Russia's appalling war of aggression against the Ukraine has been going on for more than a year now, and still there is no peace in sight. The dying and killing continues. It is becoming increasingly obvious that talking of "victory" and "winning the war" is profoundly questionable. The numbers of soldiers killed and of civilian casualties continue to rise. Almost daily we receive news of war crimes and atrocities, especially against prisoners of war, women, and children.
More and more increasingly heavy weapons are being supplied from outside at shorter and shorter intervals. It has long since ceased to be a territorially limited conflict; more and more participants and uninvolved parties are being drawn into the dynamics of war. Moreover, the war is fuelling the already dramatic international food and climate crisis. We are shocked by this and cannot remain silent.
In view of the terrible losses of life and the incalculable escalation dynamics, this war must end immediately. Our faith in the "God of peace" (1 Cor 14:33), who is a lover of life (Wisdom 11:26), dictates that we say so most emphatically.
At present, we do not know what a concrete solution to the conflict can look like that does justice to the need for security of all those involved. Neither a unilateral "No more arms deliveries!" nor a "Just don't go 'soft' on Putin!" signifies a plausible path to peace. The escalating dynamics will not bring us one millimetre closer to the goal of peace. On the contrary! We see it as our duty to warn against such delusions.
The present resolution tries to live up to a mandate given to the Moderating Committee of the Reformed Alliance by its General Assembly in Halle (Saale) in May 2022. Under the terrible impact of the war of aggression against the Ukraine that is in breach of international law, the General Assembly had set itself the task of self-critically evaluating the previous peace-ethics course of the Reformed Alliance, initiated in the Moderating Committee's declaration "The Confession of Jesus Christ and the Church's Responsibility for Peace" (1982) and brought up to date in the guiding principles of its Interim Appeal on the Church's Responsibility for Peace (2017).
In the meantime, a threatening global development had emerged as regards an increasing readiness to use armed force to resolve conflicts. In Halle we wanted to check whether these guiding principles were still meaningful in view of the unilateral Russian war of aggression, or whether they might need to be supplemented or readjusted in the current situation. Since the discussion could only be started at the General Assembly, the Moderating Committee was asked to continue to work on this complex issue. The present vote is not a new 'peace declaration', but an up-to-date consideration of those guiding principles of the 2017 interim call that are central today.
We address this resolution primarily to our members and to interested congregations who are looking for guidance in the complex current situation that does justice to our particular confessional tradition. We hope that with this text we will contribute to the fact that in the widely polarised situation, beyond black and white, intermediate tones will increasingly flow into the perceptions and discussions. In this way, we hope to be able to assume at least a small part of the theological and ethical responsibility currently imposed on us.
Guiding Principle I: The peace of God is the central promise and calling of the church.
The guiding principle reminds us that the peace of God does not want to be understood as a timeless, distant, abstract presupposition, but as an ever-present perspective. It is from this perspective that we view the action of God and the destiny of the Church. This peace characterises both God's care for his creation, which must always be envisioned anew, and the central focus of the Church’s special vocation. It brings to our lives the necessary strength encouraging and enabling us to participate in his mission of peace.
In doing so, it is important to keep in mind the liberation and obligation of the first commandment. It opens space for our own decisions and movements in the face of God. At the same time, it obliges us to be on a journey in the name of God, within the limits and with the standards that God sets. This can only be rightly perceived if we neither bow down to other gods nor allow ourselves to be impressed by the presumptions of the powers of death. These include, in particular, the allurements of military strength and armed force.
In the present day, the audacity of such powers would seem to have been allocated a firm place once again in dealing with all geopolitical challenges. The Church's vocation, beyond objecting to all violent conflicts, is also to overcome the many structural sources of conflict in security and economic policies that contribute to future acts of violence and war. We are confident that God's promised shalom has dawned among us and will fully prevail. We express this again and again in the petition for the hallowing of God's name.
Guiding Principle II: The confession of faith challenges us to pray, think and work for a just peace.
Christ is our peace and the peace of the world. Despite all the necessary disputes about realistic perceptions and assessments of political and social situations and conflicts, he is and remains the reality that calls Christians at all times to pray, to reconsider, to think ahead, and to act.
Prayer is the first act of peace, it limits fantasies of power and feelings of powerlessness, it keeps longing and hope alive, it opens eyes and hearts to new prospects for God and human beings.
Thinking and acting must become free from the logics of rigorism and pragmatism. For both accept death and dying as unalterable for the time being. The use of military force and the threat of it seem to have changed more and more from a last resort into a supposedly reasonable option for conflict resolution. Its dangers are hardly discussed any more, sometimes not even named. Critical questioning and calls for further negotiations, on the other hand, are often suspected of collaboration with the aggressor or ridiculed as unworldly.
Those who consider military force to be justified must also provide information on where, when and how it should keep and find its measure and limit. Those who seek just peace struggle to see more in the opponent than the enemy, and at the same time have a special obligation to those who suffer injustice.
Guiding Principle III: The current intensification of international conflicts stands in sharp contrast to the reconciliation made real in Jesus Christ.
We see that in many places of the world conflicts are coming to a head and power relations are shifting; the preservation of peace does not seem to be given top priority in the context of geopolitical and economic interests. New technical possibilities create the conditions for new forms of attacks on the infrastructure of states and develop an enormous potential for aggressive provocation. Where mistrust grows, the readiness for conflict also grows. The politically construed notion of a "(historical) turning point" aims to describe this new situation using the example of the Ukraine war and refers to a radical departure from the peace and reconciliation policy after the end of the Second World War.
God's peace surpasses our understanding. His historical turning point is the act of reconciliation in Jesus Christ, with which he created a new reality that is for all people. Because the whole of creation is allowed to celebrate this new beginning, thinking in friend-foe categories is no longer possible and stands in sharp contrast to the reconciliation that has become reality in Jesus Christ. Even when everything speaks against it, we hold on to the fact that there is a perspective for us beyond the world that does not permit enmity.
The peace we seek and pursue (Ps 34:15) begins where the will to reconciliation is not abandoned. That is why we support the rights-preserving efforts of international peace organisations and every commitment that serves a just peace. Where we can, we want to participate even now in developing perspectives on what forms the path towards peaceful coexistence and steps towards a future reconciliation between Russia and Ukraine might take after the war has ended.
Guiding Principle V: "Swords to ploughshares!" (Is 2:4) This biblical vision calls for steps to overcome the vicious circle of fear and violence fuelled by the possession and export of weapons.
The biblical message constantly questions our thinking and actions in the search for what serves peace and breaks through apparent implicitness and automatisms. This healing disruption is built on the promise of Jesus "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God." (Mt 5:9)
In view of the continuing escalation and spiralling rhetoric, which does not even stop at the threat of using nuclear weapons, it is important to look for ways to break this spiral, to ask for serious alternatives that can put an end to the suffering and death in this war.
We are convinced that seeking and pursuing the path of diplomacy and negotiations is not synonymous with accepting the annexation of Ukrainian territories. Supplying arms under a premise of "Ukraine must win" cannot be justified as the only answer.
Moreover, in view of the East-West conflict, which is once again coming to a head as a result of the war of aggression on the Ukraine, a clear stance against the "development, provision and use of weapons of mass destruction", as formulated in the 1982 Peace Declaration, remains highly topical.
Guiding Principle VI: In view of the widespread failure of international armed peace missions, the primacy of civil conflict resolution applies more than ever.
In the light of the audacity of the Russian attack on the Ukraine, the general public hardly takes notice of the experiences of many organisations (e.g., "Civil Peace Service" or "Centre for International Peace Operations") and research on civil conflict transformation. The military response presents itself as being without alternative. As churches, we trust and witness to God's promise of comprehensive shalom and reject the belief in redemptive violence. Interrupting and minimising violence and working towards a just peace remain the goal of all peace ethics efforts.
The "primacy of the civil, i.e. civil conflict resolution" and the "preferential option for non-violence" are to be upheld at all costs. It is widely recognised that this conflict cannot be resolved militarily, but so far this insight has not produced any consequences. Security strategies must integrate research and experience that have shown that in many cases non-violent movements are more successful than militarily led conflicts.
Spaces must be opened up for developing and implementing peacebuilding initiatives, strengthening civil society and promoting confidence-building measures. The practice of civil conflict resolution must be understood as a process that must always be nurtured. We must be careful in how we deal with differences in the debates and in the commitment to peace.