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Spring 2000 · Vol. 29 No. 1 · pp. 73–75 

Book Review

Transforming Violence: Linking Local and Global Peacemaking

ed. Robert Herr and Judy Zimmerman Herr. Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1998. 256 pages.

Reviewed by Wendell Loewen

Transforming Violence, a vision of the Historic Peace Churches/Fellowship of Reconciliation Committee, is a collection of chapters that provide both biblical bases and practical stories of peacemaking. Twenty-one authors from various traditions and locations contribute to a work that examines peacemaking at theological, local, and global levels.

The first section begins by forming a basis for current peacemaking from the past. Jim Forest looks to the church’s earliest history and Jesus’ teachings which testify that one’s choice, in response to conflict, is not limited to either passivity or bloodshed. “There is the alternative of unarmed resistance” (31).

Walter Wink proposes that Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek enables those who are oppressed to seize the moral initiative and recover the power of choice. Instead of fight or flight, Jesus offers a third way by which “evil can be opposed without being mirrored” (40).

Attempting to bring together realists and idealists, Glen Stassen and Duane Friesen suggest a new paradigm for peace discussions which moves beyond the just war and pacifist debate. Their “Just Peacemaking Theory” proposes ten practices in three categories: (1) cooperative forces; (2) justice; and (3) peacemaking initiatives. This theory is intended to offer “normative practices churches and peacemaking groups can use to build conditions that make peace more likely” (66).

The rest of this book focuses on accounts, from a variety of contexts, of practical work at both local and global levels. While broad statements are made about world peace, in reality “all peacemaking is local” (93). While the local context is usually defined geographically, Elise Boulding focuses on the “locality” offered by communities of faith which maintain distinct identities even as they span the globe. In his account of the Bosnian Student Project’s struggle against genocide, Doug Hostetter demonstrates how local activity extends globally. Adries Odendaal and {74} Chris Spies offer a powerful example of how local peacemaking teams helped reshape societal patterns in South Africa. Dekha Ibrahim and Janice Jenner detail the remarkable story of community-based initiatives that ended the virtually unknown Wajirian war among Somali clans in northeastern Kenya.

The final section of the book examines the link between local contexts and global realities. If global events are rooted in local community life, then “local realities need to inform global understandings” (151). David Jackman addresses the need for a planet-sized peacemaking system in which the church is deeply involved. While parts of the system are already being created, church-based peace efforts “aren’t going to be effective . . . unless our efforts fit sensibly into a wider structure” (155). In the two subsequent chapters, Lisa Schirch considers the viability and future of civilian peace teams, and Kathleen Kern describes the realities of long-term peace team involvement in Haiti, Hebron, and Washington, D.C. Despite the struggles, peace teams are “establishing a unique niche in peacemaking” (176).

Examining the many dynamics of international conflict mediation, John Paul Lederach concedes that “there is no Holy Grail of conflict resolution. . . . Solutions need to emerge from the soil where the conflict is rooted” (178). Lauree Hersch Meyer closes the work with a call for peacemakers, regardless of national or religious identity, as citizens of God’s “kindom” [sic], to forgiveness and reconstruction—the restoration of “living community and the exorcism of violence” (228-29).

Transforming Violence successfully presents a balanced discussion of peacemaking by considering theological rationale, local stories, and global activity. While the first section, “Foundations for a Just Peace,” provides thoughtful theological insight supportive to those sympathetic to a peace position, it may not be thoroughly convincing to those who view Jesus’ teachings on peace as unrealistic. Including the word foundations in the section’s heading offers a promise which the section does not entirely fulfill.

In reading this book one quickly discovers that peacemaking is contextual. It is enlightening to discover the many ways in which reconciliation becomes reality. The wisdom of including various global authors with extensive experience in peacemaking adds to this work’s credibility and will serve to broaden its influence.

The book’s greatest contribution, however, is its emphasis on stories. Concerning conflict, current responses tend to lie in the extremes—either violence or passivity. Therefore, stories of effective peacemaking need to be told. Today, many choose to reject or suspend Jesus’ {75} teachings on peace when facing conflict, regarding them as highly ideological and impractical. We desperately need stories to “extend our imaginations for creative nonviolence” (42).

This work suggests that future peacemaking must be both local and global, marked by variety and diversity—hence its focus on examples, not formulas. Those interested in the study and practice of reconciliation will find Transforming Violence a valuable resource that is sure to encourage and inspire.

Wendell Loewen
Asst. Professor of Biblical and Religious Studies
Tabor College, Hillsboro, Kansas

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