What constitutes a Christian ethics of peace and conflict?

Those who strive in Christian faith for a balanced reflection on peace and armed conflict face the always incomplete challenge of allowing morality to be reasonable. In other words, he or she must be careful to choose neither the wrong path of mortality nor that of illusion; that is, neither the management of injustice and suffering nor the blinding of these events. This requirement must also be met by scientific and theological approaches.

A balanced view on peace and armed conflict from the perspective of theological ethics means to consider peace as a guiding principle and target for attitude and action as well as not to ignore the existence of armed conflict and to describe the use of force as legitimate in certain extreme cases according to strict criteria. It is a question – by no means symmetrical! – of an inevitable interrelationship between ethics of peace and conflict.

However, the proprium of theological ethics – that is, what constitutes its distinctiveness and emerges from the thought-constitutive space of the community of believers – comes into play more strongly in the ethics of peace than in the ethics of conflict, because, with regard to peace, ethics consists in the development of “orientation parameters” and requires a wisdom-guided “reconceptualization”, while in relation to armed conflict it is more of the elaboration of “test parameters” and requires a wisdom-guided “criteria reflection”.

In my opinion, the most important aspect of a theological ethics of peace and conflict is, among many others, through the eschatological dimension inherent in it, that which always avoid the threatening side trenches of demiurgic exaggeration and hopeless despair. Especially today the task of walking this narrow path has once again become very understandable for us.

In other words, the theological ethics of peace and conflict is simultaneously permeated by attitudes of humility and sober hope. Thinking and working in this way means being able to combine two things in a complementary way. On the one hand,to realistically accept what surpasses one’s possibilities, so as not to exaggerate with the presumed “big leap”, but limit oneself to small and safe stages. On the other hand, to not give up to what is possible here and now, that means not to reduce oneself to mere “deficit minimisation”, but rather stay focused on what is always beyond.

On this basis, it is then possible to work in an affirmative and constructive manner with the gradual and dynamic structure of negative and positive peace. This is – quite figuratively speaking – firmly anchored in its foundation and directed upwards to promote growth and in this way does most justice to human life and coexistence.

The minimalist concept of negative peace means that there is no war and no threat of war, that people do not directly experience or concretely fear physical violence. The more far-reaching concept of positive peace, in contrast, involves reducing hardship, avoiding violence and mitigating lack of freedom, significantly, more extensive defence and participation rights.

And even if, in the ultimate centring on the human being, a positive peace in the internal and international sphere is one of the indispensable conditions for individuals and communities to develop in the best possible way, in many places of our world the adequate commitment must first of all concern entirely negative peace, which seems to be so scarce.

The fact that there is no war and there is no threat of war, that people do not experience or concretely fear direct physical violence, requires, in the event of clear aggression, first of all, thrust responsibly the arm of the aggressor and support with equal prudence those who do so – with humility and sober hope.

Marco H. Schrage Comencini

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