Peace with Justice: International Day of Peace by Jennifer Henry
Jennifer Henry is the Executive Director of KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives
Say No to peace
if what they mean by peace
is a rampart of gleaming missiles
the arming of distant wars
money at ease in its castle
and grateful poor at the gate
Tell them that peace
Is the hauling down of flags
The forging of guns into ploughs
The giving of fields to the landless
And hunger a fading dream.
I do not aspire to any peace. I seek a just peace, a peace forged and maintained in justice.
Our scriptures testify to this goal of “just peace.” The powerful, familiar phrase “they shall beat their swords into ploughshares” (Micah 4:3) is not only about disarmament. Swords are not just destroyed, but transformed into tools of sustenance and livelihood. Here there are hints of economic equity or of a peace dividend shared by all.
The text affirms “just peace” not as an impossible dream but as real and expected transformation, to which we are drawn through our belief and our action. It is a vision for everyone, not restricted to one people, or one group; “many nations shall come” (Micah 4:2).
The same text also has an early anticipation of human rights: “Each shall sit under their own vines and fig trees and no one will make them afraid” (Micah 4:4). “Their own vine and fig tree” is an image of food and housing that evokes our present day covenant of economic, social and cultural rights while the absence of fear resonates with contemporary agreements on civil and political rights. Just and sustainable peace is inextricably linked to the realization of human rights.
As Christians, we have the theory, the instruction, the goal, but it is the understatement of many centuries to say we have some problem with the practice. History includes a litany of wars, Christians against Christians, and Christians against those of other faiths–many examples of most terrible collusion with empire in the destruction of others. And there are examples where Christian intolerance, and even hatred towards the “other,” continues to this day. At this time of international reflection on peace, a Christian moment of repentance is more than required.
But guilt is no excuse for inaction. We can be forgiven. Our faith’s central message is that transformation is possible, even for us who feel complicit with horrors done in God’s name.
Our responsibility is to act consistently towards that “just peace”-“to beat swords into ploughshares,” or in the words of our Christian scriptures, to “follow after the things that make for peace” (Romans 14:19).
How do we do that now, and here, when neither justice nor peace seem resonant concepts? How do we practice “just peace,” here and now, when, thru the eyes of many, peace reigns? If we think of peace as only the absence of violence, then, with no tanks on our streets and no fighting in our hills, we see peace everywhere and lose our motivation to attend to its needs.
But if we see peace as the presence of transformed beliefs and new collective understandings, the presence of economic and ecological justice and democratic inclusion, the presence of realized human rights and greater equality, then we have a long way to go.
Even if it’s unpopular, if it causes an uncomfortable conversation at the family dinner table or over the neighbours’ fence, even then, it is still right and duty to see and name injustice and work for the things that make for a just and sustained peace, wherever they may be.
We might name:
A war in the atmosphere and stand with the millions in New York and around the world who say that peace means climate justice now.
We might name:
The forgotten catastrophe of potential nuclear war and say that peace means the abolition of nuclear weapons.
We might name:
A war against the wild things, and the wild places, threatened by fossil fuel addiction and rapacious resource extraction, and lend our voice to the water, air, and creatures at risk. In our faith tradition, we might call this preserving the rainbow covenant, the peace among the species.
We might name:
A war of exclusion at our borders, where our failure at a swift and generous response to refugees leaves people to languish in harm’s way. We can do better, far better, as a wealthy and spacious country.
We might name:
A war of inequity against Indigenous peoples–boil water advisories, missing and murdered women, gaps in education and child welfare funding, resource extraction on their lands without consent, and say that reconciliation means justice in the now, true justice, true equality in Indigenous communities.
And we might name:
A growing intolerance to criticism and say that peace means a robust civil society, vigorous policy discussion, and protection of rights, including rights to dissent.
Attending to injustice, economic, ecological, social, closing huge gaps and inequities, defending human rights—this is how we “follow after the things that make for peace” (Romans 14:19).
It is not only through opposition to our government’s participation in military action that we articulate our commitment to peace. We can do it every day when we open our eyes to injustice, when we say it’s not good enough, when we believe that transformation and justice is possible, and when we speak, act and advocate until it is so.
In responding to the call to be peacemakers, we don’t have to do everything, but we do need to do something, some things, with a passion that cannot help but be infectious to those we meet. May we strive to live this kind of vision of peace, embolden our courage and commitment, and inspire each other to be that little bit stronger, clearer, and bolder for peace with justice.
Say ‘No’ to Peace
If what they mean by peace
Is the quiet misery of hunger
The frozen silence of fear,
The silence of broken spirits,
The unborn hopes of the oppressed.
Tell them that peace is the shouting of children at play
The babble of tongues set free
The thunder of dancing feet
And a father’s voice singing