Note: This is part of a series on the Social Statements adopted by the ELCA in Assembly. Previous reflections are available at www.montanasynod.org, archived.
In 1995, the ELCA Churchwide Assembly adopted the Social Statement, "For Peace in God's World." (If you are wondering when we went from short statements to long, this is it.). The statement was written after the Cold War and before 9/11. "At the end of a tumultuous and violent century, we share with people everywhere hope for a more peaceful and just world....As our world discards the mind-set of the Cold War and faces the new threats and opportunities of a changing time, we join with others in searching for what makes for peace." Indeed, in 2016, we are acutely aware of threats to and opportunities for peace.
The statement is not limited to a Christian take on foreign relations. It describes the Christian vocation of healing broken relationships on all levels-personal, family, church, community, national, global. Terming it a "Divine Calling," it outlines some of the ways that the Church can be a community of peacemakers:
+In publicly gathering to proclaim and celebrate God's Gospel of peace
+In living the oneness we have received
+By equipping the faithful to act for peace in all their communities
Referring to Jesus as the ultimate incarnation of peace, the statement reminds us:
+Jesus taught love for one's enemies
+He reached out to oppressed, downtrodden and rejected people's
+He prayed for his enemies while being rejected on the cross himself
+God redeemed the world through Jesus' violent death (Romans 5:10)
The statement urges the church to be both a reconciling presence and a disturbing presence, denouncing beliefs and actions that:
+Elevate any nation or people ( including our own) to the role of God
+ Find ultimate security in weapons and warfare
+ Claim the right of one people, race or civilization to rule over others
+ Despair the possibility of peace
The statement reminds us that earthly peace is not the same as the promised peace of God's present and future eternal reign. As Christians we work and we pray for both. "Trust in God's promise of final peace freely given in Jesus Christ alone drives us to engage fully in the quest to build earthly peace." "Through the cross of Christ, God calls us to serve the needs of our neighbor, especially those groups and individuals who,suffer and are vulnerable." "Sharing a common humanity with all people, we are called to work for peace throughout the globe."
The last half of the statement is about the Christian responsibility to be engaged in the world, advocating and working for peace and justice. We are not a pacifist church. We do not refuse participation in the political order or in military service, and we do not automatically condemn all involvement in military engagement. The statement outlines "Just War" criteria, including: right intention, justifiable cause, legitimate authority, last resort, declaration of war aims, proportionality, and reasonable chance of success.
Twenty years later, there is much conversation among theologians as to whether there can be a "Just War" in an age of non-state terrorism, nuclear weapons and drones. The statement encourages Christians to stay engaged in conversation, prayer and advocacy.
And the statement urges Christians to work for a culture of peace, to strive for an economy with justice, and to move towards a politics of cooperation. Included in these are: respect for human rights; discouraging the glorification of violence; foreign aid; controlling the arms trade; NGOs working for peace; care for refugees and migrants.
In the final section the statement declares: "Living in a time when hate, injustice , war and suffering seem often to have the upper hand, we call on God to fulfill the divine promise of final peace."
To read the statement, go to www.elca.org/social statements.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA