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close this bookOvercoming Violence: WCC Statements and Actions 1994-2000 (WCC, 2000, 130 p.)
close this folderReports of the Programme to Overcome Violence
close this folderFinal Documents: Programme to Overcome Violence Consultations
View the documentTheological Perspectives on Violence and Non-Violence - Boston, USA, 30 March-3 April 1998
View the documentSmall Arms: Big Impact, Consultation on Microdisarmament - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, May 1998

Theological Perspectives on Violence and Non-Violence - Boston, USA, 30 March-3 April 1998


The WCC Central Committee (1992) accepted the Unit III Committee’s recommendation “that active nonviolent action be affirmed as a clear emphasis in programmes and projects related to conflict resolution.” At a subsequent meeting in Johannesburg (1994), it further decided that “the WCC establish 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.” At the same meeting, the Central Committee instructed Units I and III, “in the context of current discussions on Koinonia, (to) engage in a joint study on the ecclesial dimensions of the pursuit of a culture of nonviolence and just peace in order to address the ecclesiological and constitutional issues” posed by its 1992 recommendation.

Conversations were subsequently between the two units on cooperation within the framework of the POV to reflect on Christian perspectives on violence and its consequences for a fellowship of churches. They agreed to convene a small consultation of theologians, ethicists, and social scientists, some of whom would be drawn from partners in the Peace to the City Campaign.

The mandate given to the Consultation was to design a study process to offer reflections on the theological and ecclesiological dimensions of violence as well as the powerful resources offered by the Christian faith in building cultures of peace. The overall purpose was that of the POV: to foster a culture of peace in the church and, through the church, in society.

Three goals were set for the Boston meeting:

- to identify practical means of overcoming violence at different levels of society;

- in collaboration among social scientists, theologians, and practitioners in both fields, to explore the causes of violence through case studies from the Peace to the City Campaign;

- to reflect on the church as both an accomplice in violence and a transformer of violence.

Elements identified for consideration in the study process to be developed included:

- theological reflection on experiences of POV partners in overcoming violence;

- reflection drawn from experiences of a culture of violence and analysis of this culture (cf. Gil Bailie, Violence Unveiled, 1997);

- examination of the use of power by church institutions to see the degree to which they reflect the culture of violence;

- documentation of theological debates on the relationship between violence and redemption (cf. Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers, 1992);

- pursuit of the theme of moral formation in the WCC study on ecclesiology and ethics, Costly Obedience, which raises questions on the role and opportunity of the churches to form communities based on a “socially-engaged Christian ethic.”


The Consultation sought to respond to the following issues which it considered crucial to the process:

- The history of peace initiatives in the ecumenical movement is instructive and challenging. But there is growing new awareness of the need for new paradigms for ecumenical dialogue on the divisive issues of the long-standing pacifist - “just-war” debate and to Christian responsibility to develop active nonviolent alternatives to conflict.

- There is a history of ecumenical ministry in communities impacted by poverty, conflict and violence. But there is a need now to confront the global rise of violence through new approaches to the efforts of the churches to serve as agents of Christ’s peace through building beloved communities capable of resisting the tide of violence and building a culture of peace.

- Christian initiatives to overcome violence around the globe already are linked across borders. But there is a need for churches to affirm para-church and ecumenical groups’ taking initiatives on their behalf, and to forge new alliances between social scientists, theologians and other civil society actors.

The Consultation agreed that the further study process should:

- enhance the churches’ understanding of the nature and role of violence in local communities, societies, international relations, and in their own life;

- analyze critically the role of religious institutions, and more particularly of the churches in providing justifications for, contributing to, and seeking to overcome violence;

- seek creative new ways for people in local situations to question and learn from one another, and to explore new methodologies of cross-cultural contextual theology, including the use of case studies to draw out consequences for theological reflection;

- continue to explore and deepen understandings of the relationship between ecclesiology and ethics through focusing on the issue of violence;

- help the churches transcend and heal their divisions through common witness and action to reduce violence and build peace;

- encourage churches to develop cultures of peace as a prophetic sign of a reconciled human community and of the new creation (Eph. ch 1).

Finally, the Consultation identified the following challenges and learnings:

- Two paths should emerge from this study: one leading to local congregations and action groups, providing them with models and guides for ministry; the other leading back to the WCC, supplying it with case studies of churches working for a culture of peace.

- In this study process, descriptions of violence have been drawn largely from society, but they are also manifested in the actions and ethos of churches.

- The ecumenical study process on ecclesiology and ethics is of direct relevance to the aims of the POV, as are the common themes and hermeneutical aids from this study and the ones being developed on ethnicity, nationalism, and religion.

- Appropriate hermeneutical tools are needed to understand the role, source, and purpose of violence universally and in its particular manifestations in order to develop cultures of peace.

- further guidance is needed on Bible study methods in relationship to reading Scripture in living contexts; examining the place of violence in the Bible; and furthering pedagogues which relates the Bible to real life situations through worship, prayer, drama and music.

- Baptism and the Eucharist bind Christians together, sustain them in the search for unity, and are a primary resource for Christians and churches divided by violence and conflict in society.

- Violence between nations and among ethnic groups within states often has direct implications for the disunity of the body of Christ.

- Participants from both sides of the “just-war” - pacifism divide acknowledge inadequacies in their positions and open themselves to new concepts of ethical engagement beyond the old polarities in North Atlantic ethical thought.

- Small Christian minorities in hostile settings face exceptionally difficult and unique questions when it comes to acting to overcome violence in society.

- There is a complex relationship between cultures of violence and the alienation of many victims of violence from the life of the church.

- It is extremely difficult, psychologically as well as theologically, to consider the needs of perpetrators of violence as well as those of the victim, but the tragic truth is that perpetrators of violence were often themselves victims of violence.

- Methodologies of peace building across cultural differences require further work which recognizes that no single case study can be universally relevant.

Boston, USA
April 1998