On just war and just peace

Susan Hayward considers what resources the Christian tradition offers to those who seek shalom.



Susan Hayward considers what resources the Christian tradition offers to those who seek shalom.


Religious peacebuilders are able to draw from a wealth of resources within their traditions to support the work of both understanding what leads to violence, and understand what can be effective in peacebuilding. Obviously all religious communities have dealt with violence and conflict and peace for millennia. So they have histories, they have experiences, they have effective methods that they have developed in order to understand how to respond morally and practically in the midst of injustice. To know whether violence is legitimate or not, and to know how to address some of those things that lead to violence in the first place; to try to keep from getting to a situation where violence is necessary in order to address an injustice.

In the Christian tradition, many people draw from the rich history of Christian Just War theory. Beginning with Augustine in the 3rd century, up to Aquinas, to people like de las Casas in South America, who was arguing against the conquistadors, to Martin Luther King and others in the modern era, Christian leaders have drawn from this tradition of trying to both argue against the use of force, and to understand when force is necessary – drawing from the rich theology in order to make those cases.

There has also in the contemporary era been this movement called Just Peace, which is sought particularly by Christian theologians and activists to recognise what kinds of practices can help build up sustainable peace, so that situations of injustice can be best addressed non‑violently. So you can have environments in which people’s human needs are met, so that international organisations are strong enough to be able to resist the pull to war by various countries – as a means to try to mitigate the war.

Of course, there’s also the example of Jesus, that many people draw from. The teaching of Jesus and the practice of Jesus, and the ways in which Jesus was very consistent in arguing against violence throughout his ministry. And also the ways in which Jesus recognised issues of political injustice, economic injustice, social marginalisation as issues that should compel Christians to create an environment that can be one of sustainable peace – one of shalom – in which all people live with human dignity.