War and Peace: Peacebuilding a Third Way

Submitted by: Jim Bacik

In her excellent book Blessed Are the Peacemakers, Pacifism, Just War, and Peacebuilding, the respected Catholic moral theologian Lisa Cahill presents an alternative to both the just war tradition and Christian pacifism that she names “Peacebuilding.” This recent approach gives “almost exclusive priority to the positive and nonviolent cultivation of peace” rather than examining exceptional situations where war might be justified (p. 1). Compared to pacifism peacebuilding is a movement that seeks partners to “create, highlight, and implement concrete alternatives to violence, strategies that can and do transform situations,” leading to a just and peaceful society (p. 2). Peacebuilding is a “family of practices” that aims to “resolve injustices in nonviolent ways and to transform the structural conditions that generate deadly conflict” (p. 7). Christian peacebuilders join Christian pacifists and just war advocates in sensing the urgency of reducing violence through “practical and flexible initiatives which they see as “integral to Christian discipleship” (p.8).

Cahill emphasizes that “defeating violence requires flexibility, creativity, pragmatism, and determination.” For her, Christian peacebuilding is a “way of yoking gospel nonviolence to effective action for change, despite the morally ambiguous circumstances in which its mission must be embedded” (p.21). It seeks a long-term and sustainable solution “based on addressing the root causes of pervasive global cycles of conflict” (p.19).

According to Lisa Cahill, peacebuilding highlights the practical, located, pragmatic and provisional nature of Christian responses to injustice and human suffering. It embraces active hope that those realities can be changed nonviolently. To accomplish this peacebuilders seek to form “networks and  structures of political responsibility,” which “expand the scope of justice within local, national, regional, and global institutions” (p.36).

In the concluding chapter of her remarkable book, Dr. Cahill summarizes some of her major themes. Peacebuilding starts with the “desire, determination, and courage of people who are willing to take risks.” They combine a passion to live in peace with a trust that faithful persons can build a peaceful life together.  Peacebuilders empower individuals and communities to name and resist violence. In a spirit of solidarity, they reach out across religious, racial and cultural divides to empower victims and survivors of violence to take charge of their own lives. They know that peacebuilding must lead to “broad and deep social practices” that promote personal, social and political reconciliation (p. 362).

At the same time, we should remember that peacebuilding is always marred by “incompleteness and moral ambiguity” that can involve “irreducible moral dilemmas.”  For example, even killing an unjust aggressor in a legitimate war of self-defense still involves an offense against the dignity of human persons  that can produce a sense of guilt and remorse.  Finally, Lisa Cahill calls peacebuilding a “practical strategy of hope,” a Christian virtue that sustains us in times of adversity and alerts us to the power of God’s grace operating in our midst (p.363).


What aspect of peacebuilding is most challenging to me?

About the Author

Fr. James J. Bacik has served as a priest of the Diocese of Toledo since his ordination in 1962. He is a widely regarded theologian, writer, lecturer and pastor who served as campus minister and adjunct professor of humanities at the University of Toledo for more than 30 years. Fr. Bacik is an AUSCP member. Visit his website at frjimbacik.org.

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