World Council of Churches
Potsdam, Germany
29 January - 6 February 2001
Document No. GS 1.2



Meeting at the end of the most violent century ever in human history and at the threshold of the Third Millennium, the Eighth Assembly of the World Council of Churches declared 2001-2010 as the Decade to Overcome Violence. In response to this call, the Central Committee, at its last meeting in August, 1999, sent a letter to the churches reminding them of the decision of the Assembly and inviting them to actively and responsibly participate in the Decade. Together with the letter, a more detailed text in the form of a "Message" from the Central Committee was sent to the churches. In this text, the Central Committee highlighted the crucial urgency of the Decade, spelled out its goals and raised questions for reflection and action by the churches and the ecumenical movement. At this present meeting, the Central Committee will formally launch the Decade to Overcome Violence.

In one way or another, violence has been a permanent item on the ecumenical agenda. More than ever it remains a complex and explosive issue. As we prepare to embark on this major and challenging process in the life and witness of the Council, I deem it appropriate to share with you some personal reflections.


It is beyond the purpose of this report to make an anthropological and sociological analysis of violence. Rather the focus of my reflection will be how to overcome violence. It is important to underscore, at this point, a few perspectives and facts pertaining to violence.

1) Violence is as old as human existence. It touches all segments and all sectors of society. It is inside our families, our structures, our churches, our neighborhoods, ourselves. In becoming a global phenomenon the problem has taken on a new dimension and urgency. The growing wave of global violence is threatening the environment and is to engulfing every society. The bipolar world is gone, yet, wars continue with increasing frequency. Nations are breaking up, boundaries are being redrawn, maps are being changed. Ethnic, national and religious prejudices are sparking violent conflicts, and hatred is fragmenting societies. Violence is also affecting our theology, our spirituality, our self-understanding as Christians and as churches.

2) Violence means aggression, the use of abusive force, physical, emotional or spiritual, with the intent to cause harm. Fear, hate, injustice, insecurity and prejudice are among the main causes of violence. Violence cuts across social, racial and class lines, cultural differences and religions. It is multi-dimensional and multi-faceted; it differs, in its form and expression, from culture to culture, from context to context, from person to person. Generally two main forms of violence can be identified: direct or personal, and structural. These two types of violence inter-act both as cause and effect. Acts of violence range from police brutality to military intervention, from male dominance to various forms of racism, from riots to inter-ethnic conflicts, from shooting to rape etc. Violence is also built into some systems of governance and has become integral to various structures and ideologies, policies and practices as an instrument to maintain privilege and control. Racial and ethnic hatred can even lead to genocide and ethnic cleansing, as demonstrated in Rwanda, Bosnia and Kosovo. Globalization, with its hegemonic power of transnational corporations, uncontrolled financial institutions and world-wide mass media, has become a new source of violence. Generally speaking, unequal distribution of resources in a society and unjust and arbitrary use of power can be regarded as major factors in generating violence. Because of widespread expressions and far-reaching consequences of violence, it has now become necessary to speak of 'culture of violence', that dehumanizes people and disintegrates the creation.

How should we respond to this life-threatening evil? The Christian response to violence has always been ambiguous and ambivalent. Appropriate hermeneutical and contextual approaches are needed to understand violence both in its proper setting and in a holistic perspective. Let us first turn to the Bible for guidance.


Violence is a major feature of both the Old and the New Testaments. It means to do harm, wrong, injustice. and is a synonym for sin and human corruption against God and human beings (Gen. 6:11-13; Prov. 4: 17, Is. 59:6). Its antonyms are peace and salvation. God saves His faithful from violence and leads them to liberation (2 Sam. 22: 3; Ps. 72:14). Several violent actions are also attributed to God: He is described as a warrior (Ex. 15: 3); He fights against the chosen people (Lam. 2:5). In the New Testament there are passages that legitimize violence, such as the cleansing of the temple (Mt. 21:12 ff), the exorcism of demonic powers (Mk 5; Jn. 12: 31; 16:11), the verbal violence expressed in the parables of judgment (Mt. 25) and the wedding (Mt. 22) and Jesus' words that "I have not come to bring peace but a sword" (Mt. 10: 34 ff). There are also passages which point to Christ's attitude in favour of nonviolence, such as: "put your sword back into its place" (Mt. 26: 52) and love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you (Mt. 5: 44 f).

It is important to spell out the following points:

1) The Bible seems to be ambiguous about violence and nonviolence. In fact, the reading of the Bible by Christians in the context of the violence-nonviolence debate has often been biased and one-sided. Christians have quoted and interpreted the Bible in a way that would respond to the needs of their times and have not gone deep enough in their reflection to discern the place of violence and nonviolence in their faith journey. The ambiguity continues in spite of the considerable theological literature on this matter. It is vitally important, therefore, that we look at the Bible, as our point of reference carefully and in a holistic way.

2) The Bible is the history of salvation. God's intervention in history is crucial for salvation. In the Bible violence is contrary to divine love and will. God is powerful, but not violent; He uses His power for the Kingdom; and His intention is to bring salvation to His people. However God sometimes refers to violence in order to unveil its destructive nature and sharpen the imperative of peace. This is why violence and peace, oppression and justice are always in conflict in the Bible; they are part of God's mysterious plan.

3) In the New Testament God gave a new meaning to the history of salvation. Christ's pacific expressions and some of His violent ones as well have to be seen in the perspective of the Kingdom of God which has drawn near, yet whose fulfillment lies beyond history. The passages of violence are expressions of God's power and authority, such as, when Paul speaks of putting on the armor of God to defend us against enemies (Eph. 6). The Cross and Resurrection mark the defeat of death. Christ exercises His power and authority for the Kingdom, which is a Kingdom of love and justice, peace and reconciliation. The in-breaking of God's Kingdom unleashes violence.

4) The purpose of God in Christ is to liberate, to heal and transform the whole of humanity and the creation. Opposition, resistance and rejection were permanent features of Christ's life and mission. But violence has no place in God's economy. Violence is destructive; it is evil and death. This is at the heart of God's revelation and a major teaching of the Bible.

5) The fulfillment of peace with justice is the ultimate goal of Christ's ministry. This is, indeed, the crux of the Kingdom. Christ's birth was announced as the coming of peace to the world. Christ described Himself as the true peace of the world. He promised the Kingdom for the peacemakers. He took a firm stand against injustice and identified Himself with the poor, oppressed and the victims of injustice and violence, supporting them in their struggle for justice and dignity.

6) Overcoming evil with good (parable of Samaritan Lk. 10) is a dominant emphasis of Jesus' teachings. In other words, responding to violence with violence is incompatible with the New Testament. Jesus did not use violence on behalf of the oppressed. He was sometimes filled with frustration and other times responded in humility by suffering the violence of the powerful on the cross. "Taking up one's cross" means both non-violent struggle and self-sacrifice. Therefore, 'overcoming violence' is the message of the Bible: "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rm. 12: 21). Christ's renunciation of violence was not accidental; it was a clear choice.


In the WCC the question of violence has been raised in different contexts and in relation to different ecumenical issues. In the early years the discussion focused on the "just war" theory, then on Christian participation in warfare. At the World Conference of Church and Society In 1961, the issue of revolutionary violence against oppressive social systems came to the fore of the ecumenical debate. Churches were divided on the Programme to Combat Racism (PCR). Some churches considering the ecumenical movement as a peace movement, could not support groups and movements fighting against racism.

The Fourth Assembly (1968 Uppsala) asked the Central Committee to explore means by which the World Council could promote studies on non-violent methods of achieving social change. In view of the controversy provoked by the PCR Special Fund, the Central Committee in 1971 decided to initiate a new process of reflection on the issue of violence-nonviolence. The report of the consultation "Violence-nonviolence and the Struggle for Social Justice" (Cardiff, Wales, 3-7 Sept. 1972), is the most comprehensive and careful analysis of the issue yet made by the WCC. It reaffirms the nonviolent action and refers to a set of criteria to apply before resorting to violence in extreme circumstances. Significantly, it does not condemn categorically those liberation groups that feel obliged to use force.

Late in the 1970's, a new outburst of terrorism further complicated the discussion on violence. Militarism and the arms race added a new dimension to the debate. In 1979, the Central Committee reminded the churches to pay a serious attention to the issue of violence-nonviolence by promoting models of the peaceful resolution of conflicts. Four years later, in view of the forthcoming Sixth Assembly, a small consultation (1983, Ballycastle, Northern Ireland) was convened to review and reassess the continuing discussion on violence-nonviolence in a new world context. Almost a decade later, the World Convocation on Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (1991, Seoul) took the issue beyond the violence-nonviolence dichotomy and added an ecological dimension to it. It called for "a culture of active nonviolence" by seeking "every possible means of establishing justice, achieving peace and settling conflicts by active nonviolence"1 . In 1994 the Central Committee decided to establish the Programme to Overcome Violence (POV) "with the purpose of challenging and transforming the global culture of violence in the direction of a culture of just peace"2 . POV came to be seen as the natural continuation of JPIC. It was built on the following insights developed through the JPIC debate: peace and justice are inseparably related, war can no longer be regarded as a legitimate means of conflict resolution, active nonviolence is the way to establishing justice, achieve peace and solve conflicts. The Peace to the City campaign, launched by the Central Committee in 1996 within the context of POV, gave a sharper focus to the Council's commitment to overcoming violence.

This cursory glance at the ecumenical debate3 certainly does not provide us with a full picture of the long and hard discussion of such a complex and critical matter. It is important, however, to identify briefly some of the characteristic aspects of this on-going debate:

1) Coming from different contexts and backgrounds the churches have articulated different perspectives on violence-nonviolence. Some have considered the teachings of Jesus Christ about nonviolence as the right path to follow, others have looked at it as "impractical idealism". There are also others who have maintained the imperative of resistance against violence. Thus ambiguity, unclarity and polarization have dominated the discussion and the Council has not yet reached a common understanding on this burning issue.

2) The Bible has been used both to justify violence and to advocate nonviolence. The churches have frequently found themselves in a dilemma. The Gulf war and Kosovo crises are relatively recent examples.

3) The Councils' debate on violence has dealt with racism and more specifically with apartheid. Other forms of racism and different types of violence have attracted little attention. JPIC has broadened both the perspective and scope of the discussion; its holistic vision, however, has fallen short in the implementation process.

4) Two models of responding to violence have emerged in the ecumenical debate: revolutionary conflict and nonviolent resistance. Commitment to justice, peace and reconciliation through nonviolent action has been a common and permanent trend throughout the Council's discussion. It is important to note that the PCR has opened an entry point to the concept of "violence as a last resort".


Violence will, once again, and this time more forcefully, come to the fore of the ecumenical discussion in the coming period. The churches and the ecumenical movement are strongly challenged to respond to this most acute and urgent problem of our times. We carry with us bitter experiences from our respective histories. Our theology of pacifism and our theology of just war are in conflict. Furthermore, not only do the churches have no clear and unanimous voice on how to respond to violence, in some cases they are part of the problem. In 1999 the Central Committee stated: "We must give up being spectators of violence or merely lamenting it and must act to overcome violence"4 . There are three ways of responding to violence: passivity, violent opposition and militant nonviolence. The critical question is: fight or flight. The Christian response cannot be but 'fight' to transform violence. This is not a question of mere strategy or methodology. This vision and commitment stem from the very essence of being a new human being and a new community in Christ. Passivity is submission, withdrawal and surrender. The Christian must combat violence not by reactive resistance, but by a non-violent active resistance that generates new vision and hope. For some, however, revolutionary violence offers the only hope for justice and liberation. I believe that active nonviolent action, adopted in 1992 by the Central Committee should remain a clear ecumenical option in its attempt to overcome violence. What is active nonviolent action? The following points deserve our attention:

1) Nonviolence is not a compromise, a blind and uncritical attitude, non-resistance or disengagement. It is the courage of faith to say no to violence, no to injustice. Nonviolence is a quality of life that implies patience and vision; a form of combat that refuses to collaborate with injustice and that challenges violence through non violence. It is the choice to fight with psychological, social, economic and political weapons. Such a choice includes: protest (marches, vigils, picketing, etc.) and non-cooperation (social boycotts, strikes, economic sanctions, civil disobedience, etc). Nonviolent action is an expression of one's integrity, identity and independence. Modern history is full of examples of nonviolent struggle from Mahatma Gandhi to Martin Luther King, from the fall of the Berlin Wall (1990) to Yugoslavia (2000). Violence generates violence, while nonviolence uncovers the powerlessness of the powerful and the efficiency and validity of violence.

2) Overcoming violence through nonviolent struggle calls the churches to avoid identifying themselves with power structures. The church must become a powerless community, a community whose power is the powerlessness of Jesus Christ. It is through His powerlessness, the cross that Christ conquered the powerful, the evil. The church has often sided with the powers of the world and has often practiced violence even for the spread of the good news. The churches' blind association with the pride of their nations and with the policies of their governments greatly jeopardizes their prophetic role. Often the churches are called to choose between the interests of their nations and the Gospel message. In fact, the mixed reactions of the churches to the conflicts in Iraq, in the Middle East or in Kosovo – to give a few examples from contemporary history – clearly indicate the concrete repercussions of church-nation-state relations. This critical area calls for serious and comprehensive discussion.

3) Active nonviolent action means being on the side of the victims. This is the only way of being faithful to the Gospel. Christ identified Himself with the victims because they are the real victors, the inheritors of the Kingdom. The churches' non-violent action should be for justice and peace and not merely to overcome violence. In other words, 'nonviolence' should not become an aim in itself, but only a means of achieving justice and restoring peace. This responsibility of the church cannot be questioned under any circumstances, but it may be called to a test. The binding up human wounds (social diakonia) must be followed by nonviolent struggle for the elimination of the root causes of violence (political diakonia).

4) The churches have not been quite consistent in their response to situations of violence. Attitudes of fear, patience and prudence have often prevailed over the prophetic ministry of the church at such critical moments. What is the meaning of the cross for the life and witness of the church in the world today? Facile compromise is not the Christian way. Violence is the powerlessness of the powerful; the cross is the powerful non-violent response to violence. In God we trust; God is our shelter, our protector, our weapon against evil: "if God is with us who can be against us" (Rom. 8: 31). The Harare Assembly challenged us to overcome "the spirit, logic and practice" of violence. Therefore, "overcoming" violence must become a clear ecumenical strategy and the focus of the Decade. Thus far we have spelled out prevention and mediation as efficient ways to anticipate violence. In addition to these approaches, I would like to identify two areas which merit careful reflection.


Community-building is key to overcoming violence. Community is not only a social necessity, it is essentially a theological reality. The church is a covenant people. It is sent to the world to bring men and women into community and into new life with Christ.

1) In the Christian understanding community is a covenant relationship between humanity and God. The human person created in the image of God is a person in relation to God, and who cannot be understood apart from God. The human being is also called by God to be with others through mutual love and trust. God has created human beings to live as a community; we are bound to each other within a community; we are responsible and accountable towards each other. Therefore, we are inter-dependent and Integrally bound together so that when one suffers all are hurt. Nonviolence is rooted in the very being of this community. Violence is that evil force which destroys the Gospel values, breaks the relationship of mutual trust and sharing and disintegrates the community by alienating human beings from God and from each other. Hence, community-building overcomes violence.

2) Community means identity; it also implies diversity. Aggressive assertion of identity leads to the refusal to accept differences. Such an approach may generate fundamentalism, exclusivism, ethnocentrism and violence. In community-building, identity and diversity should be preserved and enriched in their dynamic inter-connectedness. Unity is the fruit of this creative inter-action; violence is the absence of such inter-action. The elimination of violence implies the active engagement of all segments of a society in bridge-building and reconciliation. Those communities or groups of a community drawn into conflict must work for a life together. This is more than a sheer co-existence; it is a community where difference are respected and mutual trust is built to live as a community, we must accept each other the way we are.

3) In order to overcome violence, all the members of the community must fully and actively participate in decision-making structures and processes. In fact, where there is a dominating minority and an oppressed majority, there is no community. To live peacefully, we must live justly. Democratic values, which enhance people's rights for participation, dignity, equality, must sustain the life of societies.

4) Community is not simply living together in one place; it is also sharing common values and traditions and learning from each other. Community gives a common identity, it provides security and creates justice for all. Therefore, it is the negation of violence. A community supported by mutual responsibility and trust, by common concerns and vision is a safe way of eliminating violence. Community-building is a healing process: it generates conversion to community, transformation of structures, change of hearts, and leads to overcoming violence.

5) Community-building is also awareness-building. Education inside the churches and in civil society is of crucial importance in overcoming violence. The churches together with the actors of civil society must constantly alert and strongly challenge their governments to make education a top priority.

a) Violence often conditions people, leaving them unaware of its evil nature and destructive consequences. Family and school can play pivotal roles in awareness-building. The family is a sacred institution, it is a "small church". Educational process and Christian formation start in the family. For some of our churches the community school is, in a sense, the "extension" of the church. Religious education must be given a focal place in different aspects of the life of a school. These two important institutions of community life, which for many reasons have lost their crucial role in many societies, must be given priority attention as basic instruments in the consientization process.

b) Violence is often the result of memories rooted in the history. We cannot change history, we cannot ignore the collective memory of nations. Yet, how can we learn from the past? How can we make our bitter experiences and sad memories sources of greater awareness and renewal for the generations to come? We can transform our histories of violence by a courageous act of confession and forgiveness. Healing the past will significantly help us to build the future.

c) Egoism on the individual level and ethnocentrism on the collective level cause violence through the fear of threat and the sense of insecurity. How can education transform this threat into mutual acceptance, insecurity into mutual trust, hate into mutual love? In other words, how can education liberate people, who are caught in violence, from hate and fear? Education must aim at empowering the powerless to resist those values and structures that produce injustice, insecurity and violence. Education must particularly address the just use of power. Power is ambiguous, it may become both a source of evil and of progress. How to use power in the interest of justice, human rights and dignity? This is another critical issue that the ecumenical movement should continue to grapple with.

d) Many of the systems and methodologies of education including the ones practiced by the churches breed violence. They must be totally and radically reshaped and transformed. This is a long and hard process that requires serious attention by the states, churches and NGOS's. The mass media, which is dominated by culture of violence, can be used as a major educational tool to overcome violence.


Fundamental to violence prevention is the task of building a culture of peace. States and societies are investing more money in projects and initiatives that generate violence than in processes that promote justice and peace. Peace-building is of crucial importance in combating violence. The international community (governments, inter-governmental organizations, international financial institutions, transnational corporations, the mass media and civil society) has a special responsibility for peace-building. The vision of a world of justice and peace is central to the Gospel. They are the breaking in the God's reign in history. Justice and peace are divine gifts; they are also tasks to be fulfilled by the church which is the eschatological sign of God's reign in the world. The church is not only a Koinonia of peace but also a koinonia dedicated to the pursuit of just peace. What is the vocation of the church?

1) Since its first Assembly, the WCC has stressed the need to seek "peace with justice". The Nairobi and Vancouver Assemblies called the societies "to live without the protection of armaments"5 . The JPIC Convocation spoke about "demilitarizing international relations" and "promoting nonviolent forms of defense"6 . The Central Committee in Johannesburg (1994) reiterated the urgent need to overcome violence "by building new theological approaches consonant with the teaching of Christ which start not with war and move to peace, but with the need for justice"7 . We have developed diakonia to alleviate the situation of victims of violence. We have condemned the practice of resorting to violence. We have offered theological analyses of violence. We must now develop a culture of peace, as the Harare Assembly put it, by "developing appropriate approaches to conflict transformation and just peace-making in the new globalized context"8 .We must respond to violence by becoming pro-active in peace-making. What are the conditions and implications of such a complex task?

2) We cannot eradicate violence only through education and community-building; we must also work for justice. Socio-economic injustice and political oppression produce violence. The equal distribution of power and resources is a precondition for the elimination of violence. Yes, we must say "no more violence, stop violence"; but we must also cry out 'justice for all". Peace is not the absence of violence; it is the presence of justice. There can be no peace without justice. Peace-making is a long and complex process and it requires more than simply achieving a cease-fire or a political settlement. How can the churches move the societies, as Seoul put it, from the doctrine of just war to a doctrine of just peace? This is a great task before the churches.

3) Peace-making is an integral part of the ministry of the church. "Seek peace and pursue it" (ps. 34: 14). The essential aspects of Christian peace-making are: love of enemy, reconciliation, healing, confidence building, breaking down walls of separation and resisting violence in ways that may lead the enemy towards conversion. The churches and the ecumenical movement must develop a theology of peace-making that gives a particular role to the church in conflict transformation and just peace-making. Such a theology must be built on repentance and forgiveness, truth and justice. I believe that the churches can also play a significant role in peace-building by creating effective strategies of prevention and mediation. Sharing the suffering of others, mutual intercession and expression of solidarity will certainly strengthen the churches' common struggle for peace.

4) The peace we work for is not human-made; it is God's gift and call. "My peace I leave to you" (Jn. 14: 27). The peace that Christ gave is not "that peace which the world gives" (Jn. 14: 27). It is grounded in salvation, it is the gift of the salvation brought about by Jesus Christ. Therefore, the peace given by God in Christ does not belong to us. We are sent by God for a peace-building mission and we are accountable to God. The birth of Jesus Christ was announced by the angels as the incarnation of peace. Peace-making is not one of the functions of the church; it is the esse of church's being and becoming. Being the people of God means embodying the message of peace and reconciliation: those who make-peace "shall be called children of God" (Mt. 5:9).

5) Justice and peace are inter-connected. In the Christian perspective this is not a methodological or strategic question, it is an ontological reality. We must develop peace-making models that reflect this inter-connectedness. Peace-making fails if it does not address the root cause of violence: justice. If humanity and the creation are to survive, violence must stop. And violence can be stopped only by establishing justice and reconciliation among people, and between humanity and the creation. Peace cannot be imposed; it must emerge in the life of the community. Overcoming violence is not a strategy. The Christian strategy is peace-building. The involvement of churches in peace-building must become more preventive than therapeutic. This means that the church should work for a culture that generates justice, equality, participation and accountability. Only such a culture can become a culture of peace. Building a culture of peace starts locally, at home.


We cannot overcome violence by merely practicing resistance. Resistance is a short term reaction aimed mainly at self-defense, survival. In order to truly overcome violence, we must be engaged in a process of transformation. In fact, transformation is God's action in Jesus Christ for the liberation of humanity and the re-creation of life. The church as the sign and anticipation of the Kingdom must become the agent of divine economy of transformation by incarnating God's reconciling, healing and liberating grace in the world.

1) God was incarnate in Jesus Christ to liberate human beings from injustice, sin, evil and death and to lead them to true life in God. Liberation of humanity and the creation is salvation and salvation is re-creation. To achieve liberation the church should develop awareness of the need for change; it should foster the capacity to transform the given order and strengthen the peoples' struggle for justice and dignity as well as for just and participatory forms of governance and socio-economic structures. Liberation does not destroy structures, but it renews and changes them; it does not annihilate the enemy; it transforms its image; it does not eliminate diversities; it creates a society in which all live in harmony. Therefore, liberation is neither resistance nor reaction; it is a nonviolent revolution. Being Christian is an unconditional commitment to, and participation in, the struggle for liberation. In fact, «Behold I make everything new» (Rev. 21: 5) is a call to take an active part in the continuous process of liberation and humanization inaugurated by Christ. We can not destroy violence. By following the Gospel we can transform it into a sign of conversion and liberation.

2) Violence threatens not only the quality and integrity of life, but life itself. It rejects life. To resist violence means to struggle for life. The following points merit our attention: a) Life is a gift of God; it is not a human possession. Violation of life is a sin against God. The affirmation of life is the rejection of violence. Violence destroys life, while nonviolence sustains life; it upholds the sanctity and inviolability of life. This is, indeed, a basic biblical affirmation. b) Human life is more than a mere existence; it has a goal. Life must be lived for the Kingdom. The values of the kingdom must undergird and guide human life. Such a life should become a continuous nonviolent resistance to evil, to "powers and principalities" (Eph. 6) of this world. Resistance in faith is an essential dimension of Christian life. c) Human life is not static reality; it is a process, a process of fulfillment. Human beings are called to make their lives grow to greater fullness and wholeness. This process of becoming fully and authentically human is a spiritual process that affirms goodness against evil, justice against injustice, nonviolence against violence. d) Life is an inter-connected reality. Human life is an integral part of creation. Therefore, we must have a holistic approach to life. In doing violence to others, we do violence to the self and to the creation, and in doing violence to the self and to the creation, we do violence to others. Overcoming violence means safeguarding the sanctity, wholeness and fullness of life and the integrity of creation.

3) The force of violence must be subdued by the power of life. The churches are called to transform the structures, systems and attitudes that obstruct the church's faithfulness to God's vision of life as revealed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The church does not exist for itself; it exists to participate in the liberation, transformation and life-giving power of God in Christ. Transformation implies the victory of life over the death, of powerlessness over power. How can we make societies aware of the sacredness of life? How can we initiate processes of conscientization in order to communicate the truth that human life has a meaning and that the quality of life must be safeguarded? How can we articulate the value of an individual person in this world of globalization by creating a meaningful context within which to be human? These steps can significantly enhance our nonviolent resistance. The ecumenical movement should challenge the churches to develop a life-affirming and violence-transforming theology.


I come now to the most critical part of my report. The burning question is: is violence for a just cause justifiable?

1) Use of violence for the cause of justice has been at the centre of the ecumenical discussion on violence nonviolence. The churches have not been able to reach a common understanding on this matter. Some have justified the "just war" criteria, according to which: a war should be made for a just cause, it should pursue a just peace, it should be made only as a last resort by legitimate authority and it should have a reasonable prospect of success. Historic Peace churches have considered all use of violence to be contrary to the commandments of Christ. The First Assembly of the WCC expressed serious doubts about the applicability of the "just war" criteria. In 1948, no agreement on this question was possible. Every time it was raised or a conflict emerged, the Council found itself in a difficult situation because the churches had conflicting stands. The issue came once again to the fore of ecumenical discussion during the Gulf war, and recently when NATO bombed Yugoslavia. The legitimacy of violence, even when used by a state power against injustice, remains an open question.

2) In this meeting, the Central Committee will act on a document, entitled "The Use of Armed Force in Support of Humanitarian Purposes – an Ecumenical Ethical Approach." In 1995, a "Memorandum and Recommendations on the Application of Sanctions" was adopted by the Central Committee. In 1999 this body approved a "Memorandum and Recommendations on International Security and Response to Armed Conflict", which called for new approaches to international peace and security in the post Cold-War world and highlighted some of the new moral and ethical dilemmas that had arisen around the issue of "humanitarian intervention". The new study document represents a further development of ecumenical thinking on the use of armed force in international relations. While preparing this document, the Council faced immense difficulties and dilemmas. How, on the one hand, can the international community assume its responsibility to protect civilian populations whose human rights are being greatly violated and, on the other hand, how can it avoid the use of violence? How is it possible to distinguish in the case of humanitarian intervention, the long-term economic and strategic interests of a powerful nation and the short-term and limited intention? Effectiveness is another issue. Will human rights be better protected or legitimacy re-installed after the intervention? Further, who requests intervention and who has the right to intervene? What are the implications of intervention to national sovereignty, the UN authority and international law? The discussion of these questions led those engaged in the preparation of the document to note that, first, "the exercise of lethal military force is not a humanitarian act" since humanitarian action implies "values such as humanity, neutrality, impartiality and universality and is aimed at helping people in peril". Second, military intervention should not be seen as a single event, but as "part of a continuum of action ranging from humanitarian assistance, diplomatic pressure, economic sanctions, to the use of some form of armed force as a last resort". Third, the consensus reached was that "armed force should be used only in the most grave and extraordinary circumstances when it is necessary as a last resort, to rescue and protect people in grave peril"9 . It looks as though, under certain circumstances, the ecumenical movement supports the use of military force to save human lives and to establish justice. I believe that confusion, ambiguity and dilemma continue to exist. How to distinguish the exact dividing line between the legitimate use of force and its immoral and unjust application? What should be the nature and scope of so-called 'humanitarian intervention'?

3) Violence and nonviolence may often impinge on each other. They are inter-twined. Cardiff was not able "to recommend a priori or abstractly whether violent or non-violent action should be used in particular situation"10 . We must move beyond the violence-nonviolence dichotomy. We need a broader framework. Clearly, the Christian option is active nonviolence. Our strength comes from the cross and not from the sword, from love and not from hatred, from nonviolence and not from violence. But the cross is not the end; we have the resurrection, the victory of life which was achieved by the cross. Violence is evil; yet for some, living under conditions of injustice and oppression, where all means of nonviolent actions are used up, violence remains an unavoidable alternative, a last resort. Should we not therefore avoid the dilemma of violence-nonviolence by bridging them instead of polarizing them? Does not the uprising in Palestine, after so many years of nonviolent action and patient negotiations, another example of "violence as a last resort" option? Surely, we cannot legitimize violence under just any circumstances. Nor can we condemn violence when it is used as a "last resort" for the cause of justice and human dignity.

4) Therefore, "limited and controlled" violence aimed at changing social conditions and establishing justice for all11 is acceptable and even necessary. It is integral to liberation process. Some even speak of "redemptive violence". This sort of violence must not be generalized; it must be used in a given context, in defense of justice, and as a last resort. It must be noted that if for some, "limited and controlled" violence for a "good cause" is a source of liberation, for others it is a source of enslavement. They maintain that the life and teaching of Christ rule out the use of any sort of physical violence, and they reject in advance any resort to violence in any circumstances. The dilemma persists. Can we absolutize nonviolence? Jesus did not say, do not resist evil. He said that we should not retaliate against evil with evil. The question is under what circumstances and how, and not whether one should fight evil. Our choice cannot be one of passivity; it must be one of resistance against injustice. This resistance begins with the refusal to collaborate with injustice and with a firm commitment to justice. In 1971, the Central Committee stated: "We cannot pass judgment on those victims of racism who are driven to violence as the only way left to them to redress grievances and so open the way for a new and more just social order"12 . In 1973, the Central Committee spoke of three points of view: "non-violent action as the only possibility consistent with obedience to Jesus Christ", non-violent resistance as "a Christian duty in extreme circumstances», and «situation of violence in which they cannot help but participate"13 . Can we set an ethical guideline to overcome violence that is faithful to the Gospel and is realistic and practical? Are there 'resorts' that can be used before we move to the 'last resort'? The Parliament of World Religions has stated: "Wherever those ruling threaten to repress those ruled, wherever institutions threaten persons and wherever might oppresses right, we have an obligation to resist – wherever possible non-violently"14 .


We are meeting for the first time in the unified Berlin. We are meeting in this historic city, which has played a pivotal role in shaping and reshaping the history of Europe. Indeed, Berlin invokes memories….

For Europe it invokes divided memories and divided histories. It also invokes memories for the rest of the world. In fact, the Berlin Wall, dividing the East and the West, was the most visible mark of the ideological and political rivalries that affected the lives of millions of people even in the remotest corners of the globe.

Yet, for others, Berlin invokes memories that go back to more than a century ago. The Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 was the culmination of the European Scramble for Africa. At that Conference Africa was partitioned in a manner that radically changed the face of the continent and its people. Among themselves, the British, French, Germans, Portuguese, Italians, Spanish and Belgians sliced Africa up like a cake, each taking a part or parts, with total disregard for the welfare and rights of the African people. The partitioning of Africa also accelerated the colonization and all the violence that it entailed.

Berlin also invokes memories of how, through active non violence, people's power may destroy the "wall of partition".

This is our ecumenical journey for peace with justice from Amsterdam to Berlin, a long and difficult journey; indeed, a journey sustained by faith, hope and vision.


As we prepare to launch the Decade to Overcome Violence, it is important to take into consideration the following points:

1) The Decade should first of all initiate a process of creative theological reflection on violence. The churches' commitment to nonviolence must be substantiated by a serious theological discussion. Violence is a major challenge to theology, and touches the deeper layers of what it means to be Christian in a world torn apart by violence. The churches should go beyond simplistic and superficial arguments, in order to raise deep theological questions. We need to analyze violence in contextual and cross-cultural settings and to learn more about its ambiguities and paradoxes. We need to reformulate, redefine and rearticulate our perspectives on violence. We need to reflect further on identity, unity and diversity as resources for nonviolence ; and we need to reflect further on nationalism and ethnicity as potential dangers for violence. In other words, we need to work towards a holistic understanding of violence by exploring its causes. Any theological approach, however, remains irrelevant if it is not responsive to concrete realities. Theology deals not only with the being of the church, but also with the becoming of the church, and they are inter-connected. The inter-connectedness of ecclesiology and ethics has a direct bearing on the issue of violence. Therefore, new theological paradigms and approaches to violence-nonviolence are needed.

2) The Decade should make strenuous efforts to go beyond reflection to generate action-oriented processes and programmes. In my view this must be the particularity of the Decade. It should provide a platform for the churches to share stories and experiences, develop relationships and partnerships and to learn from each other. Furthermore, it must challenge the churches to enter into an existential inter-action that will lead them towards common action.

3) Violence is multi-faceted, multi-formed and multi-dimensional. Hence, our approach must be holistic. In a sense, DOV is not, a new process. As I pointed out, in the last decade we have already gained valuable experience through JPIC, Women's Decade and POV, that have led the WCC to develop new sorts of theological reflection and establish new relationships and partnerships in peace-building. This process must continue with new vigour. I believe that Ecclesiology and Ethics, Theology of Life and Nationalism and Ethnicity studies may provide the Decade with challenging perspectives and open new avenues.

4) The ecumenical movement must recognize its limits and limitations in such a global venture. Violence is a complex reality. And any attempt aimed at overcoming violence will be even more complex and will lead to a long process. Its political, social and financial implications are far-reaching. We should not, therefore, come up with unrealistic programmes and claims. Remaining faithful to the imperatives of our faith and strongly committed to the goals of the Decade, we must be aware of the limited scope of our human and financial resources.

5) DOV must clearly articulate the distinctiveness of this initiative. Non violence is not only a Christian option. What is the particularity of the churches' common commitment to active nonviolence? What are the implications of this engagement for the ecclesiological self-understanding and missionary engagement of the church? These questions must be given due attention in all the aspects and at all the stages of this process.

6) While it is a global initiative, DOV must be reflected on the local level. Its concerns and challenges, its goals and vision must be expressed in different cultural, socio-economic and politico-religious contexts. The Decade should grow out of the existential experiences and expectations of the local communities. Its global programmes and actions must be built on the local work. The main actors and the primary targets should be the local communities. Local experiences and insights must enter into dynamic inter-action with the global experiences and insights. Such an approach imposes special methodologies and style of work.

7) DOV must establish a creative dialogue with other religions and with the civil society at large. We cannot ignore its inter-religious dimension. The world religions have on different occasions strongly articulated their commitment to a culture of nonviolence. Partnership based on common values, concerns and goals is crucial in any initiative aimed at combating violence. I believe that we can engage in a meaningful collaboration with other faiths within the framework of the global ethic, which in the last decade, has acquired a focal attention in the ecumenical movement and in inter-faith dialogue. The ecumenical movement should also seek to collaborate with the major actors of civil society by creating new networks and by building new alliances and advocacy. In other words, cross-religious, cross-community and cross-cultural work need to be given a clear priority.

8) DOV is not a programme, but a Council-wide initiative. Nor is it, strictly speaking, a WCC process; it is a churches' process. Therefore, the churches should take an active part in it; they should become the real players. The Council will closely monitor the process by bringing together into a coherent whole experiences and initiatives, reflections and actions, and by sharpening its goals. The churches should fully support the Decade, using their moral, human and financial resources. Further, I believe that the WCC must establish a Special Fund (for example, similar to the Programme to Combat Racism) to overcome violence.

* * *

Violence undermines the integrity, affects the unity and questions the credibility of the church. Last year, in our letter to the churches we stated: "We must confirm that we are often passive witnesses to and even participants in the violence", and we called our churches "to provide to the world a clear witness to peace, to reconciliation and nonviolence, grounded in justice"15 . DOV will not be an easy process. It will face tremendous challenges. It will confront crucial questions. It will encounter uncertainties and polarizations and will experience risks and hope.

Violence was with Jesus Christ to the cross. It will also be with us until the full realization of the Kingdom of God. DOV is an opportunity, a re-minder, a call and a challenge. Active nonviolent action is martyria in life; it may even lead to martyria in death. This is the Christian way. Are we ready to start this Decade with this firm conviction? Let us not claim that we can destroy violence. Let us firmly commit ourselves to overcoming it through ed-ucation, prevention, community-building and peace-making. Faith and hope remain our ultimate power to overcoming violence. Through DOV we are called to witness courageously and responsibly to the Gospel, the source of our faith and hope. We must not lose this ecumenical Kairos.


January 2001, Antelias, Lebanon


  1. Now Is the Time, World Convocation on Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation, 1990, World Council of Churches, Geneva, 1990, p.27.
  2. The Minutes of the Central Committee13.
  3. is worth reading Margot Kässmann's book rcoming Violence: The Challenge to the Churchesrld Council of Churches, Geneva, 1998) which is an analytical summary of the ecumenical debate on violence.
  4. The Minutes of the Central Committee, p.188.
  5. David M. Paton, ed., Breaking the Barriers, Nairobi 1975: The Official Report of the Fifth Assembly of the World Council of Churches, Nairobi, 23 November - 10 December, 1975, Section IV: Structures of Injustice (London, SPCK, 1976).
  6. Now Is the Time, p.183.
  7. Minutes of the Central Committee, p.113.
  8. Now Is the Time, p.183.
  9. The Use of Armed Force in Support of Humanitarian Purposes: An Ecumenical Ethical Approach, p.10.
  10. Violence, Nonviolence and Civil Conflict: The Report of the Corrymeela Consultation, 7-11 March 1983, World Council of Churches, Geneva, 1983, p.21.
  11. Ibid., p.10.
  12. The Minutes of the Central Committee, p.55.
  13. The Minutes of the Central Committee, pp.28-29.
  14. Ibid., p.28.
  15. The Minutes of the Central Committee, pp.185, 187.

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