Are there non-violent ways to resolve world’s conflicts?

Categories: Changing our World

The Aug. 15 issue of The Visitor mistakenly featured a previously published column from Bernie Evans. Below is the column that should have been printed.

Responses that automatically embrace violence and war as the only way to vindicate violated rights seem dreadfully inadequate

“All these considerations compel us to undertake an evaluation of war with an entirely new attitude” (“Church in the Modern World,” 80).

Forty-nine years ago, the bishops of the Second Vatican Council called us to think differently about war. Concerned about a possible Cold War nuclear devastation, the bishops cited an earlier claim by Pope John XXIII that atomic weapons make it “irrational to believe that war is still an apt means of vindicating violated rights” (“Peace on Earth,” 127).

Today, the devastating consequences of current wars might cause us to embrace the same commitment: to examine our attitude toward war.

Other possibilities

The world was stunned by the attack on a commercial airliner that killed 298 people over the war-torn region of eastern Ukraine. The Israelis and Palestinians perpetrated maddening attacks on each other with little regard for the loss of civilian lives. In Iraq, the radical militant ISIS group consolidates its brutal control over sections of that nation only a few years after thousands of American soldiers lost their lives in that combat zone.

Is there another way to think about resolving conflict and tensions around the world? There is, but it is not one that most of us care to consider.

Catholic social teaching makes the point that governments have the right to defend their nations (“Church in the Modern World,” 79). This same teaching, however, sets forth radical challenges for Christians, especially Catholics, to ponder — challenges that invite new ways of defending our freedom and of confronting today’s forms of aggression, militancy and terrorism.

In 1983, the U.S. Catholic bishops published a pastoral letter that summarized some of these teachings. “The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response” acknowledged a nation’s right to self-defense while summarizing the traditional just war criteria. Then, it drew from the Second Vatican Council to present fresh thoughts about the Christian’s response to aggression in our day.

Nonviolent resistance received high praise from the bishops who recognized that there can be various ways for people to resist aggression without resorting to war: organized popular defense, peaceable noncompliance and noncooperation.

Popular defense, they noted, seeks not only to avoid harming other persons, but also to seek the good of the other, winning the other over, making the adversary a friend.

As Pope John Paul II would later write, “appealing to the conscience of the adversary and seeking to reawaken in him a sense of shared human dignity” (“On the Hundredth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum,” 23). The bishops’ document went even further to praise Christian pacifism and persons who choose this approach to resisting evil even to the point of “accepting the need to die rather than to kill” (224).

The “Challenge of Peace” recognizes that most people will regard such teachings as unrealistic and impractical. In today’s context, many will ask: How do you stop terrorists bent on our destruction? Or a Russian president daring to reclaim parts of the old Soviet Union? Or a Hamas organization intent on the destruction of the state of Israel? Difficult questions without easy answers.

One thing seems clear: Past responses that automatically embrace violence and war as the only way to vindicate violated rights seem dreadfully inadequate. Modern Catholic social teachings that have steadily moved toward nonviolent approaches to resolving conflict had their origin in a global context threatened by nuclear warfare. The geo-political context of today’s crises is a similarly new landscape demanding evaluation of war with entirely new attitudes.

The “Challenge of Peace” calls us to live in the way that Jesus mandated his followers to live: “We believe work to develop nonviolent means of fending off aggression and resolving conflict best reflects the call of Jesus both to love and to justice” (78).

Unrealistic? Impractical? Naive? Before dismissing such teachings, we might measure them against the effectiveness and human cost of current wars in Gaza, Ukraine and Iraq.