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. They focus on debating whether war is justified or not. We believe debates between pacifism and just war theory, while needed, are insufficient. Debates need to focus not only on whether to bomb, whether to make a war, but on what initiatives should be taken to avoid war and spread peace. For that, we need a third paradigm in the debate looking to address the question: “What realistically is working to prevent real wars?” As Glen Stassen and David Gushee articulate in their textbook, Kingdom Ethics (InterVarsity Press, 2003):

If just peacemaking fails, is it right to make war, or should we be committed to nonviolence? Everyone needs an answer to that question, because, short of the second coming, just peacemaking will not prevent all wars. And when war does come, we need to be solidly either just war theorists or pacifists. Otherwise we will be blown about by every wind of ideological interest (Eph 4:14).

Therefore, we urge you not to say, “I support just peacemaking theory. It is better than both pacifism and just war theory, and I support it and not them.” We do urge you to support just peacemaking theory for what it actually contributes, and to teach it in your church and to demand its practices of your government. We urge you to discuss both pacifism and just war theory carefully, in your Christian community, and seek in prayer and community to discern which is your calling. Then when all else fails, and the government is about to declare war, you can make a clear witness. (p. 174)

We see ten key practices of peacemaking that have been developing ever since World War II working effectively here and there to eliminate potential wars, and to halt 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

Independent initiatives have several characteristics in common. They: (1) are independent of the slow process of negotiation; (2) decrease threat perception and distrust but do not leave the initiator weak; (3) are verifiable actions; (4) and 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 needs.

Examples: (a) President Carter’s achieving peace in the Camp David accords between Egypt and Israel; and (b) peaceful resolution of conflicts with Haiti and North Korea by former president Carter. Unfortunately, Carter’s resolution of the conflict with North Korea was  cancelled at the beginning of the George W. Bush administration, which rescinded the promised delivery of oil for producing electricity so that North Korea would keep their nuclear generation halted. That administration refused to negotiate with North Korea for six years, contrary to the just peacemaking practice of cooperative conflict resolution, and as we see, the result was North Korea’s producing several nuclear bombs.

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 express regret, acknowledge responsibility, or give forgiveness. But finally Germany since World War II, Japan and Korea, Clinton in Africa, the U.S. toward Japanese-Americans during 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 – Do not hoard, but 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 – 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.


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.