Foreword - Rev. Dr. Konrad Raiser, WCC General Secretary
The World Council of Churches was forged in the fires of the two
world wars which shaped the twentieth century. For nearly fifty years now, the
ecumenical movement has been engaged in efforts to avoid war, minister to its
victims, and to reconstruct societies destroyed by war.
The experience of war has shaped societies and the
churches attitudes to the use of violence. A particular feature of the two
world wars was the scientific use of war propaganda on all sides which tended to
glorify battles and the men who fought them. Often, the name of God was invoked
to provide spiritual sanction for the war effort. For the ecumenical movement,
however, war was not something to be celebrated, even in victory. Wars were not
seen as acts of God, but rather a manifestation of human sin. In 1948, the First
WCC Assembly in Amsterdam said:
War as a method of settling disputes is incompatible
with the teaching and example of our Lord Jesus Christ. The part which war plays
in our present international life is a sin against God and a degradation of
As many feared then, wars did not cease. They continued and
proliferated, shifting from Europe and the Third World where proxy wars between
the great power blocs of the Cold War claimed a toll in human life far greater
than in the previous world wars.
In this respect, ours has been a grim century. Of course, war
and armed violence are nothing new. Ancient and modern historians alike have
traced the path of humankind following the milestones of wars. There is
something new, however, about the nature of war and violence in our century. The
use of violence has imbedded itself in the global culture. Generations have
lived under the cloud of the nuclear threat. The streets of the major cities of
the world have themselves become battlefields. The communications revolution has
brought warfare and other forms of violence into our living rooms, blurring the
line between horror and entertainment. Children in many societies
are introduced to the world of technology through interactive computer games
modeled on war and extreme physical violence.
The late twentieth century is marked by a spreading
culture of violence. Safe havens are rapidly disappearing. The
flames of violence have leapt over the walls built be the rich to protect them
from the poor. The home itself is no longer safe for millions of battered and
abused women and children. People are bound together across political and social
barriers more by fear and their common experience of violence than by their
mutual hopes and aspirations. Victims call increasingly for revenge and
retribution in kind.
At the WCC Amsterdam Assembly, Christians from nations emerging
from war against one another took another approach. Rather then condemning one
another, they confessed their complicity and collective failure to condemn war
as an acceptable answer to conflict.
Christians have not yet, however, been able to agree, as one
chapter of this booklet shows, to reject armed violence altogether. The debate
between absolute pacifists and adherents of the Just War principles
remains alive. Yet while doctrinal differences stemming from different national
and confessional histories continue to divide the churches, many Christians see
that they cannot remain silent in the face of the global spiral of violence,
growing resignation and despair. From them, to be the Church today is to
redeem conflict, which is a given in human social relations, by
transforming it through active non-violence.
In response to these voices, the Central Committee of the WCC,
meeting in Johannesburg in January 1994, established a
Programme to Overcome Violence, with the
purpose of challenging and transforming the global culture of violence in the
direction of a culture of just peace.
This booklet describes how this Programme has grown from a few
lines on the pages of committee minutes into what is proving to be a vital force
of resistance to the idea that violence is an inevitable dimension of the human
Two decades ago, Christians and their churches took a lead in
building a popular movement against nuclear weapons which brought millions into
the streets of the cities. Broad citizens coalitions were formed, linking
churches and their members with others seeking to halt the nuclear arms race.
Creative thinking was stimulated on alternatives to the doctrine of
nuclear deterrence, and new concepts of common security were elaborated.
That hope-giving and empowering movement showed that when people join hands and
put faith into action, change for the better can happen...
The results of the Peace to the City campaign described
in this booklet show that a new peoples movement is emerging. It is not
yet a movement of the churches, though many Christians are providing leadership.
We are convinced that the World Council of Churches and the wider ecumenical
fellowship can, and must, nurture and help build it.
This message was clearly affirmed when the WCC General Assembly,
meeting in 1998, proclaimed the years 2001-2010 as the Decade to Overcome
Violence. In confirming the action by the Assembly, the Central Committee of
the WCC specified the thrust of this initiative as Churches Seeking
Reconciliation and Peace. By calling for this Decade, the World
Council of Churches is providing the space for the growth of a global,
ecumenical peace movement. The Assemblys declaration has given impetus to
the WCC and the wider ecumenical movement to recognize and encourage the unique
message the churches can bring to our violence-ridden world.
This update of the WCCs agenda to overcome violence
constitutes an invitation to Christians and churches to be bridge-builders and
coalition-makers, to engage in new theological reflection, to elaborate the
basis for a new global culture of peace and justice, and above all to act
The Peace to the City campaign was one way Christians
around the world prepared for participation in the 1998 Jubilee Assembly of the
World Council of Churches. The new Decade to Overcome Violence is a way
for you to participate in a process of social transformation, and to join
with others to shape a culture of peace for the new century.