My personal peace action hasn’t been easy but nothing of consequence ever is. I’m grateful for the many peacemaking mentors I’ve met along the way who taught me so much. John Howard Yoder taught me the fallacy of the common perception that pacifism and just war are opposed systems of belief.
Instead, both share the conviction that war is never good. The major difference between them is that just war theorists consider war to sometimes be the lesser of two evils while pacifists are not willing to concede that.
Unfortunately, what generally passes for just war is actually some form of the “good guys taking out the bad guys.” And the “good guys” are always our kind of people. Authentic just war theory and pacifism both recognize that violence takes different forms and that lasting peace is built from the ground up through many initiatives designed to create the common good. Let’s consider ways we can do that collaboratively.
The International Day of Peace is annually observed around the world on September, 21. The United Nations has devoted this day to strengthening the ideals of peace, both within and among all nations and peoples. The theme this year is: “Sustainable Development Goals: Building Blocks for Peace.”
One of the huge remaining development challenges is refugees who are forced to flee their homes because of conflict and violence. There are 65.3 million forcibly displaced people in our world today. That number is the largest it has been since World War II. Perpetual war between and within nations is a major obstacle to achieving sustainable development goals in our world.
We have long known that violence begets violence and can quickly become a vicious cycle. Recently people within the public health arena have begun to treat violence like other communicable diseases. “Mental trauma from exposure to violence has been scientifically shown to increase a person’s risk of adopting violent behavior themselves, meaning that violent behavior transmits and spreads based on exposure – just like an epidemic disease.”
We see this in places like Syria, Afghanistan, and the streets of Chicago. I saw it up close in the trauma unit of the MedStar Washington Hospital Center where I recently took a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education. We were continually caring for victims of gun violence and their families. A small response that our church has taken to help break the cycle of violence is to erect a Memorial to the Lost on our church lawn each year remembering those killed by gun violence in the DC area.