The Just Peacemaking Paradigm

The two standard ethical paradigms for the ethics of peace and war are pacifism and just war theory. Both intend to prevent some wars or all wars, but neither focuses our attention on how to prevent wars. Each school focuses on whether war can ever be justified and especially whether Christians can be involved in the fighting. We believe debates between pacifism and just war theory, while needed, are insufficient responses to the problem of pervasive injustice and violence. Debates need to focus not only on whether to bomb, whether to make a war, but on what initiatives should be taken in order to avoid war and spread peace with justice.

We need a third paradigm in the debate, looking to address the question: “What realistically is working to prevent real wars?” We see ten key practices of peacemaking that have been developing (especially since World War II), working effectively here and there to eliminate potential wars and to forestall terrorism.


1. Support nonviolent direct action.

Biblical basis: Matt. 5:38-42 – Turn the other cheek, give tunic and cloak, go the second mile, give to beggar and borrower; Jesus’ way of transforming initiatives.

Nonviolent direct action is spreading widely, ending dictatorship in the Philippines, ending rule by the Shah in Iran, bringing about nonviolent revolutions in Poland, East Germany, and Central Europe, transforming injustice into democratic change in human rights movements in Guatemala, Argentina, and elsewhere in Latin America, in South Africa. Governments and people have the obligation to make room for and to support nonviolent direct action.

2. Take independent initiatives to reduce threat.

Biblical basis: Matt. 5:38-42 – Turn the other cheek, give tunic and cloak, go the second mile, give to beggar and borrower; Jesus’ way of transforming initiatives.

The kind of independent initiatives we envision have several characteristics in common. They: (1) are independent of the slow process of negotiation and track one diplomacy; (2) decrease threat perception and distrust but do not leave the initiator weak; (3) are verifiable actions; (4) are carried out at the announced time regardless of the other side’s bluster; (5) have their purpose clearly announced in order to to shift toward de-escalation and to invite reciprocation; and (6) come in a series. Initiatives should continue in order to keep inviting reciprocation.

3. Use cooperative conflict resolution.

Biblical basis: Matt. 5:21-26 – Go, make peace with your adversary while there is time.

Cooperative conflict resolution (CCR) incorporates practices like: (1) actively partner in developing solutions, not merely passive cooperation; (2) adversaries, listen to each other and experience each others’ perspectives, including culture, spirituality, story, history, and emotion; (3) seek long-term solutions which help prevent future conflict; and (4) seek justice as a core component for sustainable peace. A key test of governments’ claims to be seeking peace is whether they initiate negotiations or refuse them, and develop imaginative solutions that show they understand their adversary’s perspectives and can affirm their valid interests. CCR could be contrasted with competitive conflict resolution, which implies someone must lose (to some degree) in the process.

4. Acknowledge responsibility for conflict and injustice and seek repentance and forgiveness.

Biblical basis: Matt. 7:1-5 – Do not judge, but take the log out of your own eye.

Until recently, it was widely agreed that nations would not, could not express regret, acknowledge responsibility, or give forgiveness. But finally Germany since World War II, Japan and Korea, Bill Clinton in Africa (ca. 1998), the U.S. toward Japanese-Americans following World War II, the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and other actions (described by Donald Shriver in An Ethic for Enemies and by Walter Wink in When the Powers Fall) are being recognized as a crucial new practice that can heal longstanding bitterness.


5. Advance democracy, human rights, and religious liberty.

Biblical basis: Matt. 6:19-34 – Seek God’s reign and justice.

Extensive empirical evidence shows that the spreading of democracy and respect for human rights, including religious liberty, is widening the zones of peace. Democracies fought no wars against one another during the entire twentieth century. They had fewer civil wars. And they generally devoted lower shares of their national products to military expenditures, which decreases threats to other countries. Ties of economic interdependence by trade and investment also decrease the incidence of war. Engagement in international organizations like the UN and regional institutions is a clear predictive factor that they will be much less likely to engage in war.

6. Foster just and sustainable economic development.

Biblical basis: Matt. 6:19-34 – Do not hoard, but seek God’s reign and justice.

“[P]eace is not only an absence of war, violence, and hostility; it is also a state of reconciliation, human flourishing, and natural beauty” (Just Peacemaking, 2008, 134). Sustainable development occurs where the needs of today are met without threatening the needs of tomorrow – where those who lack adequate material and economic resources gain access, and those who have learn to control resource use and prevent future exhaustion. The sustainability of this kind of development is meant in the multiple senses of the word, including both economic and ecological sustainability.


7. Work with emerging cooperative forces in the international system.

Biblical basis: Matt. 5:43ff. – Love your enemies, pray for your persecutors; be all-inclusive as your Father in heaven is.

Four trends have so altered the conditions and practices of international relations as to make it possible now, where it was not possible before, to form and sustain voluntary associations for peace and other valuable common purposes that are in fact working: (1) the decline in the utility of war; (2) the priority of trade and the economy over war; (3) the strength of international exchanges, communications, transactions, and networks; and (4) the gradual ascendancy of liberal representative democracy and a mixture of welfare-state and laissez-faire market economy. We should act so as to strengthen these trends and the international associations that they make possible.

8. Strengthen the United Nations and international efforts for cooperation and human rights.

Biblical basis: Matt. 5:43ff. – Love your enemies, pray for your persecutors; be all-inclusive as your Father in heaven is.

Acting alone, states cannot solve problems of trade, debt, interest rates; of pollution, ozone depletion, acid rain, depletion of fish stocks, global warming; of migrations and refugees seeking asylum; of military security when weapons rapidly penetrate borders. Therefore, collective action is increasingly necessary. U.S. citizens should press their government to pay its UN dues and to act in ways that strengthen the effectiveness of the United Nations, of regional organizations, and of multilateral peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peace building. They resolve conflicts, monitor, nurture, and even enforce truces. They meet human needs for food, hygiene, medicine, education, and economic interaction. Most wars now happen within states, not between states; therefore, collective action needs to include UN-approved humanitarian intervention in cases like the former Yugoslavia, Haiti, Somalia, and Rwanda “when a state’s condition or behavior results in… grave and massive violations of human rights.”

9. Reduce offensive weapons and weapons trade.

Biblical basis: Matt. 5:38ff. – Do not set yourself in revengeful retaliation by evil means, but engage in good means of nonviolent confrontational initiatives.

A key factor in the decrease of war between nations is that weapons have become so destructive that war is not worth the price. Reducing offensive weapons and shifting toward defensive force structures strengthens that equation. Banning chemical and biological weapons, and reducing strategic (long-range) nuclear warheads from 3,500 to 1,000 each, are key steps. Arms imports by developing nations in 1995 dropped to one-quarter of their peak in 1988. But the power of money invested by arms manufacturers in politicians’ campaigns is a major obstacle to reductions. The need for movement on this front domestically can be seen in many recent incidents of gun violence.

10. Encourage grassroots peacemaking groups and voluntary associations.

Biblical basis: Matt. 5.1-2, 7:28-29 – Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount to his disciples; Jesus’ strategy of organizing disciples.

The existence of a growing worldwide people’s movement constitutes one more historical force that makes just peacemaking theory possible. They learn peacemaking practices and press governments to employ these practices; governments should protect such associations in law, and give them accurate information.