Quaker Universalist Conversations

Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War: A Review

Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War, edited by Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2012)

This review was originally published by Anthony Manousos on his LA Quaker blog on April 22, 2013, and is republished with his permission.

Interfaith Just PeacemakingThe paradigm of “just peacemaking” is one of the most important recent developments in interfaith and ecumenical social activism, though it is not as widely known as it should be. This eminently practical as well as deeply theological approach is helping people of different faith perspectives to find common ground and work together for peace. As someone who has been involved with interfaith peacemaking for over a decade, I find this approach extremely exciting and hopeful.

The idea of “just peacemaking” originated with Glen Stassen, a professor of Christian ethics at Fuller Seminary and an Evangelical Christian who was a student of Reinhold Niebuhr (Obama’s favorite theologian). Niebuhr, one of America’s most influential theologians in the 1950s, gave up on pacifism during WWII and became a “Christian realist,” justifying war in situations where Christians must confront what he saw as inherently evil systems like Nazism and Communism.

Stassen has been influenced by both Niebuhr and by John Yoder, the Mennonite pacifist theologian. Stassen describes himself both as a “pacifist” and “realist” who is ardently anti-war—he earned a degree in nuclear physics as well as Christian ethics and devoted himself to nuclear weapons reduction and elimination from the 1980s on. He has also worked with the AFSC as well as with Evangelicals for Social Action to oppose war. On the door of his office at Fuller is the FNCL sign: “War is not the answer.”

Stassen argues that pacifists and just war theorists/Christian realists will never agree because they come from very different theological perspectives What all Christians can agree on, says Stassen, is that God calls us to do our utmost to avoid war and promote peace. After considerable study, Stassen has come up with ten “best peacemaking practices” that have been proven to work:

1. Support nonviolent direct action

2. Take independent initiatives to reduce threats

3. Use cooperative conflict resolution

4. Acknowledge responsibility for conflict and injustice and seek repentance and forgiveness

5. Advance democracy, human rights and interdependence

6. Foster just and sustainable economic development

7. Work with emerging cooperative forces in the international system

8. Strengthen the UN and international efforts for cooperation and human rights

9. Reduce offensive weapons and the weapons trad

10. Encourage grassroots peacemaking groups and voluntary associations

Stassen shows these techniques not only work in the real world, they are also consistent with biblical teachings. He published his ground-breaking book Just Peacemaking: Transforming Initiatives for Justice and Peace (1992) when the Cold War ended in the early 1990s. At that time he was deeply impressed with non-violent resistance efforts he had encountered in Eastern Europe. In the aftermath of 9/11, when just war theorists and Christian realists were justifying the “war against terror,” and the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, Stassen questioned this response and put together an anthology by Christians of various denominations called Just Peacemaking: The New Paradigm for the Ethics of Peace and War (2008).

As a follow up to this book, Susan Thistlethwaite, a United Methodist pastor as well professor and former president of Chicago Theological Seminary, published Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War. This fascinating book contains chapters by leading Jewish, Muslim and Christian scholars that explore the practical application as well as theological basis for Just Peacemaking from Abrahamic faith perspectives. These scholars don’t all agree on every point—God forbid!—but they are in general agreement that the practices of Just Peacemaking are consistent with the Torah, the Gospel, and the Quran.

This is good news indeed. If Muslims, Jews and Christians of all denominations can work together for peace, certainly Evangelical and liberal Quakers can do likewise!

The only disappointment I have with this book is the lack of a Quaker perspective. All of the theologians included are “people of the book” who rely mainly upon scriptural authority to justify their views. I would have loved to have seen at least one theologian discuss the spiritual and experiential basis for just peacemaking. It is our Quaker conviction that our peacemaking efforts are most effective when they spring from an experience of inner peace, when we listen to our Inward Guide and follow the leadings of the Spirit. This inward experience leads to outward practices such as consensus decision making as well as to our social testimonies (simplicity, equality, community), a way of life that fosters peace and justice. Despite the omission of a Quaker perspective, I heartily recommend this book to Friends and to others who have serious commitment to ending war and promoting a just peace. I also look forward to a follow-up book that includes those of non-Abrahamic faiths, such as a Buddhists, Bahais, Hindus and others.

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