Nonviolence and Humanitarian Intervention

1996 Church of the Brethren Statement



The end of the Cold War and the spread of violent conflicts present the Church of the Brethren with difficult challenges–to understand the causes of war more fully, to provide more effective antidotes to them, and to help victims of violence. Although we welcome the end of half a century of US-Soviet ideological conflict and military rivalry, no sooner have old fears faded from view than new dangers loom on the horizon:

  • The easing of nuclear threats between Moscow and Washington has given way to growing fears that nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons of mass destruction may spread to additional countries.
  • The gap between the world’s rich and poor has now widened to the largest extent ever in history.
  • Environmental problems spurred by overconsumption, resource shortages, pollution, and burgeoning populations threaten unprecedented violence to God’s creation and stimulate selfish, warring rivalries among those created in God’s image.
  • Ethnic, national, and religious prejudices, inflamed by political leaders seeking power through inciting citizens to hate and fear others, spark violent conflicts and fragment civil societies throughout the world.

In this context, the Church of the Brethren faces difficult questions as national governments and the United Nations use military power to administer humanitarian aid in societies where no domestic order prevails, to rescue civilians threatened with repression and genocide, and to enforce existing international laws prohibiting aggression. Although the church has affirmed its commitment to nonviolence, reconciliation, and humanitarian assistance in official statements and numerous peace and service programs, we have not directly addressed issues related to the use of military force in support of humanitarian assistance or United Nations peacekeeping activities. These issues, expressed in the following questions, are dealt with in this statement:

  • Should the church support the use of military force by the UN or national governments in pursuit of humanitarian goals?
  • How can the church best relate to international peacemaking initiatives, provide humanitarian aid, and implement the peaceful norms with which it agrees?
  • How can the church best encourage ethically responsible forms of resolving domestic and international conflicts?


Can Violence Be Justified? The dominant rationale used to justify resort to violence focuses on concern for victims. The most common question posed to Christians with a commitment to nonviolence is “What would you do if someone attacked your family?” Such a possible threat is seen as having its international counterpart. The Allied cause in both world wars found strong impetus in fear of the Germans evoked by reports of German atrocities. For decades the related question was “But what about the Russians?” The assumed answer was that the United States and its allies needed sufficient military might to deter the Soviets from doing the terrible things they would otherwise do. In the media children and adults see countless scenes in which a hero uses violence to rescue victims from sinister assault or valiant warriors vanquish evil subhuman enemies.

In the period since the end of the Cold War this rationale for violence has undergone some recasting. The plight of victims in Kuwait, Somalia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Haiti, Sudan, and other strife-torn areas is brought into view. Many citizens see the United States as a sort of humanitarian world policeman engaging in military interventions or wars whenever the plight of victims makes these actions seem necessary. The continued funding of the immense U.S. military establishment at near Cold War levels, even when there is no superpower rival, finds its most appealing rationale in the assumed need to be prepared to do such “peacekeeping;” In a secondary way many citizens see the United Nations as taking a comparable role. From this perspective the underlying question is: How can military force be used to stop inhumanities such as genocide and bring about peace? But for Brethren the central question is: How can we express God’s love faithfully through nonviolent efforts to prevent violence before it begins, to stop it after it erupts, and to heal wounds after it ends?

A Biblical Response. Concern for victims, whether of overt violence or of unjust social and economic structures, is a key element in biblical faith. On that there is common ground with the dominant contemporary justification of resort to violence. But throughout the biblical revelation that concern is addressed in a very different way.

In the Hebrew understanding, God hears the cries of those who are victims, feels their anguish, and acts to help them. Out of the burning bush Yahweh said to Moses: (Exod. 3:7-8) “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians”.1

Throughout the Old Testament story God again and again heard the cries of those being violated by rich elites or, alien invaders. Most often pictured was God’s concern for the people of Israel. But that sovereign empathy embraced other nations as well (for example, Deut. 10:18-19; Isa. 19:18-25; 42:1-9; Jon. 3:10-11).

“God rose up to establish judgment, to save all the oppressed of the earth.” (Psa. 76:9)

The prophets felt with God and voiced God’s response to the cries and deeds of human beings. Much in the prophetic writings has to do with the plight of the Hebrews and other peoples suffering under oppression and the ravages of war. That plight is often seen as judgment upon sin, but then too God weeps with those who weep. In a description of the judgment coming upon a rival nation, God said:

“Therefore I wail for Moab; I cry out for all Moab; for the people of Kir-heres I mourn.” (Jer. 48:31)

As in the Exodus story, God is the one who finds ways to deliver victims from the destructive power of their enemies. The prophets called people to turn from reliance on military capabilities and alliances, put their trust in God, and align themselves with God’s acting (for example, Isa. 30:15-18; 31:1-5; Jer. 21:1-12; Hos. 14:1-3).

A skepticism about the claims and pretentions of rulers finds strong expression in the prophets, the words of Jesus, and the book of Revelation (for an example; Ezek. 28:1-19; Matt. 10:16-18; Mark 10:42-45; John 19:8-11 Rev. 13, 18) In a time when those who govern have unprecedented means to persuade the population that whatever they do is necessary and good (thus that any military intervention is humanitarian), biblical people do well to draw from that skepticism.

Throughout the Old Testament is the warning that evil comes upon those who do evil. This result is seen as God’s judgment, and God is often depicted as wiping out armies or destroying cities with their inhabitants. Many such passages seem to indicate that certain groups and nations are outside the compassion of God.

If Christians view this Old Testament outlook through the lens of God’s central revelation in Jesus Christ; questions remain but some conclusions stand out. God’s judgment upon sin is to be taken into account with utmost seriousness. There is with regard to doing evil a dark sowing and reaping (Jer. 6:19; Hos. 8:7; Gal. 6:7-8). Those who live by violence are brought down by what they do (Matt. 26:52; Rev. 13:10; 16:6). But Christians must not presumptuously try to become God’s agents executing terrible judgment upon wrongdoers (Luke 9:51-56; Rom. 12:19-21). Jesus himself did not do that (John 7:53-8:11; Matt. 26:53-54). Most of all in going to the cross, he made clear that God’s gracious love embraces every human being and every ethnic group. That love seeks out every rebel sinner–thus each one of us.

How Jesus Came to the Aid of Victims. Jews at the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry were longing for a messiah who would deliver them from oppression. The dilemma confronting Jesus was in essence quite similar to contemporary situations that are widely seen as necessitating a military “solution.” Many contemporaries of Jesus thought that only a violent uprising would throw off the Roman yoke. Jesus was tempted to move in that direction (Matt. 4:8-10; Luke 4:5-8). He felt the distress of his people under the Roman occupation But he refused to become a military messiah. He rejected the popular pressure to become a king who would lead his people against the Roman forces (John 6:15). He saw resort to violence as totally contrary to God’s will for him and as madness that would bring destruction on the Jewish nation (John 18:33-37; Luke 19:41-44; 21:20-24).

Jesus cast his lot with the poor and oppressed. He moved among the masses. He stood with those that were suffering and reached out to them (Matt. 9:35-36; Mark 1:32-34; Luke 6:20-26). His approach was not that of seizing political power by violence in order to set things right. Rather, he drew together a community of disciples committed to living out God’s intentions for humanity. Their life together was to be preserving salt, illuminating light, and permeating leaven for the world (Matt. 5:13-14; 13:33). He taught them to love enemies, to meet cursing with blessing and evil with good (Matt.5:38-48; Luke 6:27-29; 23:34).

Jesus’ concern for victims is vividly expressed in Matthew 25:31-46. He so much identifies with those who are hungry, thirsty, uprooted, without clothing, sick and in prison that he can say, “just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (v.40).

The sufferings mentioned in the passage are often a result of armed conflict. Jesus, stands in the midst of every population smitten by violence and with all the poor of the earth. He calls all human beings to join him in accompanying victims and healing their wounds.

In the conflict with adversaries who were determined to do away with him, Jesus lived out what he taught. For instance, when the authorities came to arrest Jesus, Peter drew his sword to defend him. But Jesus told Peter, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matt. 26:52). He rejected the use of violence even in the best possible cause and became the supreme victim of the human readiness to kill for what are seen as good reasons (John 11:47-50; 19:7,12). Jesus’ willingness to die at the hands of enemies rather than to kill brought redemption for all humanity (Matt. 26:26-28; Rom. 5:6-11; Rev. 5:6-10).

God’s revelation in Jesus Christ provides a very different sort of answer to the perennial questions intended to justify violence on behalf of victims. Yes, disciples are to care deeply about victims and act on their behalf. But what they do should be in accord with the teachings and spirit of Jesus. Moving against the life of another human being is never in harmony with what God has revealed in Jesus. In faithfulness to the Lord, disciples do not have guns to use against an attacker. Even when terrible inhumanities are being threatened or perpetrated, disciples refuse to become agents or advocates of violence. They cry out with victims. They intercede and pray against the powers of destruction. They may be called into actual accompaniment of victims, sharing their jeopardy, working at mediation, and joining with them in nonviolent resistance to those who victimize them. They seek the Spirit’s guidance into creative initiatives that can show the judging love of God to those who move against others.

The obvious objection is that for many situations responses in the spirit of Jesus are not adequate to deal with the threatened or actual violence. To this it can be said that when Jesus refused to become a military messiah, he held back from trying to provide a quick and full solution to things wrong in the world around him. He lived out, and called others to live out; God’s way of overcoming the world’s evil with good. Like the Master, disciples do not claim to have a swift remedy for every deplorable conflict. But they believe that this Lord calls them and all humanity to live out God’s amazing love toward enemies. Although God’s way often does not seem to win out in the short term, God’s people are sustained by Jesus’ promise that it will win out in the long term. In the surrounding society many do not recognize Jesus as Lord, and many who claim to, fail to see the issue of resort to violence as being under his Lordship. God’s intent proclaimed in the Gospel is that all human beings, individually and corporately, give themselves to Jesus Christ and his way. Disciples should strive to make that intent manifest in their lives and witness. They must not, therefore, give their support and blessing to governmental policies and actions that are in stark opposition to the way of Jesus. They seek to propose and promote policies and actions by government that do have some congruence with his way.

In 1989 Annual Conference declared: “The state is under God and is to be ‘God’s servant’ to order the interrelationships of human beings, to restrain evil, and to promote good (Rom. 13:3-4). Even when there is little or no recognition of God’s sovereignty, the state in all that it does is still accountable to God and what God requires.”2 What God requires has been revealed most clearly in Jesus Christ. Christian response to issues related to humanitarian intervention should be grounded in this revelation.


In our continuing effort to be God’s people, we find guidance in wisdom from the past. In numerous Annual Conference statements the church has declared that our peace stance is a renunciation of war but must also include active peacemaking and solidarity with victims. As early as 1775 the church emphasized both aspects when, during the devastation of the American Revolution, the Brethren and the Mennonites explained to the Pennsylvania Assembly, “we find no freedom in giving, or doing, or assisting in any thing by which men’s [and women’s] lives are destroyed or hurt,” but they dedicated themselves to serve all people “in every thing that can be helpful to the preservation of men’s [and women’s] lives.”3

In 1934 Annual Conference resolved that “all war is sin. We, therefore, cannot encourage, engage in, or willingly profit from armed conflict at home, or abroad. We cannot, in the event of war, accept military service or support the military machine in any capacity.”4

In 1951 the General Brotherhood Board said that the mere refusal to kill “does not reflect the whole essence of Christ’s example of redemptive love…. We are to leave behind the old ways and venture on the new paths which he pointed out.”5 In 1959 as the church sought to strengthen Brethren service efforts as one means of engaging in peacemaking, the Annual Conference affirmed: “Peace is not the absence of conflict but it requires the presence of justice. It is the ability to cope with conflict in nonviolent and helpful ways.”6 Similarly in 1988 Annual Conference declared: “The Brethren understand peace as something more than merely the silence of guns and bombs; it is also the presence of justice, the practice of mutuality, and the process of reconciliation.”7

Nearly fifty years ago, the Brethren sought to influence the United Nations toward “the highest principles of Christian international co-operation”8 and later affirmed the distribution of foreign economic aid through multilateral agencies such as the United Nations as a means of responding to the injustice of rampant poverty in nations around the world.9 Similarly, the 1959 Annual Conference strongly affirmed the call to provide humanitarian assistance and further stressed that such aid must also involve “the ministry of reconciliation, which includes both the teaching of peace and the deeds of peace.”10 The Church of the Brethren has also responded to concerns related to the poor and hungry through “self help” relief programs such as Heifer Project International.

The church has consistently counseled the use of nonviolent conflict resolution as a means of active peacemaking. The 1958 Annual Conference strongly exhorted members of the church to “unceasingly urge our government leaders to promote and use nonviolent methods and institutions.”11 The 1977 Conference called members of the church to urge governmental officials to “strengthen global institutions that facilitate nonviolent means of conflict resolution.”12 In 1991, Conference urged the church to “advance efforts toward a more peaceful world order through supporting the peacemaking efforts of the United Nations.”13 This statement, written before the UN military interventions in Somalia and elsewhere, assumed the more traditional, nonviolent role for peacemaking.


From the Scriptures and a long, rich history of Brethren discernment, a general orientation toward nonviolence and social action becomes clear. Brethren believe that means must be consistent with ends. Whether we perceive actions as means or ends, they must be compatible with Christ’s teachings and God’s will. Means that are at odds with their intended consequences have unintended results. The Gospel warnings against employing evil for good purposes are realistic and wise (for example, Matt. 5:38-48; Rom. 3:8; 12:14-18; 1 Th. 5:15-22).

The many forms of injury–physical, psychological, spiritual, individual or collective–when committed intentionally, are unChristlike. Although we recognize the inevitability of our daily complicity in the estrangement that characterizes the human condition, we are called to persist with humility in striving to reduce all forms of violence. In doing so we seek to love rather than to injure other people.

We recognize that in a fallen world there is need for confronting sin and evil. Passivity in the presence of injury or injustice is not an option for Christians. Non-coercive approaches, such as persuasion through teaching and witnessing, are preferable. Forms of restraint, although less desirable, may sometimes be necessary to protect others from injury and death. When a parent pulls a child from danger or citizens boycott a firm that persists in toxic pollution, life is affirmed. Such nonviolent action may be a necessary response of faithfulness in both interpersonal and social contexts.

Coercion that intentionally injures or kills other persons is violence that denies the teachings of Christ and usurps the role of God as judge and arbiter (Luke 6:37; Rom. 2:1-5; Jas. 4:11-12). Such violence distorts beyond recognition the intent to love others as God loves us (Rom. 13:8-10). It is incompatible with the Christian Gospel.

Our individual and collective histories testify to the travails of humankind that have come from attempting to use violence to correct injustice. We acknowledge that we may not always discern nonviolent actions that would adequately resolve every crisis. However, we seek their discovery and pursuit. Sometimes there may be no way–violent or nonviolent–to save a house or a people already on fire. We commit ourselves as disciples of Jesus Christ to work at prevention rather than to make futile gestures at uncontrollable infernos.

Our call to reject violence does not assume that contending parties in a conflict are equally right. We are called to reconciliation where possible, but we recognize that one party in a conflict may struggle to end injustice and oppression while the other struggles to maintain injustice and privilege. As Christians we are called to “overcome evil with good” (Rom. 1:21), not to seek compromise between evil and good. We must refrain from participating in dehumanizing processes necessary to do violence in all its forms. Our challenge is to recognize the connections that bind us all (see Acts 17:22-31) and the humanness of the “enemy.”

Our Christian nonviolence is not anarchist. On the contrary, we seek an orderly, legal, just, and peaceful global community. We light the path that leads away from military combat and cycles of violence that follow in its wake. We approve of local, state, national, and international actions based on mutual cooperation for the enhancement of life so long as they are remedial and life-preserving.

The church is called to relate to the state without approving injurious coercion as an acceptable means for either church or state. If it is necessary for the state to impose restraint, the church calls upon the state to use means that are non-injurious. We do not renounce the use of force in every situation; we do renounce the use of violent force–intentional injury or killing of people–in all situations. We recognize that not all physical force is violence and that the appropriate role of law enforcement is to prevent further injury without committing violence.

In rejecting violence, but acknowledging the necessity for nonviolent initiatives and physical restraint in a fallen world, Brethren must urge alternatives to military action, including mediation, negotiation, and nonviolent tactics. Genuinely nonlethal instruments that restrain but neither kill nor permanently injure might also be used in accord with compassion. Restraint must allow for redemptive possibilities. Killing, which is unalterable, irreversible, and absolute, must not be accepted. We recognize that disavowing of killing demands rethinking the role of government, but this requirement issues from the heart of the Gospel itself.


Problems of International Intervention. In applying these principles to current conflicts we recognize that governments often choose military means to aid humanitarian purposes before they have exhausted other less militaristic options. In addition, those governments favoring military intervention often should, because of their past arms export policies an miserly support for justice and human needs, share blame for conditions that give rise to gross violations of human rights. Having relied excessively on military means in the past and thereby having contributed to the causes of violence, the major powers then claim to come to the rescue of victims of militarism by employing more military power in humanitarian intervention. Moreover, when governments favor UN auspices for military intervention, they often have highly self-interested motives,14 as military powers have had throughout history when they have intervened unilaterally in weaker societies; The UN may appear to stand above national interests when in fact it may be manipulated to serve the vested interests of its most powerful members. In such cases, the poor and the weak whom Jesus described as “the least of these” are victimized by the powerful under the guise of United Nations internationalism. If the major powers would shift priorities from trying to make the UN system serve their national military and economic interests to addressing the underlying causes of violence and establishing the rule of law in world affairs, then conflicts over the long run could be solved without resort to collective violence.

Possibilities for Law Enforcement. We endorse efforts to abide by and enforce international laws that prohibit military aggression and the denial of human rights–rules that have been established by the international community and are in accord with our understanding of the Gospel. However, we must choose carefully the means by which we seek to nurture and enforce the norms of peace. Is UN use of force to maintain peace and achieve humanitarian purposes similar to police enforcement within domestic societies? Our church’s stance has been less clearly defined with regard to police enforcement than is our position on war.

In practice, Brethren have implicitly accepted some functions of domestic police in helping to carry out the purposes of the state, including “maintaining order, securing justice and freedom, and promoting the general welfare.”15 However, Annual Meeting minutes from the nineteenth century also reflect a continuing tradition of reservation about police duties and roles, especially as they might “require actions incompatible with Christ’s call.”16

International peacekeepers are increasingly called upon to function as police, enforcing agreed-upon rules and protecting the innocent. However, when peacekeeping becomes military action, it loses its similarity to law enforcement. Police action and military action are, in principle, two fundamentally different approaches. When police are functioning within appropriate purposes (which is not always the case), the primary distinctions between police and military action are clear:

  1. Law enforcement in intent avoids killing rather than seeking it, as is the case with military combat.
  2. Law enforcement focuses upon individuals suspected of guilt; military combat dehumanizes an enemy people and does not distinguish between the innocent and the guilty.
  3. Law enforcement, when just, seeks to protect, without prejudice, individual rights and interests for the benefit of the whole; military action usually protects special (national) interests.
  4. Domestic police operate, ideally, under clearly defined laws made and agreed to by the community, to which all parties, including officers, are subject; war, in spite of the Geneva Conventions, is essentially lawless.
  5. Police roles may include community service functions such as linking people with help and offering mediation in conflict, such as family interventions; military action has no such aim.17

Brethren recognize the legitimacy of civil authorities in restraining violence, keeping order, and protecting the vulnerable. There is, however, a growing militarization of the police in the United States that parallels increasing reliance on military force for international peacekeeping. We believe that such a movement toward greater police reliance on weapons adds to an escalating climate of violence in society. We call for the development of nonviolent alternatives to the use of lethal weapons in the implementation of police functions and for exploration of possibilities for an unarmed police force.

As Christians, we find reason under some circumstances to hesitate in relying upon civil law enforcement ourselves. When we call upon law enforcement authorities, we also take on a measure of responsibility for the potential violence, both physical and structural, that may mar their action. For example, a call to the police may set in motion a range of potential consequences, including the possibility that lethal weapons will be used in law enforcement. We who have declared ourselves unwilling to wield such weapons against other human beings must refuse to ask other to do so on our behalf.

Although proper domestic law enforcement offers a model for using international police enforcement in place of war dangers inherent in the domestic arena encourage caution in international enforcement efforts. As we can in principle support nonviolent domestic law enforcement to carry out the best purposes of government, so we affirm a growing role for nonviolent international law enforcement as distinct from military actions. Where domestic police, international peacekeepers, or multilateral humanitarian interventions avoid the use of violent force, we recognize they may play a constructive role.


The Church of the Brethren continues its longstanding support for United Nations efforts to build world peace.18 We support a more active United Nations seeking nonviolently to dampen civil wars and to come to the aid of victims of genocide, military aggression, and gross violations of human rights. Because the UN is the most representative global political institution, it can help move conflicts from The battlefield to the negotiating table and the international courtroom. In claiming authority over decision making for military intervention, it can reduce the likelihood that one country can claim a unilateral right to make war. We believe the UN should have the authority to prevent war.

People sometimes oppose international law because of a tendency to give higher loyalty to national sovereignty, which claims the need to kill some people in war, than to God’s sovereignty, which sees all people as precious in God’s sight. The Church of the Brethren believes that, although national sovereignty may serve good purposes, it may also tempt us to idolatry, in which we serve the gods of national power and wealth rather than the God of love calling us to care for “the least of these” throughout the world. Nationalism wedded to militarism is a particularly harmful idol because it obstructs genuine respect for others and the growth of world community among all of God’s creation. If we do not bow down to today’s idols, we can through the grace of God be loving without killing.

Inspired by this belief, we express concern about the troubling tendency among governments today to seek UN endorsement for military action. Although the UN is more representative of the world’s peoples than any single national government and deserves appropriate respect in this regard; it remains a political institution, subject to many of the flaws and abuses of power that from even before Jesus’ day have attended political institutions. Indeed, the UN acts only when its members authorize action. Our Christian faith leads us to refuse to participate in or support collective violence even if approved by the UN.

Out of love toward victims of poverty, oppression, and violence, we are called to earlier, more profound, and more lasting efforts to address the conditions that gives rise to violence. Our church should press for more effective preventive diplomacy to defuse rising tensions before they erupt into war, more serious economic development to avert desperate conditions, and more concerted peacebuilding19 to weave new strong social fabrics that cross boundaries of race, class, religion, ethnicity, and nationality. We have abundant though underused evidence that where socio-economic cooperation occurs, former adversaries study war no more.20 We believe our church, nation, and the UN, should focus on such measures to achieve equity and justice. As equity and justice increase, new social stability and deepening commitment to community can reduce the occasions for military interventions.

When persuasion fails to keep peace and coercion seems called for, we call upon the state and inter-governmental organizations like the UN to employ constructive rather than destructive enforcement measures. Emphasis should be on enforcing international law on individual law breakers, regardless of rank, rather than on using military combat to defeat an entire society. The powerful as well as the weak should be held accountable to existing international laws that prohibit genocide and aggressive use of military force. These laws were universally endorsed in precedents set in the Nuremberg and Tokyo War Crimes Tribunals and have been subsequently reaffirmed by most members of the UN. Wherever possible those accused of crimes against the peace should be tried in duly authorized, impartial international courts limited to nonlethal penalties. Where the accused cannot be immediately apprehended and tried, evidence should be systematically gathered, and they should be subject to arrest when they leave territory controlled by those shielding them from the law. Persons who resist UN efforts to apprehend those indicted for crimes or who forcefully impede UN personnel engaged in humanitarian assistance should themselves be considered indictable for crimes against the peace, subject to trial, and, if convicted, prevented from holding public office and from further obstructing international law. In keeping with God’s love and forgiveness, we believe no court should impose the death penalty.21 For international law enforcement to succeed in deterring future crimes against humanity, it is absolutely essential that these processes be impartial and applied equally to all nationalities. Unless public pressures demand and legal institutions encourage such impartiality, law will be used like war to assert that might makes right.

When UN coercive enforcement takes the form of economic sanctions, these should focus on decision-making elites and aim at changing their behavior rather than place life threatening burdens upon the general population. Economic sanctions should never be applied to food, medicines, and essentials for meeting the basic needs of any people.


Peaceable Community. The peaceable call of Jesus Christ comes first of all to Christians in their life together in the church. The church is empowered to make visible the way of Jesus. The peacemaking efforts and witness it directs toward the wider society and world should have a credible base in peacemaking within the church. Therefore, the Church of the Brethren in congregations, districts, and denominational programs shall:

  1. teach all members about the Brethren understanding that Jesus Christ calls us away from all reliance on violence and into active peacemaking;
  2. teach about and work at conflict resolution and reconciliation in our families, congregations, and denomination;
  3. instruct all members not to have guns for protection against other people;22
  4. advocate “the things that make for peace” (Luke 19:42), the ways of living that lead toward a future filled with blessing and harmonious relationships rather than with violence and destruction;
  5. lay low the dividing walls of hostility (Eph. 2:14) because of racial, ethnic, religious, class, national, and other differences to live out the unity of the church as the body of Christ and the unity of humanity as created and loved by God;
  6. train and upon invitation deploy Christian conciliation and peacemaking teams and nonviolent monitors in zones of conflict to dampen hostilities and to discourage violence and physical abuse;
  7. work with churches located in areas of conflict to encourage teaching and training in nonviolence and conflict resolution so that churches may be agents of God’s healing love; and
  8. encourage the development of more effective nonviolent tactics for defense against war and tyranny

The Church of the Brethren should commit resources for witness, education, and persuasion of officials in the US government and at the United Nations, and through the Brethren presence in Washington DC, educate our own members and speak truth to the principalities and powers. The church should attempt to exert influence in the larger world community to:

  1. affirm with consistency and persistence the inclusive love revealed in Jesus Christ toward all members of God’s human family;
  2. call upon US governmental leaders to support people centered development (such as Heifer Project International) in order to eliminate conditions that encourage violence, to demilitarize world society, and to bolster the rule of law and democratic governance in world affairs;
  3. encourage support for the United Nations and other intergovernmental organizations when their policies are in harmony with making peace through peaceful means and, alternatively, to provide constructive criticism if policies are not in harmony with justice and nonviolent means;
  4. encourage the United States and other countries to comply with existing international laws and accept the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice as compulsory;
  5. support the creation of a permanent international criminal court to provide opportunity, whenever possible, for impartial judicial proceedings for those who are victims of, or are accused of, war crimes, terrorism, and other violations of human rights laws;23
  6. encourage study of nonlethal instruments to restrain harmful acts;
  7. support policies to reduce military spending and international arms trade;
  8. encourage the demilitarization of international relations in general and the abolition of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons of mass destruction with particular urgency;
  9. support the establishment of a standing unarmed UN peace force recruited from among individuals who volunteer from many countries to provide nonviolent protection for threatened people;24
  10. help establish well-trained nongovernmental, unarmed peace teams to expand communication, conflict resolution, and accompaniment pioneered by groups such as Christian Peacemaker Teams, Witness for Peace, and Peace Brigades International;
  11. strengthen efforts of Brethren Volunteer Service and other programs, including relief agencies that do not endorse the use of violence, to conduct peacebuilding;
  12. encourage international church councils and nongovernmental agencies to organize nonviolent humanitarian assistance;
  13. support nonviolent protection for displaced persons and refugees;
  14. support nongovernmental groups and truth commissions25 that monitor human rights violations; and
  15. encourage loving understanding not only within the Christian family but also in sharing the Good News of Jesus’ love with people of other religious traditions


The Church of the Brethren has a distinctive heritage to bring to bear in shaping the way international peacemaking will evolve. In bringing the Good News to the poor and afflicted through serving their needs and unequivocally opposing all forms of military combat, we demonstrate that the world’s priorities still reflect too much faith in military power to solve problems and too little faith in the power of love to transform social, political, economic, and environmental threats into opportunities for cooperation and human community. Our witness to peace gains spiritual power and political strength from a morally consistent commitment to do all in our power to make peace through peaceful means.

We have no interest in making war, whether undertaken by a nation-state or by organizations like the UN. We know that wars between nations and civil wars may occur in the future, but we do not believe that they are inevitable. In times of peace we challenge ourselves and others to understand that the actual costs of wars exceed their benefits and that nonmilitary means of conflict resolution and law enforcement can be available and can be used–if we will.

Where tensions arise among adversaries, we are called to reduce prejudices and encourage preventive diplomacy. If and when a war occurs, we are challenged to stop the killing, minister to those in need, encourage a cease-fire, and promote peacebuilding. In so doing we believe we must proceed as best we can without drawing upon military force to cover our efforts, just as Jesus was not willing to carry on his ministry under the protection of Peter’s sword.

As Christians we are urgently called to help victims by expressing love and forgiveness, rather than to use violent coercion against those who are guilty of violating God’s laws. When law enforcement in practiced within careful ethical and legal guidelines, we can support nonviolent restraint to uphold the laws prescribing peace, but we cannot condone military combat by the state or the UN.

Our Christian faith leads us to provide loving help for victims rather than to practice unloving violence toward victimizers. We seek to embody the kingdom of God so fully that caring for others leaves no mental or moral space for killing others. This emphasis is rooted both in Scripture and in a prudent political understanding of the causes and consequences of violence in today’s world. Given our faith and our desire to abolish all war, we see no reason to depart from the church’s traditional position that all war is sin and that Christ calls us to refrain from participation in any form. This guideline we continue to advocate even as we support nonviolent UN actions and oppose the actions of those, in all institutional contexts, who make war and seek to benefit from it.

In the midst of today’s enormous international problems we are, in the words of the 1991 Annual Conference, “called by God to witness to the gospel of peace with such intensity that nations repent and history is changed.”26 We dedicate ourselves to spiritual renewal through radical discipleship to the God of love who wants us to love people regardless of color, creed, gender, race, or religion, and to express our love by loving even those whom some would call “enemy.” Our path is one of humility; in following it we know that we cannot solve all problems and that we cannot instantly end all killing. We know that our knowledge about the causes of war and its consequences is imperfect. Yet we also know that Jesus suffered and died so that he might love rather than kill even those who were determined to kill him. We aspire to express the same love and to strengthen our church so that we may nurture on another’s faith to love so fully.

Our witness against the use of force by aggressors gains strength and credibility when we renounce the use of military force ourselves. Our vision may seem flawed to some critics, but we cannot see Jesus stealthily leading a combat platoon into position to kill what God has created, nor can we see him firing a machine gun or targeting a missile to destroy those for whom he died. We see him heart-broken in such contexts and working urgently to insist on a cease-fire and to bind up people’s wounds–physical, psychological, and spiritual. We humbly aspire to make our role similar to his.

Committee members: Dale Aukerman, Kenneth Brown, Celia Cook-Huffman, Robert Johansen, Kim McDowell, Timothy McElwee; endnotes verified by Brethren Historical Library and Archives.

The General Board at its meeting on March 7, 1995, approved the recommendation of the World Ministries Commission that the paper be brought to the 1995 Annual Conference as a study document with plans to return it to the 1996 Annual Conference for consideration as a Church of the Brethren policy statement.

Action of the 1995 Annual Conference: Sarah Ann Bowman, a Standing Committee member from the Virlina District, presented the recommendation from Standing Committee that the statement from the General Board be accepted by the 1995 Annual Conference as a study paper and be returned to the 1996 Annual Conference for final adoption. The delegate body adopted the recommendation of Standing Committee.

The General Board at its meeting on March 11, 1996, unanimously approved the paper as revised and referred it to the 1996 Annual Conference for adoption as a policy statement.

Action of the 1996 Annual Conference: The report from the General Board study committee of the Nonviolence and Humanitarian Intervention Statement was presented by Katherine Hess, chair; and Timothy McElwee, staff. The delegate body adopted the report of the study committee with one amendment, which has been incorporated into the wording of the preceding text.


  1. Scripture references are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible.
  2. Church and State, Minutes of the 203rd Recorded Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren, Orlando, FL, 4-9 July 1989, 831. For a fuller treatment of the Brethren view of the state see this statement.
  3. “A Short and Sincere Declaration” presented to the Pennsylvania Assembly on 7 November 1775 in Donald F. Durnbaugh, ed., The Brethren in Colonial America (Elgin, IL Brethren Press 1967), 362, 364.
  4. Third Resolution, “Peace and Goodwill, Minutes of the 136th Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren, held at Ames, IA, 13-19 June 1934, 46. The statement quoted was reaffirmed in the “Statement on Position and Practices of the Church of the Brethren in Relation to War” as adopted in 1948 and revised in 1957, 1968, and 1970: See Minutes of the 184th Recorded Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren, held at Lincoln, NE, 23-28, June 1970, 64.
  5. “Brethren Statement on Peace,” Minutes of the General Brotherhood Board, June 1951; see Exhibit A of the Brethren Service Commission minutes.
  6. “Statement Concerning Brethren Service,” Minutes of the 173rd Recorded Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren, held at Ocean Grove, NJ, 16-21 June 1959, 69.
  7. “Covert Operations and Covet War,” Minutes of the 202nd Recorded Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren; St. Louis, MO, 28, June – 3 July 1988, 688.
  8. “Resolution on Peace,” Minutes of the 161st Recorded Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren, held at Orlando FL, 10-15 June 1947, 92.
  9. See “Resolutions,” Minutes of the 173rd Recorded Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren, held at Ocean Grove, NJ., 15-20 June 1959, 64; and “Justice and Nonviolence,” Minutes of the in 191st Recorded Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren, Richmond, VA, 21-26 June 1977, 356-365.
  10. Statement Concerning Brethren Service; Minutes of the 173rd Recorded Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren, held at Ocean Grove, NJ., 16-21 June 1959 69.
  11. Department of Peace, Minutes of the 172nd Recorded Annual Conference, held at Des Moines, IA, 17-22 June in 1958, 9.
  12. “Justice and Nonviolence,” Minutes of the 191st Recorded Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren, Richmond, Va., 21-26 June 1977, 363.
  13. “Peacemaking: The Calling of God’s People in History,” Minutes of the 205th Recorded Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren, Portland, OR, 2-7 July 1991, 303.
  14. For example, US interests in oil encouraged UN intervention against Iraq in the Middle East in 1991, Washington’s desire to stem the flow of Haitian refugees led to intervention there in1994, and France’s hopes of retaining French influence in Rwanda prompted its military intervention in 1994. On the other hand, the absence of geo-strategic interests in East Timor resulted in no serious governmental effort’s to stop gross violations of human rights there.
  15. “Church and State,” Minutes of the 203rd Recorded Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren, Orlando, FL, 4-9 July 1989, 830.
  16. A question in the minutes of Annual Meeting in 1812 “concerning brethren who are sometimes prevailed upon to serve in the office of constable” received the following response: “It was considered that a follower of Jesus could not serve in such office; and if a brother should accept of it; take the oath of office, and serve in it, or by some person else as his substitute, such a brother would exclude himself from the breaking of bread, holy kiss, and brotherly council” (Minutes of the Annual Meeting of the Church of the Brethren, 1778-l909 [Elgin, IL. Brethren Publishing House, 1909], 30-31). Similarly, an 1849 article asked “Whether a brother, being elected to the office of constable, contrary to his will, would be justified in taking the obligations of the office, and transfer it to another person, who will discharge the whole duties of said office?” The response offered by Annual Meeting was this: “Considered, while the brother would have to be under oath, and responsible for all the acts of his substitute, it would not be safe for him to do so (Ibid., 111).
  17. See Robert Steadman, ed., The Police and the Community (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1972); T.R. Miles, “On the Limits to the Use of Force,” Religious Studies, 20 (March 1984): 113 120; Ora Huston, “Army or Police Force: What is the difference?” Gospel Messenger, 18, March 1961.
  18. For example, the 1947 Annual Conference declared: “We urge our nation not to side-step the United Nations, but to be the first to offer the surrender of our national sovereignty to a world government of, by, and for the peoples of the world; and to be ready to spend resources on its promotion and establishment commensurate with our national in spending for purposes of destruction” (“Resolution on Peace,” Minutes of the 161st Recorded Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren, held at Orlando, FL, 10-15 June 1947, 92).
  19. Peacebuilding is defined as cooperative economic and social actions that transcend boundaries between adversaries and lead to social integration. Perhaps the best historical example is found in economic cooperation between France and Germany in the European Community after World War II. This peacebuilding helped end decades of Franco-German military antagonism and expectations of war.
  20. “Justice and Nonviolence,” Minutes of the 201st Recorded Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren, Richmond, VA, 21-26 June 1977, 363.
  21. “The Death Penalty,” Minutes of the 201st Recorded Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren, Cincinnati, OH, 30 June – 5 July 1987, 457-464.
  22. See the 1978 Annual Conference statement “Violence and the Use of Firearms,” Minutes of the 192nd Recorded Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren, Indianapolis, IN, 20-25 June 1978, 453-463.
  23. Because the International Court of Justice at the Hague is a court where only national governments, not individuals, can be tried, many countries support the creation of a permanent International Criminal Court in which individuals can be held accountable for disobeying international laws. The United Nations’ International Law Commission provided draft articles for the establishment and operation of such a court in its November 1994 report.
  24. For treatment and examples of how such nonviolent peacemaking can be carried out, see Peter Ackerman and Christopher Kruegler, Strategic Nonviolent Conflict: The Dynamics of People Power in the Twentieth Century (Westport: Praeger, 1994); Joan V. Bondurant, Conquest of Violence: The Gandhian Philosophy of Conflict (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988); Gene Sharp, Civilian-Based Defense: A Post-Military Weapons System (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990).
  25. Truth commissions are usually established by a new national government to investigate charges of arbitrary arrest, imprisonment, torture, and killing by officials of the former government and by the military. A commission’s purpose is to tell the truth about government-sponsored violence against their own people. A commission usually includes highly respected people from the society in which wrongs were committed and occasionally well-known international jurists as well. They normally are given broad authority and autonomy to examine grievances from the families of victims. They have functioned in Argentina, El Salvador, Chile, South Africa, and elsewhere.
  26. “Peacemaking: The Calling of God’s People in History,” Minutes of the 205th Recorded Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren, Portland, OR, 2-7 July 1991, 303.