At the close of the designated decade to overcome violence and in preparation for the The International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (IEPC) which took place in Kingston, Jamaica in May this year, the World Council of Churches produced a document titled “An Ecumenical call to Just Peace” an excerpt of which is copied below (original formatting altered):
“The way of JUST PEACE
8 There are many ways of responding to violence; many ways of practicing peace.
As members of the community that proclaims Christ the embodiment of peace, we respond to the call to bring the divine gift of peace into contemporary contexts of violence and conflict. So we join the Way of Just Peace, which requires both movement towards the goal and commitment to the journey. We invite people of all worldviews and religious traditions to consider the goal and to share of their journeys. Just Peace invites all of us to testify with our lives. to pursue peace we must prevent and eliminate personal, structural and media violence, including violence against people because of race, caste, gender, sexual orientation, culture or religion. We must be responsible to those who have gone before us, living in ways that honor the wisdom of our ancestors and the witness of the saints in Christ. We also have a responsibility to those who are the future: our children, “tomorrow people”.our children deserve to inherit a more just and peaceful world.
9 Nonviolent resistance is central to the Way of Just Peace.
Well-organized and peaceful resistance is active, tenacious and effective – whether in the face of governmental oppression and abuse or business practices which exploit vulnerable communities and creation. Recognizing that the strength of the powerful depends on the obedience and compliance of citizens, of soldiers and, increasingly, of consumers, nonviolent strategies may include acts of civil disobedience and non-compliance.
10 On the Way of Just Peace the justifications of armed conflict and war become increasingly implausible and unacceptable.
The churches have struggled with their disagreement on this matter for decades; however, the Way of Just Peace now compels us to move forward. Yet, to condemn war is not enough; we must do everything in our power to promote justice and peaceful cooperation among peoples and nations. The Way of Just Peace is fundamentally different from the concept of “just war” and much more than criteria for protecting people from the unjust use of force; in addition to silencing weapons it embraces social justice, the rule of law, respect for human rights and shared human security.11 Within the limitations of tongue and intellect, we propose that Just Peace may be comprehended as a collective and dynamic yet grounded process of freeing human beings from fear and want, of overcoming enmity, discrimination and oppression, and of establishing conditions for just relationships that privilege the experience of the most vulnerable and respect the integrity of creation.”
Last night I watched one of the episodes of an award-winning documentary series about violence, Ross Kemp on Gangs which focused on the ongoing territory wars in the garrisons (residential districts) of Kingston, Jamaica. Though these “garrison wars” were originally affiliated and indeed funded by, the post-Independence political parties of the 1960’s, political affiliations have given way to a culture of violence which, according to one young “don” (Garrison gang leader) is further promoted by the media culture of violence (films, computer games etc) which offer false promises of alternative ways of fulfilling dreams of success and prestige in a place where youth unemployment continues to run high. What he doesn’t say is that much violence is linked to drug wars which pull the USA, the UK and Jamaica into a complicit triangle.
In addition, the BBC reports that,
“although training by officers seconded from Scotland Yard has improved standards, the human rights record of the Jamaican constabulary is a grisly one. UN reports and audits by Amnesty International have recorded extra-judicial killings – both inside and outside police stations – endemic corruption and other abuses.” ( Jon Silverman, Professor of Media and Criminal Justice, University of Bedfordshire accessed online at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10173302)
As I reflected on the devastating reality of lives lived quite literally under the sights of gun barrels (imported from the USA via Haiti), the mismatch between this reality and the ideals represented at the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation which took place a stone’s throw away from the gun- patrolled streets seem depressingly estranged.
The truth is that the realities and injustices of the world we live in are often deeply complex and harsh. Seeking to understand the roots of problems and their solutions often requires a deep engagement (Jesus modelled it as incarnation) in order to adequately contextualise a gospel of hope which is founded on justice, baptised in a covenant of love and resurrected in the promise of peace.