Since the General Synod passed the pronouncement identifying the United Church of Christ as a Just Peace church in 1985 and inviting UCC congregations to declare themselves Just Peace churches, Michael Neuroth, the UCC policy advocate for international issues in Washington, D.C., says that more than 100 congregations, seminaries and conferences have declared themselves Just Peace institutions.
Soon, Just Peace churches from the UCC can walk with others from across the globe, boldly proclaiming a public identity as a justice-doing, peace-seeking church. The World Council of Churches 10th Assembly affirmed Just Peace as a direction that the WCC and member churches want to continue to journey toward. A statement adopted by the WCC’s Public Issues Committee calls together churches around the world for a "pilgrimage of justice and peace."
"In my continued work on Just Peace, I think that the imagery of ‘pilgrimage’ is a helpful one to affirm the need to incorporate aspects of spiritual formation into our witness as a Just Peace church," Neuroth said.
Neuroth attended the WCC Assembly representing the denomination, given the UCC’s historic affirmation of Just Peace starting with the General Synod pronouncement in 1985. In their recent statement, WCC delegates affirmed that Just Peace is a "journey," and that humanity is called to be a "frame of reference for coherent ecumenical reflection, spirituality, engagement, and active peacemaking." The statement also affirmed four dimensions of the ecumenical call to Just Peace:
- Just Peace in the community, so that all may live free from fear
- Just Peace with the earth, so that life is sustained
- Just Peace in the marketplace, so that all may live with dignity
- Just Peace among the nations, so that human lives are protected
"The four dimensions of the Just Peace statement are a helpful reference to highlight the way in which we are called to work for peace and justice in every sphere of life," Neuroth said. "As a denomination known for our prophetic work for justice, it is a helpful reminder that all of this work contributes to a more peaceful world, and that working for both justice and peace is a central part of our call as people of faith and part of the United Church of Christ."
The renewed interest in Just Peace within the UCC in the last decade picked up because of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and continued with the rise of gun violence in the nation. Congregations have become interested in resources to become Just Peace churches and in ways to engage in helpful conversations. For now, now each individual congregation develops its own Just Peace covenant. In June 2013, Cresskill Congregational UCC in Cresskill, N.J., declared itself a Just Peace Church, the most recent one to do so.
"I’m inspired by efforts of many churches to take stances on local and global issues of peace and justice," said Neuroth, who is working with several UCC members to assess the church’s resources and statements, and this year create a clearer and more intentional process by which UCC churches can designate themselves "Just Peace."
Neuroth also lifted up the work of the UCC as a Just Peace church during a workshop at the WCC Assembly, sharing ways in which the denomination "has allowed churches to witness what being a Just Peace church means to them," he said.
The UCC is one of the 345 members of the WCC, and sent a team of almost two dozen representatives from across the life of the church to the gathering in Busan. The WCC assembly, which occurs once every seven years, took place from Oct. 30 through Nov. 8. The assembly is the highest governing body of the WCC, and is a moment when member churches come together for prayer, celebration and to set the future agenda for the council. More than 4,000 delegates, visitors, event staff and media members from more than 100 countries traveled to South Korea for the assembly.