Maria Stephan, a policy analyst at the United States Institute of Peace, has written a fascinating piece about voices in the Catholic Church who are calling for the Church to move past thinking about a just war and to focus far more on building just peace. The Church has allies in such a quest among other Christians and other faiths as well as secular voices. The movement comes mostly from peace activists and is not on the verge of leading the magisterium of the Church to jettison the classic doctrine of a just war, dating back to St. Augustine. Still, its message finds echoes among recent popes and now Pope Francis as well as among leaders and activists throughout the world.
I do not think that the Church should abandon is doctrine of the just war, for sometimes war is just and necessary, but still find Stephan’s message compelling insofar as possibilities for non-violent action are worth developing, pursuing and enacting. Stephan’s book with political scientist Erica Chenoweth, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, is a landmark. An article version of it opened my eyes to see that non-violent movements are not the rarified exceptions of a King or a Gandhi but rather part and parcel of global politics. They are common; they work; and they produce better and more lasting change than violence.
Now she situates her thinking in the Catholic context:
But it seems that Pope Francis – who is by all accounts a progressive thinker, unafraid to challenge old Church doctrines – might welcome a debate over the church’s foundational tenets on war and peace.
“Faith and violence are incompatible,” he repeated in a 2013 mass prayer gathering at the Vatican. Like his predecessors of the past 50 years, he has called for the abolition of war. But this pontiff has gone one step further in pressing for nonviolent alternatives.
The concept of “just peace” is not new. It first emerged in the United States in the mid-1980s, when an interdenominational group of Christian scholars advanced alternatives to war that culminated in a just-peace framework.
It included practices like supporting nonviolent direct action; cooperative conflict resolution; advancing democracy, human rights, and religious liberty; fostering just and sustainable economic development; and encouraging grassroots peacemaking groups and voluntary associations.
She reports on a conference at Rome that she recently attended:
or some at the Rome conference, the pope’s endorsement of the gathering was long overdue for the church. Many of those in attendance, like Sister Nazek Matty from Erbil, Iraq, had known war for years and were sick of it. She and other participants pressed the church to place greater focus on nonmilitary responses to the Islamic State and expand the creative imagination to fight injustices with active nonviolent means.
During one of the plenary sessions, Father Francisco José de Roux, a Jesuit priest from Colombia, decried how, since the mid-1960s, supporters of both the government and FARC insurgents, including local priests, have justified violence in the name of a “just war.” The outcome? Nearly 50 years of civil war.
Other Catholic leaders in Colombia have supported nonviolent civic action and “zones of peace” to keep armed groups out of local communities and have helped advance peace talks expected to culminate in a final settlement later this year. By putting a just-peace approach at the center of its work, the Catholic Church in Colombia opened multiple avenues to effective nonviolent action.
There is much more that is worth reading in this provocative piece.