Doves have long been used in Christianity to symbolize both peace and the presence of the Holy Spirit. LittlePerfectStock/

Canadian Council of Churches adopts Principles of Peace calling them the ‘heart of ecumenism’

On May 23, 2018, the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC) governing board adopted the Principles of Peace, a document of shared values and principles that places peace at the very centre of its members’ work. The Canadian Council of Churches is the broadest and most inclusive ecumenical body in the world, whose churches represent 85 per cent of Canadian Christians including the Anglican Church of Canada.

CCC General Secretary Peter Noteboom said that peace is “core to the identity” of the CCC. The CCC was formed in 1944 in the midst of the Second World War. In 1976, the council established Project Ploughshares, which Noteboom described as “Canada’s leading peace and disarmament organization”.

“The pursuit of peace has always been central to the work of the council and [our] own identity […] But we felt, especially in the changing times that we’re in, [that] we needed a set of principles that could ground our thinking on peace as being at the heart of ecumenism,” Noteboom said.

“There’s an old challenge,” he added, “about whether or not churches should support war, and under what conditions; whether a just war is even possible, and other churches that think ‘absolutely not, we’re peace churches and there’s no place for war.’ The space in between is about the importance of building peace that everyone agrees to.

“In terms of the Canadian church consensus on how to respond to violence, this [document] captures actually 10, 15, 20 years of work on that topic, of a shared sense and understanding of the church’s role in peacemaking.”

Representatives of member churches helped craft the statements on peace, later collected by a small team tasked to refine the main principles. The council’s Commission on Justice and Peace wrote the first draft.

A lengthy review process followed to ensure the document faithfully represented all members of the council.

“The way that we work here at the council is that we’re not some separate organization from our member churches,” Noteboom said. “We embody what the churches together feel and believe, and so these are also Anglican principles of peace.”

The final product is a comprehensive statement of principles that grounds peace in our relationship with God, and peacemaking as the vocation of all Christians.

As written in the gospels, Jesus called on his followers to seek peace in the world: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9) That mission includes inner peace and tranquility, as well as outward political engagement aimed at establishing justice among people and societies.

The Very. Rev. Peter Wall, one of three Anglican representatives on the CCC governing board along with the Ven. Michael Thompson and Canon Mary Conliffe, praised the Principles of Peace as “fairly concise”, “easily digested”, and “a good guiding document” ideal for posting in church bulletins or as a reference tool.

“I think it’s pretty clear that part of what the identity of a Christian is is someone who seeks and works for peace,” Wall said.

“Now, peace is a fairly broad term: peace at home, peace in our hearts, peace in our lives, peace abroad, peace in the church. The values of peace as a foundational mark of the church—particularly the way that this document outlines it, both in terms of scriptural understanding of peace and in terms of the history of the faith—I think it’s pretty central to our church.”

“I would hope that our church, the Anglican Church of Canada, would subscribe to all of the statements that this document makes and can agree with them all. That doesn’t mean that everybody in the church would agree on how we make peace, on what kind of peace really establishes justice, [or] what kind of peace is the peace of vocation. But that it is foundational, I think, is pretty indisputable.”

The Rev. Canon Jeffrey Metcalfe, canon theologian for the Diocese of Quebec, served for two years on the Commission of Justice and Peace. During his time, the commission was actively discerning its priorities—a process that has ultimately led to the Principles of Peace.

Metcalfe described the document as an example of “receptive ecumenism”, in which Christians approach ecumenical dialogue by focusing on what they can learn from others.

“I think that it’s impossible to a meaningful conception of salvation without also having some notion of peace; that salvation is linked inextricably to peace. […] That’s a thing that brings and necessarily brings all of us together as churches,” Metcalfe said.

“It’s at the same time also a potentially divisive one, because I don’t think there’s a single church that would disagree with the statement that God is wanting to bring peace and justice. No Christian person, I think, would disagree with that. The disagreements arise when we actually start unpacking what we mean by those words. And that’s where different Christian traditions offer different lenses of interpretation.”

As a shared statement, Metcalfe said, the Principles of Peace recognize the gifts brought by different Canadian churches in thinking and acting about peace. The challenge now is for Christians to consider how they will live out these principles in practice.

“How are we going to ensure that these principles leave the paper and enter into our everyday lives? […] How do we take these documents and ensure that they don’t just gather dust on a shelf, that they actually in some way help support the work of peace?”

Download the Principles of Peace.

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