Life and Peace—By What Means?
“LIFE AND PEACE.” That was the theme of a unique world conference held at Uppsala University, Sweden, April 20-24, 1983. What made it unique? For the first time in history, church leaders at the highest international level met in an effort to reach agreement on how their churches would view war, violence and nuclear armament, as well as promote life and peace in the world.
About 160 leaders representing the Orthodox Catholic Church, the Roman Catholic Church, Lutheran state churches and free churches of 60 nationalities participated. Some 200 journalists from all over the world were also present.
Peace Through Armed Resistance?
One of the main questions was concerning how the churches would view involvement in armed resistance. Archbishop Olof Sundby, the leader of the Swedish State Church and a member of the Host Committee of the conference, declared that it is proper for Christians to take part in armed resistance if the purpose is to stop violence from triumphing. And Vitalij Borovoj, Orthodox representative and a professor of theology, openly admitted in an interview: “The Russian Orthodox Church has no pacifist history. Many priests fought hard against the revolution, and the revolutionaries viewed the priests as representatives of the czar regime.” He added: “Naturally, as a Christian I am against all wars. It is, however, right to fight as we did during the second world war.”
Indicating that their churches do not have a good reputation as promoters of life and peace in the world is the final resolution, called The Message. Adopted by the conference delegates, it reads in part: “We humbly confess that as Christians we have been unfaithful to the Lord. Our own divisions as Christians weaken our witness to peace. As citizens of nuclear states some of us bear a greater shame. We repent, all together.” Taking the Lord’s forgiveness for granted, it continues: “But now we must accept the forgiveness of the Lord.”
Unable to Agree
The final resolution of the conference had to be adjusted and rewritten several times before it could be accepted for adoption. It did not show agreement on the part of all the delegates.
For example, in a preliminary version, one statement read: “But from the Christian stand-point reliance upon the threat and possible use of nuclear weapons is unacceptable as a way of avoiding war.” But, this had to be changed to: “Most of us believe that from the Christian stand-point reliance upon the threat and possible use of nuclear weapons is unacceptable as a way of avoiding war. Some are willing to tolerate nuclear deterrence only as a temporary measure in the absence of alternatives.” Evidently, some church leaders were not against nuclear deterrence as a way to avoid war!
This attitude concerning nuclear weapons was also borne out in the next statement of the resolution. In the early version it read: “Even their possession is inconsistent with our faith in God.” This had to be changed, as follows: “Some are willing to tolerate nuclear deterrence only as a temporary measure in the absence of alternatives. To most of us, however, the possession of nuclear weapons is inconsistent with our faith in God.” Also changed was the declaration: “We are agreed, therefore, that the existence of these weapons contradicts the will of God.” It ended up reading: “Most of us therefore believe . . .”
God’s Kingdom or the UN?
Interestingly, the resolution of this world conference of churches did not express recognition of God’s Kingdom as the only means to bring lasting life and peace. In fact, it did not even mention God’s Kingdom. Instead, the resolution followed the traditional position taken by Christendom’s churches in support of the United Nations organization and other human endeavors. It stated: “As further measures we urge: 1. The upholding and extension of the authority of the United Nations, international law and support to full implementation of the Helsinki agreement.” And, giving “guidelines for action by the churches,” it appealed to them to “support politicians and governments in plans to develop strategies for peace and systems of common security.”
How different was the position taken by Jesus Christ, who taught strict neutrality in worldly political affairs and instructed his disciples to look to God’s Kingdom as the only means of establishing lasting world peace! (John 17:14, 16; 18:36; Matthew 6:10; Revelation 21:3, 4) True Christians recognize the need for those who “would love life and see good days” to “seek peace and pursue it.” (1 Peter 3:10, 11) In doing this, they follow the Bible’s injunction: “As far as it depends upon you, be peaceable with all men.”—Romans 12:18.
The “Life and Peace” resolution called for the nations to make peace by bringing their “negotiations to positive conclusions” and by “the total elimination of all nuclear weapons within five years.” It has now been over a year and a half since the “Life and Peace” conference. Will this goal of peace be achieved in the less than three and a half years remaining? Will their efforts truly result in eventually bringing peace and security to the world? Or will God’s Kingdom have to intervene to wipe out all existing governments with their threats to life and peace and restore this earth to peaceful paradisaic conditions? The years just ahead will no doubt supply the answer.—1 Thessalonians 5:3; Daniel 2:44; Isaiah 9:7.