The Declaration at Graz

Churches at the Second European Ecumenical Assembly on Reconciliation

in Graz, Austria (June 1997)

Background to the ‘Graz Documents’

CPTI (Conscience and Peace Tax International) and various national movements aim at the recognition of the right to conscientious objection to the payment of taxes which are spent on arms and the preparation and conduct of war. They believe every taxpayer should have the right not to pay taxes for military purposes; instead, an equivalent portion of one's personal taxes would be paid to a peace tax fund out of which non-violent forms of conflict resolution could be financed.

This endeavour goes hand in hand with a growing consciousness among Christians and churches that the world is in need of real peacemakers offering non-violent solutions.

During the last decade a broader and clearer awareness of this issue has emerged among churches.

The General Assembly of the World Council of Churches (Vancouver, 1983) launched an appeal to its Protestant, Anglican, and Orthodox member churches, as well as to the Roman-Catholic Church. It asked them to engage in ‘a conciliar process of common engagement for justice, peace and integrity of creation’. For Europe, this resulted in an ecumenical assembly in Basel in 1989. The final document, entitled Peace and Justice for the Whole Creation contains a series of conclusions and recommendations concerning peace. It also:

strongly affirm[s] the importance of non-violent, political means as the appropriate way of seeking to bring about change in Europe. There are no situations in our countries or on our continent in which violence is required or justified. (§ 61)

At the world level a convocation was held in Seoul, Korea (March 1990) on the same theme. In the final document Now is the time, the churches concluded a series of covenants, one of them:

for an authentic security, for demilitarisation, against militarism, and for a culture of active non-violence as a creative and liberating force.

The churches there committed themselves to strive:

5. For a culture of active non-violence which is life-promoting and is not a withdrawal from situations of violence and oppression but is a way to work for justice and liberation

5.1 through expressing and implementing the preferential option for a peaceful resolution of conflicts;

5.2. through supporting the right to conscientious objection to military service and tax for military purposes, and providing alternative forms of service for peace, and taxation. (page 29)

The nineties have seen less euphoria in Europe in the face of wars and civil wars, environmental pollution, unemployment, racism, a stagnant ecumenical movement, international injustice, and so on. In this context the Conference of European Churches (CEC) and the Council of European Bishops' Conferences (CCEE) decided to convene a Second European Ecumenical Assembly in Graz (Austria) in June 1997 on the theme of Reconciliation.

The final documents elaborate on six aspects of this theme:

  1. the visible unity between churches
  2. dialogue with other religions and cultures
  3. working for social justice
  4. commitment to reconciliation within and between peoples and nations and promoting non-violent forms of conflict resolution
  5. ecological responsibility
  6. just sharing with other regions of the world.

Documents 1 (4 pages ) and 2 (11 pages ) are general declarations; document 3 (5 pages ) recommends homework for the churches. Background material supporting the recommendations is given at the end of the document (22 pages ). The most important texts about non-violent conflict resolution have been selected and are printed here without further comment.:

Final document 1: Final message

§ 8. The gift of reconciliation in Christ inspires us to commit ourselves (...):

to proclaim and communicate to the peoples of Europe the Gospel that in Christ God was reconciling the world with himself (2 Corinthians 5:19); (...)

to encourage local associations, public institutions and European bodies in their work of reconciliation (...).

The churches commit themselves:

to the unequivocal proclamation and defence of human rights and democratic processes (...).

Our own commitment to this reconciliation process leads us to urge political decision-makers and the citizens:

to promote the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of human life; (...)

-to encourage disarmament and the development of non-violent conflict management, and fostering without delay negotiation leading to complete elimination of nuclear arms, according to the Non Proliferation Treaty (...).

Final document 2: Basic text

A26. Reconciled partnership and the dialogue with other religions and cultures.

(...) How important this attitude is becomes clear when we remember the religious wars which have left a trail of blood throughout the history of our continent. (...) We must not allow different religious convictions to be used to justify armed conflicts. (...) In the face of all who proclaim an inevitable clash of civilisations, we seek to promote tolerance and co-operation. We see an especially urgent task in relation to Islam (...).

A29. Reconciliation and politics of peace.

We stand for the development of concepts of security which embrace all of Europe and which avoid making Europe a threat to other parts of the world. The development of common democratic institutions, and of the political and economic co-operation of the whole European region, will strengthen its stability and diminish the danger of conflict. On the other hand, if parts of Europe are left in a security vacuum, opportunities for the political manipulation of old tensions could increase. The European Institutions should serve as instruments of reconciliation and towards the creation of a Europe without dividing lines, where security is sought in co-operation and not through deterrence. (...)

Final document 3: Recommendations for Action

Section Four: Commitment to reconciliation within and between peoples and nations and promoting non-violent forms of conflict resolution.

4.1

We recommend to the churches to take an active part in the debate about the process of development in European politics, to create instruments for common action and to strengthen the institutions which already exist.

Rationale: European institutions (OSCE, Council of Europe, European Union) are the forces of institutional reorganisation for Europe as a whole. If the churches do not want to be excluded from this process, they will need to provide for joint initiatives, continuous sharing of experience and an on-going analysis of European developments. This especially applies to efforts to limit the arms trade (e.g. through support for a European Code of Conduct on arms transfers) and opposition to the production, transfer and use of landmines.

4.2

We would request that the churches take on an active and persistent role in the peaceful transformation of conflicts (e.g. in Northern Ireland, in Cyprus) and in peace and reconciliation processes following violent conflicts (such as those in Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, Chechnya, etc.).

Rationale: The churches' mission of reconciliation calls on them to support all efforts to prevent the use of violence and to heal the wounds resulting from it. These include various forms of mediation of conflicts and of participation in reconstruction, and efforts to enable returning refugees to make a new start under humane living conditions.

4.3

We recommend that CEC and CCEE, together with their members churches, encourage an exchange of experiences among initiatives, institutions, lay academies and training centres, and congregations engaged in peace and reconciliation work.

Rationale: the development of a culture of non-violence requires educational processes which connect local with international experience. Training programmes of this kind should involve young people in particular, but also soldiers and politicians of both genders.

4.4

We recommend that CEC and CCEE establish a permanent committee for conflict analysis and resolution. It should stimulate reconciliation processes, and also investigate possibilities for creating European-level institutions to train professionals in the civil resolution of conflicts.

Rationale: Institutions for civil analysis and resolution of conflicts are being proposed at world level and within many countries. It is very important that the churches be intensively involved in this discussion, and a clear and voluntary position on this issue would enhance their credibility. By establishing a common basis for professional peace services, we would fulfil the commitment we made at Basel to create Shalom services.

Background to the Recommendations for Action

Of the eight long paragraphs (B32 to B39) in Section Four (on Reconciliation and non-violent conflict resolution) we give only the titles and quote some selections.

B32. Reconciliation, dialogue and renunciation of violence.

B33. Experiences since 1989.

B34. The role of the churches in conflicts.

B35. The increasing importance of civil resolution of conflicts.

B36. Prevention of conflict and non-violent conflict resolution.

More emphasis than ever before must be given especially to instruments of conflict prevention and to non-violent resolution. The latest examples of military clashes within and outside Europe have again forced on us the awareness that as soon as a certain threshold of open violence has been crossed, outside intervention proves extremely difficult. For the politics of peace, it is therefore a question of recognising this danger and reacting to it in time.

Classical diplomacy still has an indispensable function. But it must urgently be supplemented in both concept and practice by instruments of non-governmental policy, which have the character of civil society. Here the churches can play a meaningful role, for they are anchored in nations and also linked internationally with one another.

The ecumenical community is thus a kind of seismographic system, which can register tremors in societies and transmit the collected information to the centres of decision. Beyond this, our community can and must itself be active on various levels in crisis situations, through quiet church diplomacy or through actively non-violent, demonstrative symbolic actions.

B37. The ecumenical movement and understanding between nations.

B38. The churches' work on behalf of victims of barbarism.

B39. Shalom services.

(...) Non-violence should be seen as an active, dynamic and constructive force, grounded in absolute respect for the human person (Basel Assembly § 86). (...)

Non-violence is an essential element in the teaching and in the witness of Jesus Christ. The refusal to use lethal force must be respected and supported by all churches. Respect is also due to the constructive role so often played by women in the processes of peace and reconciliation.

The Church's commitment to non-military conflict resolution, preventive measures and reconciliation work in areas of political, social, ethnic of religious tension requires a large number of persons who have been trained in the basic attitudes and methods of non-violent conflict resolution. Thus in Basel the churches were encouraged to set up ecumenical shalom services, to offer men and women the opportunity to work for international understanding (§ 80).

Some initiatives have already begun to put this suggestion into practice. On the basis of their acquired experience, it is now time for the churches to create the conditions for expanding the training and work of Peace Teams, Peace Ministries and Civil Peace Services. These services should be acceptable as alternatives to military service.

It is realistic to expect that in the next few years church-sponsored centres will be established in all European countries, which offer practical and especially spiritual training in non-violence.