Jennifer G. Woods is Legal Counsel and the Director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty at the Lake Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. She delivered the following remarks during a panel discussing “Religion’s Roles in Peacebuilding: Reflections from Religious Leaders” at the ICLRS 29th Annual International Law and Religion Symposium, 4 October 2022. At that time, she was Associate Director of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s Department of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty.
We are living in an increasingly unstable and dangerous world.
Humanity has, since the middle of the last century, been living in an age of total war. Total war implies the theoretical possibility that, except for the providence of God, earth’s inhabitants could wipe out their entire civilization. Nuclear weapons and biochemical arms of mass destruction are aimed at centers of population. Whole nations and societies are mobilized or targeted for war, and when such war erupts it is carried on with the greatest violence and destruction. The justification of war has become more complex, even though advances in technology make possible greater precision in destroying targets with a minimum of civilian casualties.
The Pillars of Peace
From both a Christian and practical perspective, any lasting peace involves at least four ingredients: dialogue, justice, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
Dialogue. There needs to be dialogue and discussion in place of diatribe and the cry for war. Lasting peace does not result from violent means but is achieved by negotiation, dialogue, and, inevitably, political compromise. In the long run, reasoned discourse has superior authority over military force. In particular, Christians should always be ready to “reason together,” as the Bible says (Isaiah 1:18).
Justice. Unfortunately, the world is rampant with injustice, and a fallout of injustice is strife. Justice and peace join hands, as do injustice and war. Poverty and exploitation breed discontent and hopelessness, which lead to desperation and violence. On the other hand, “God’s word sanctions no policy that will enrich one class by the oppression and suffering of another.”
Justice requires respect for human rights, in particular religious liberty, which deals with the profoundest human aspirations and undergirds all human rights. Justice requires nondiscrimination, respect for human dignity and equality, and a more equitable distribution of the necessities of life. Economic and social policies will either produce peace or discontent. Seventh-day Adventist concern for social justice is expressed through the support and promotion of religious liberty, and through organizations and departments of the Church which work to relieve poverty and conditions of marginalization. Such efforts on the part of the Church can, over time, reduce resentment and terrorism.
Forgiveness. Forgiveness is usually thought of as necessary to heal broken interpersonal relationships. It is highlighted in the prayer Jesus asked His followers to pray (Matthew 6:12). However, we must not overlook the corporate, societal, and even international dimensions. If there is to be peace, it is vital to drop the burdens of the past, move beyond well-worn battlegrounds, and work toward reconciliation. At a minimum, this requires overlooking past injustices and violence and, at its best, involves forgiveness, which absorbs the pain without retaliating.
Because of sinful human nature and the resulting violence, some form of forgiveness is necessary in order to break the vicious cycle of resentment, hate, and revenge on all levels. Forgiveness goes against the grain of human nature. It is natural for human beings to deal in terms of revenge and the return of evil for evil.
There is, therefore, first of all the need to foster a culture of forgiveness in the Church. As Christians and church leaders, it is our duty to help individuals and nations liberate themselves from the shackles of past violence and refuse to reenact year after year, and even generation after generation, the hatred and violence generated by past experiences.
Reconciliation. Forgiveness provides a foundation for reconciliation and the accompanying restoration of relationships that have become estranged and hostile. Reconciliation is the only way to success on the road to cooperation, harmony, and peace.
We call upon Christian churches and leaders to exercise a ministry of reconciliation and act as ambassadors of goodwill, openness, and forgiveness (see 2 Corinthians 5:17–19). This will always be a difficult, sensitive task. While trying to avoid the many political pitfalls along the way, we must nevertheless proclaim liberty in the land—liberty from persecution, discrimination, abject poverty, and other forms of injustice. It is a Christian responsibility to endeavor to provide protection for those who are in danger of being violated, exploited, and terrorized.
Support of Quality of Life
Churches should not only be known for spiritual contributions—though these are foundational—but also for their support of quality of life, and in this connection peacemaking is essential. We need to repent from expressions or deeds of violence that Christians and churches, throughout history and even more recently, have either been involved in as actors, have tolerated, or have tried to justify. We appeal to Christians and people of goodwill all around the world to take an active role in making and sustaining peace, thus being part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church wishes to stand for the uncoercive harmony of God’s coming kingdom. This requires bridge-building to promote reconciliation between the various sides in a conflict. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, “You will be called the repairer of the breach, The restorer of the streets in which to dwell” (Isaiah 58:12 NASB). Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, wants His followers to be peacemakers in society and hence calls them “[b]lessed” (Matthew 5:9).
The teachings and example of Christ constitute the guide for the Christian today. Christ came into the world to save lives, not to destroy them (Luke 9:56). When Peter drew his weapon Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back in its place, . . . for all who take the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52 TEV). Jesus did not engage in violence.
Pursuits of peace and the preservation of life are to be the goals of Christians. Evil cannot effectively be met with evil but must be overcome with good.
It is right and proper for Christians to promote peace. The Seventh-day Adventist Church urges every nation to beat its “swords into plowshares” and its “spears into pruninghooks” (Isaiah 2:4). The Church’s Bible-based Fundamental BeliefNumber 7 states that men and women were “[c]reated for the glory of God” and were “called to love Him and one another, and to care for their environment,” not to destroy or hurt one another. Christ Himself said, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9 KJV).
Culture of Peace Through Education
The Seventh-day Adventist Church operates what may be the second-largest worldwide parochial school system. Each of its more than 6000 schools, colleges, and universities is being asked to set aside one week each school year to emphasize and highlight, through various programs, respect, cultural awareness, nonviolence, peacemaking, conflict resolution, and reconciliation as a way of making a specifically “Adventist” contribution to a culture of social harmony and peace.
The education of the church member in the pew, for nonviolence, peace, and reconciliation, needs to be an ongoing process. Pastors are being asked to use their pulpits to proclaim the gospel of peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation, which dissolves barriers created by race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, and religion, and promotes peaceful human relations between individuals, groups, and nations.
The Christian Hope
The Old Testament, despite the record of wars and violence, looks forward to the new creation. It promises, like the New Testament, the end of the vicious cycle of war and terror, when arms will disappear and become agricultural implements, and peace and knowledge of God and His love will cover the whole world, like the waters cover the oceans (see Isaiah 2:4; 11:9).
In the meantime, we need, in all relationships, to follow the golden rule, which asks us to do unto others as we would wish them to do unto us (see Matthew 7:12) and not only to love God but to love as God loves (see 1 John 3:14–15; 4:11, 20–21).
While peacemaking may seem a forbidding task, there is the promise and possibility of transformation through renewal. All violence and terrorism are really one aspect of the ongoing controversy, in theological terms, between Christ and Satan. The Christian has hope because of the assurance that evil—the mystery of iniquity—will run its course and be conquered by the Prince of Peace and the world will be made new. This is our hope.
The Adventist hope must manifest and translate itself into deep concern for the well-being of every member of the human family. True, Christian action today and tomorrow will not of itself usher in the coming kingdom of peace; God alone brings this kingdom by the return of His son.
In a world filled with hate and struggle, a world of ideological strife and of military conflicts, Seventh-day Adventists desire to be known as peacemakers and work for worldwide justice and peace under Christ as the head of a new humanity.
 The following remarks are based on official statements of the Seventh-day Adventist Church on the topic of peace. See, e.g., Peace, Seventh-day Adventist Church (last visited 13 Feb. 2023).
 Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing 187 (1905).