.
In accordance with the Lutheran tradition,6 we affirm that governments may legitimately employ such measures as law and its enforcement, police protection, provisions for the common defense, and resistance to aggression. We also affirm that governments should vigor- ously pursue less coercive measures over more coercive ones: consent over compulsion, nonviolence over violence, diplomacy over military engagement, and deterrence over war.
With its significant economic, political, cultural, and military power, the United States plays a vital leadership role in world affairs. It cannot and should not withdraw or isolate itself from the rest of the world. Neither should it seek to control or police the world. Global challenges cannot be addressed by the United States alone; yet few can be met without the United States’ participation.
B. Deciding about Wars
First and foremost, love of neighbor obligates us to act to prevent wars and to seek alternatives to them, especially in view of modern weapons and their proliferation. For this reason, this statement focuses on building a just peace and identifies tasks that create conditions for peace. Yet wars and their threat still thrust themselves upon us, and we cannot avoid making decisions about them.
A. A Culture of Peace
Foster a dynamic vision of difference in unity.
Promote respect for human rights.
Counter and transform attitudes that encourage violence
Strengthen the will and ability to resolve conflicts peacefully.
B. An Economy with Justice
Insist that peace and economic justice belong together.
Support just arrangements to regulate the international economy.
Support economic conversion.
C. A Politics of Cooperation
Strengthen international cooperation.
Improve structures of common security.
Give high priority to arms control and reduction.
Control and reduce the arms trade.
Advocate participatory and accountable political structures within nations.
Encourage non-governmental organizations and their work for peace.
Encourage and support nonviolent action.
Care for the Uprooted.
“GO IN PEACE”
We await the fulfillment of God’s promise of eternal peace, not in resignation, but in grateful joy and active hope, for our time and place are also God’s. God, who makes earthly peace possible, calls us to gather in worship. Baptized into Christ, we hear the Gospel and share Holy Communion, the foretaste of the peaceful feast to come. The Holy Spirit sends us into our everyday communities to be agents for peace. We are called to pray, and to live, for peace in God’s world.