More than Principles Are Needed

[1] Having been invited to respond from a Lutheran World Federation perspective (although not speaking officially for the LWF) to the recent JLE articles on just peace/peacemaking, I begin by strongly affirming JLE for having taken this initiative to invite further theological-ethical thinking that can contribute to ongoing LWF concerns. The LWF Department for Theology and Studies seeks to stimulate and encourage theological work on crucial, timely foci in many venues with many partners. We are especially urging this to occur through a major new initiative, “Theology in the Life of Lutheran Churches: Revisiting Its Critical Role” (see for how you might participate).

[2] Given that just war theory is an aspect of our confessional tradition as Lutherans, a 1993 LWF study, “War, Confession and Conciliarity: What Does ‘Just War’ in the Augsburg Confession Mean Today?,” raised some of the questions of the appropriateness of just war principles today: e.g., the “just cause” in many cases cannot easily be identified because the reasons for conflict lie in deep-seated social and economic injustices and historically developed enemy images and patterns of domination. Voices from outside of the U.S. have increasingly expressed doubts about the usefulness of just war criteria, which may be relevant for those with the necessary political and military power but not that helpful in providing ethical guidance from the perspective of those lacking such power. In other words, the context makes a significant difference. If overt and structural forms of violence permeate everyday reality, especially where governments are ineffective or unaccountable-as is the case for many in the Lutheran communion today-how helpful or credible will such principles be? As Larry Rasmussen points out, “The fabric of society is always woven with dangerous conflict.”

[3] The just peacemaking practices that have more recently been articulated are often presented as an alternative to just war theory but actually can also be viewed as complementary, addressing the deeper causes that when unmet can lead to violent conflict. These practices are not new in the LWF but have characterized who the LWF is and what it does throughout its history-currently, in its work through the United Nations (especially on behalf of human rights), in the major interfaith peace initiative it has been pursuing in Africa (as well as through other interfaith diapraxis), through its World Service programs in many of the most impoverished and conflict-ridden areas of the world, through its ongoing work in seeking to mediate and resolve conflicts in quite a number of member churches and communities, its campaign to end violence against women, and through many other efforts. Indeed, as Gary Simpson says, “just peacemaking characterizes the Lutheran normative default conviction and commitment,” not only in theory but, more crucially, in practice (“Our Pacific Mandate: Orienting Just Peacemaking as Lutherans,” paragraph 50).

[4] In issuing its invitation to respond to the LWF President’s challenge (to develop principles for a just peace), I regret that JLE did not leave Hanson’s words in the wider context in which they were embedded. This move passes over the particular challenge confronting U.S.-based Lutheran ethicists, which academic discussions of just peace and just peacemaking too easily avoid. After pointing out (from Chris Hodges) that “It is this fear of the other, perhaps more than anything else, that triggers war,” Hanson goes on to suggest, “In our violent and war-torn world, let us as the LWF deepen our resolve to demythologize these myths, quell these fears (emphasis added) and together develop principles for a just peace that become as defining of us as have been the principles of just war.” As a religious leader in the United States, he then goes on to express the importance of addressing the global economic and military domination today of the United States, followed by these words:

I believe most citizens of the United States want to be known in the world as people who are generous, lovers of freedom, committed to democracy, and peacemakers. Yet, that is not how we are seen through the eyes of people throughout the world. Like the observers at Pentecost who thought the Spirit-filled people were drunk with new wine, so the United States is viewed as a nation intoxicated with power. We are seen as preoccupied with the expansion of our globalized economy rather than as standing in solidarity with those in poverty. We are seen as mesmerized by our military might and domination rather than as committed to international cooperation. We are judged as acting not with humility but with arrogance by refusing to sign the Kyoto Accords, disregarding the Geneva Conventions, and resisting being part of United Nations coordinated HIV/AIDS program. As United States leaders justify actions using the language of faith, we may be seen as equating self-righteousness with the righteousness of God. Let us as the LWF join with those in the United States and throughout the world who call for repentance and transformation where the United States fails, and let us also acknowledge with gratitude the work it does when and where it serves all of humanity. (paragraphs 53-54 of the President’s Address at the 2004 LWF Council meeting).

My point in quoting this at some length is to emphasize the urgent task to which Mark Hanson seems to be calling especially theologians/ethicists in the U.S.: to “demythologize the myths and quell the fears” that are so pervasive in American society and are used to manipulate the populace to support war efforts that otherwise could hardly begin to be justified according to just war principles. For those outside the U.S., what is increasingly scandalous are not only the policies of the current U.S. Administration, but also that the U.S. populace could be so fooled as to go along with such. As an American living abroad, I am regularly asked questions such as: Are Americans really so dumb and susceptible to the lies coming out of Washington? Are they so unable to separate virtual reality from truth? Or, as asked from the perspective of those who continually seek to survive in highly unstable, threatening situations, Why are Americans so fearful?

[5] As Wanda Deifelt points out in the case of Brazil, “Security was the ideological mantelpiece of a system that maintained the status quo, proliferating poverty and reducing people’s freedom” (“Vulnerability and Security: A Paradox Based on a Theology of Incarnation,” paragraph 4). In contrast, “Incarnation is God’s option for vulnerability in a world that strives for security” (paragraph 21).

[6] What must be given far greater priority, by theologians and ethicists in coalition with many pastors and lay people, is persuasive address of the myths and fears, in ways that are accessible and helpful for preaching and other public means of communication in local settings, and that provide constructive alternative interpretations and actions. This is far more difficult “getting our hands dirty” work than what occurs in academic discussions. It is a challenge disturbingly similar to the challenge German churches needed to confront (but often avoided) in the 1930s. Furthermore, theologians and church leaders must find ways to support those who thus seek to “speak the truth” in ways that are bound to sound “heretical” in many settings where the myths and fears have such a firm hold. The manipulation of these myths and fears, in order to justify the intention in using force (not to mention compromise citizens’ basic freedoms) is what makes so many cynical about just war principles, more so that the principles themselves, which are hard to dispute.

[7] Among the clearest words in this series of JLE articles are those spoken by a retired U.S. Army General (William Tuttle) when he points to the three peacemaking commitments highlighted in the ELCA social statement on peace: a culture of peace, an economy with justice, and politics of cooperation. He cites the disturbing arrogance and turn away from multilateralist approaches demonstrated by the U.S., which is why much of the rest of the world associates the U.S. with hegemonic behavior. Further, he points to the continuing genocide, ethnic, tribal, and communal conflicts in Africa as a challenge that confounds our carefully worked out principles. General Tuttle’s point is that we don’t need new principles but intensified “efforts to bring about political, social and cultural conditions conducive to gaining and sustaining just peace.” In other words, the problem is not the principles but the political will to carry them out.

[8] The ELCA message, “Living in a Time of Terrorism,” asks, “Is the dominant power of the U.S. with its “war on terrorism” a greater danger to peace than terrorism itself?” For much of the world, the response is only too apparent (while also questioning the proliferating ways in which the “terrorism” label is applied). It is not U.S. force that will defeat terrorism, but instead, U.S. policies and their side effects have fueled dynamics leading to a proliferation of terrorism. The use of military force, even if it could be justified on the basis of just war principles, is beside the point, or as has become increasingly evident, is only compounding the resentment and escalating the global dangers.

[9] Peter Henne’s thoughtful analysis is helpful in this sense. He looks at the al-Qaeda movement as an example of a “systemic outburst against unequal benefits in the global system” in which its leaders nevertheless participate (e.g., through Internet technology) (“La Diritta Via: An Ethical Response to Terror,” paragraph 22). Similarly, Larry Rasmussen concludes that “peacemaking’s attention to the forces of the global economy and to threats to global and local life systems is mandatory” (“In the Face of War,” paragraph 11).

[10] In this sense, much recent theological-ethical work in the LWF (e.g., see Communion, Responsibility, Accountability, LWF, 2004) has focused on challenging and transforming policies and practices related to neoliberal globalization so that the effects might become more just, more accountable to human beings, their communities, and the rest of creation, more life-giving for the sake of the well-being of all, and thus an essential aspect of the necessary peacemaking agenda in our world today.

[11] But churches who are suffering due to these policies perceive that U.S. churches seem reluctant to be involved in addressing these challenges and other peacemaking challenges. What can happen to change those perceptions, so that U.S. churches might be seen as having the will to pursue the necessary changes?

Karen L. Bloomquist

Karen Bloomquist, ordained in 1974, has served as pastor of Lutheran congregations in CA, NYC, WA, and after completing her PhD at Union in NY, has been on faculties in Chicago, Dubuque and Berkeley, as well as director of departments in the ELCA and the LWF.  She also has taught at seminaries throughout the world, and has authored or edited many publications. She currently is a theologian-at-large, and lives in  both WA and CA.