In our broken world, we experience and contribute to conflict on a daily basis. Although military conflict may feel far away to many of us, we too often behave in ways that threatens our relationships with our families, neighbors, and communities. We also fail to recognize that in a globalized world, our actions and inactions can impact on wars on the other side of the world.
In the midst of such brokenness, we are called to be peacemakers.
How, in a world of such strife, are Christians to build peace? How should we think about war? And how do we talk to one another about these issues with open hearts in patience, love and humility?
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God." - Matthew 5:9
[Based on interest from churches, mandates from Synod, and current events, we focus on a select number of active issues. While this is not one of our active issues, feel free to browse the resources and information on this page. As need arises, we’ll update this page with new information and resources.]
The CRC’s foundational position statement on war was adopted by Synod 1939 in response to the looming threat of World War II and the controversy surrounding pacifism. Stemming out of the Just War tradition, the statement rules out pacifism but allows for selective conscientious objection to military service when a serviceman is convinced that the given war to which he is summoned is unjust. The 1939 Synod did not deem it necessary to articulate what is meant by just-war, because the Reformed confessions contain basic teachings on government in matters on war (e.g. Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 105 and Belgic Confession, Art 36).
Synods of the ‘70s and ‘80s
The statement adopted by Synod 1939 was affirmed, supplemented, and nuanced in later decades to speak to new concerns about conscientious objection, amnesty, and nuclear disarmament that arose in response to the conflict in Vietnam and the Cold War.
The first major elaboration of the 1939 statement occurred at Synod 1977. The committee report “Ethical Decisions about War” expanded on several basic components of just-war theory such as “the law of love and the sixth commandment,” “War,” “ the Christian’s dilemma,” “the state,” “ the conscience,” and “the church.” Drawing on this discussion, the report proposed fifteen guidelines for ethical decisions about war and conscientious objection.
Synod 1982 further developed the CRC position on war by adopting “Guidelines for Justifiable Warfare,” which expressed the concerns about the use of nuclear weapons within the context of a more comprehensive discussion of the denomination’s views on warfare. In brief, the principle of proportionality--meaning a war should not do more harm than good--leads the CRC to conclude that the widespread use of nuclear weapons in a war would make it unjust. These guidelines were meant to assist CRC members and institutions in evaluating the ongoing public discussion concerning nuclear weapons, and they were also sent to the Canadian Prime Minister and the U.S. President in the hope that they would influence our governments.
In 1985, Synod responded to an appeal that the CRC support tax resistance as a form of conscientious objection. Individual members of the CRC refused to pay the percentage of their income tax that funded the US military budget, because they believed the US government was engaged in “idolatrous militarism.”
Synod decided to response with another set of guidelines, this time on the topic of “Conscientious Objection and Tax Resistance.” These instruct individuals to object to government policies that are incompatible with biblical teaching, but to first exhaust exhaust legal means before turning to civil disobedience as a last resort. It is not the role of the denomination to join individual members in civil disobedience, but to support them through prophetic proclamation, pastoral care, and diaconal support.
The CRC Today
In 2006, Synod adopted a comprehensive War and Peace report, strongly calling for the CRC to “speak a word of peace” and to be an agent of shalom in a war-torn world. Synod set out steps by which Christians should approach the task of peace-building in a series of recommendations that include:
encouraging congregations and members to speak out on issues such as arms production and alternatives to war;
calling on the church to speak prophetically to the governments of the United States and Canada on moral issues related to preventive and preemptive military actions and weapons of mass destruction;
making resources available to churches to assist them in ministering to members who are contemplating entering the military or who are veterans of military service;
calling on agencies and members of the church to promote and actively engage in international initiatives for building peace with justice.
Selective Conscientious Objection
Synod 2006 also urged the CRC to advocate for policies that enable selective conscientious objection. U.S. laws on conscientious objection only recognize members of pacifist churches that object to participation in any conflict. There is currently no means by which Christians serving in the military from the just-war tradition can be recognized as conscientious objectors to a specific war that they believe is unjust.
The CRC is thus engaged in ongoing advocacy to achieve the addition of government procedures that enable those who object to selective conflicts on the basis of just-war criteria to be honorably discharged from the armed services. Chaplain (COL) Herman Keizer of the U.S. Army and retired CRC Director of Chaplains, has outlined several points on selective conscientious objection.
Every day we have opportunities to contribute to a culture of peace and the way of reconciliation. Through the way we teach children to handle conflict at school, through our involvement with the criminal justice system, and through the way we deal with conflict in our churches, ministries, or jobs, we can bear witness to the God of love. In our day-to-day lives, we are to help people be reconciled to God and to each other.
Members of the Christian Reformed Church are also involved in peacebuilding at the national and international levels. They come in contact with and have influence on issues of international peace and security through a wide variety of roles: missionaries, aid workers, public servants, and members of our military forces, all of whom face these issues and their consequences as a core part of their vocations. However, all CRC members also have the opportunity for positive or negative influence on conflicts that may seem far away, through our consumption choices (e.g. conflict diamonds) and through opportunities to advocate for just action by our government.
In the political arena, being a peacemaker can mean resisting unjust war and advocating for creative alternatives. Nonmilitary measures of resolving conflict continue to expand and sharpen in expertise and effectiveness. The CRC and its members can contribute from their Reformed heritage to the task of shaping public dialogue about international peace and security. We need to make sure our involvement in civil society promotes peace in every way.
When a situation of crisis occurs, the church has the moral authority to speak to the principles that should be guiding decision-makers. For example, in 1982 Synod resolved to send "Guidelines for Justifiable Warfare" to the Canadian Prime Minister and the U.S. President; the guidelines expressed the concerns of the CRC regarding the use of nuclear weapons in the context of a comprehensive statement of the church’s views on warfare (see Acts of Synod 1982, pp. 103-6 and Attachment C).
Part of the ongoing commitment to peace involves addressing root causes of conflict and war. Poverty, oppression, and exploitation all contribute to insecurity and vulnerability and create situations where violence is perceived to be the only way to make change. Bringing security and justice to people frees them to realize their God-given potential.
Waging peace is not easy. However, in the CRC community there are individuals and agencies that can provide guidance and models for faith-based peace witness, helping the denomination as a whole to renew and better live out our commitment to be agents of peace with justice in the world.