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Anders Wejryd's speech for WCC peace consultation in Sigtuna

Speech of Rev. Dr Anders Wejryd, Archbishop emeritus for the WCC consultation and workshop on Peace building and Advocacy for Just Peace, 1-5 December, Sigtuna, Sweden.

03 December 2014

Church’s Engagement in Peace building and Advocacy
A Historical perspective:

A Historical perspective. I will probably be very historical. Many of us are formed more by old history than we perhaps want to know. I could have talked about the near history, e.g. Jamaica and all the many initiatives by the Ecumenical Movement, but I think I shall use time best if I go a little bit beyond that, knowing that so much knowledge of that recent history is with us in this room anyway and further room has been made for it in the programme for these coming days.


Religion is dangerous – and wonderful. Religion can let loose the best and the worst in humankind. Maybe it is not so much because of religion per se as it is because of humankind. Simul iustus et peccator, as a Lutheran would put it. “At the same time just (or justified) and a sinner.” Religion brings power, especially when you can use eternal fate as a threat, but also when calling upon people’s respect for traditions. We never get out of sinfulness. All the times in history when individuals and churches have thought they were beyond that, they have at best become self-righteous and at worst they have committed atrocities. Religion which does not consider what it does to the life of the other, near and far away, is egoism. Religion which does not use the power to critique also as self-criticism is hypocrisy.
To most or all of us the concept of Trinity is central. It helps us to keep the aspects of the faithful, of all humans and of creation, together. Let me read just two well-known opening passages, five verses from each:

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. Gen 1:1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. John 1:1-5
It all belongs together. Creation, humanity, the faithful. And Wind, Word, Spirit, Light, Life, Son and Father.

Through the New Testament we clearly see different ways of relating to the worldly powers, from Jesus, not only on the issue of paying tax, through Paul’s apparent acceptance of the Roman Empire and finally the absolute rejection of it in Revelation. After Constantine and Theodosius the situation is totally changed. The historic churches become parts of politics, more or less super-national in the Roman Western tradition, more caesaro-papistic in the Eastern traditions. With the Reformation, especially in the Lutheran tradition, with the close links to kings and principalities of this world, as they were seen to uphold God’s reign in the worldly realm, churches probably seldom offered any strong opposition to war. It all changed with Constantine, and the feeling that power and wealth is necessary for the survival of the Church, and its message became stronger than the commitment to the message and the Imitatio Christi. We recognize the dilemma!

If we stay European for yet some more time we can notice the great challenge of the pietistic movement to the national churches, at least in northern Europe. It can be said that in the 17th century the Swedish soldiers proudly marched south and east in the name of the Swedish king and in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as did soldiers of other nations in other directions. Some decades later they returned as losers, torn and worn, singing songs about the blood of Jesus and the faithful few. Religion was about to become a private matter, as was also the agenda and aim of the secular Enlightenment. And – religion was about to, once again, become a tool of those in opposition. And that is, of course, a very important background to North American church life.

However, the continental pietism of the 17th century had roots, for example, down to the times of the Great Plague in the 14th century and the 15th and 16th century peasants’ and peace movements. Here we meet an early civil society long before the concept was invented. As a Lutheran, I have found it important but painful to revisit the clashes between one of the historic peace churches, the Mennonites, and Lutherans in 16th century Germany. With the Mennonites we meet Christians deeply committed to stand up against violence, injustice and war, be their targets churches, kings, or other powers, often despising their opponents – and other Christians despising, condemning, and killing the fighters for peace... Lethal violence in God’s name. Mennonites and Lutherans (through the Lutheran World Federation) have experienced and do now experience a very fruitful voyage of reconciliation, which has had its most public moment so far for Lutherans at the latest LWF Assembly in Stuttgart.

We, as churches and Christians, surely have a mixed history – and still we have talked mainly about Europe and west Asia! If we move our focus to what was done in the name of mission, formation and education from the 15th through the early 20th century in the Americas, in Africa and Asia, it becomes rather impossible to see Christians churches as very effective agents for peace.

Let us instead move to the situation a little more than a century ago. The international ecumenical mission movement was by then a reality confirmed by the Edinburgh missionary meeting in 1910, one of the roots of today’s WCC. The world was then seen by many to be ruled by Christian states. The colonies were colonies and England, France, Germany, Belgium were of course Christian states. And Russia was too, with the czar. The Ottoman Empire was, as we all know, not Christian but with traditional and fairly safe spaces for Christians. And, it was about to fall, anyway. In the name of an optimistic theology and world-view, the world was moving into a new and peaceful era. Not only Christians but also socialists were forming new peace-building internationals. Workers were never to fight each other.

Christians were never more to fight each other. Politics had built a system of treaties between powers that would stop war - and economies were becoming more and more intertwined. The time of war was over, at least in Europe.

One hundred years ago, in the summer and fall, all was changed. in that year, 1914, Sweden got a new archbishop. His name was Nathan Söderblom. He was a professor in Leipzig when elected, he had been a professor in Uppsala before, and he had his doctorate from Paris. Important visits to the U.S. early in life, and later on to England, had formed his world-view. He was heartbroken and forlorn. These were all his homes and they were at war. The modern liberal theology, which had thoroughly formed him, had not proven strong enough at all to stop nationalism, revanchism, and retribution. His efforts to gather people from the churches of the nations at war proved impossible. "Yes, I can talk with him - but not in the presence of him...." Not until 1925 was it possible for him to welcome the Life and Work movement to the Stockholm conference. Life and Work, another one of the three main roots of the WCC.

So many excellent initiatives have been taken by churches and individual Christians over the years. They have aroused enthusiasm and often made a real difference. Churches have been able to point out injustices and the potential power of these to threaten peace. Churches have been able to make a difference by getting people actually to change politics and priorities. Schools have been built, values have been underscored, social change has come, Human Rights have been made visible and undergirded, disarmament and control of weapon exports strengthened. All this has been done, is being done, and has to be done. But when war has broken out or when aggression has demanded to be met, the churches have, I think, usually meant little for peace. It is like the American President Wilson and his excellent Christian and humane principles, “the 14 points”, for the peace after World War I. Retribution and aggression were too strong and democracy was no barrier against that. "Oh no. Now is the time to fight back!"

Thus it seems to me as if Christian efforts for peace have always been far more effective as prevention than as remedy. When the power game has started, it seems it has normally been stopped only by power and exhaustion. And the loser will fight back when he has got his power back…

The WCC, the AACC, Religions for Peace, and others surely have played important roles as mediators in times of war - but I think we have always been more successful before war has broken out - with the exception of some great examples of reconciliation, e.g. In South Africa. To be an actor with a long-time perspective and a very solid base for Humans Rights makes a difference, especially if we are able to lift up and make visible the values in life that we actually hold the highest yet so often forget or do not at all express.

If we can be actors who do hold justice and peace together, we can be far more successful than if we only act out of a peace perspective limited to no visible war or to a justice perspective without people of flesh and blood living in and with an astounding creation. It is when we, as churches together, can keep things together and can stand for similar things locally, nationally, and internationally that we can make a difference.
• Justice and peace, based in the Golden Rule, built on experiences of the disasters of war.
• Long-term historical perspective, based in the Golden Rule, stretched out in time; history, and future.
• International perspectives, based in the Golden Rule, stretched out in geography.
• And the Golden Rule based in the knowledge that we can love only because of God who loves us and who continuously lets the sun shine over both good and evil and over those who love and those who despise God.

Peace is the way to peace. We are called to dare to see and express how peace is threatened, and to remember and express the disasters to which all wars always lead.