Turning Swords Into Plowshares – Moltmann on War and Peace

Beating Swords into Plowshares, cf Isa. 2:4
Let Us Beat Swords Into Plowshares statue at the United Nations Headquarters, New York City

Responsible participation in the just order of things in industry, society, culture and politics – or consistent undivided discipleship of Christ in economic, social, cultural and political decisions: that is the basic ethic question. There are three options. To put it pictorially: to turn swords into Christian swords, or to use only ploughshares without swords, or to make ploughshares out of swords. The time of ‘Christian swords’ in the Holy Roman Empire is past, so only the other two options are left. Must we see these as alternatives or can they also act together in a complementary way?
Jürgen Moltmann, Ethics of Hope, p. 204

I’m going to try to do a series of posts on Moltmann’s political / ethical theology over the next few months. This aspect of Moltmann’s thought has had a profound impact on me since I discovered his writing a few years ago.

Some of the topics I hope to cover:

  • Moltmann on “the American Dream” (my plan is to post this just in time for July 4 weekend)
  • Moltmann’s engagement with the Mennonites
  • Using Just War Theory to make a case for pacifism in today’s world
  • Moltmann on Barth and the Barmen Declaration
  • …and more…

By way of introduction, below are his opening remarks on the topic of his political theology from the Emergent Village Theological Conversation that took place with Moltmann in 2009. You can download the audio from the whole event here (this is from episode 4, which is all about his political theology). As with other clips I have previously shared, I have embedded this short audio clip below (via YouTube) and included a (mostly complete) transcript below it.

In this segment, I found his remarks on the need for both peaceable people and peacemaking people to be very helpful. Enjoy!

I think the war and peace question can be reduced to 3 options

First, change swords into christian swords, and become a dragon killer. The evil kingdom is respressed, the axis of evil is eliminated, etc. This is the option of the Holy Christian Empire. Change swords into Christian swords, and atomic bombs into Christian atomic bombs.

The second option is, leave the swords to the unbelievers. (this is an order outside the perfection of christ), and retire to the plowshares. And then you become an Amish or a Huterite. But the wars are going on and on and on.

The third option is, change swords into plowshares. And change war industry and the military industrial complex into an ecological industrial complex. This is not to become a peaceable man but a peacemaking man. I think this would be my option, to try to change swords into plowshares and helmets into pots for the kitchen…. I think this is a good way to change swords into plowshares: To engage yourself in making peace with the use of swords, or take take the swords out of the hands of violent people and change them into peace. Because humankind will not survive with swords, only with plowshares.

But on this, we may need a double strategy. On the one hand, communities which anticipate this peaceable kingdom, on the other hand, communities who work for peacemaking in the world. Perhaps a double strategy would be most helpful, because otherwise peacemakers may become violent themselves if they don’t have this ideal picture before their eyes. To those who retire to the plowshares and live in peace, like the Amish, where society does not care about them and they are not drafted into any armies (but they do not prevent any war – they just live in their own little peace). But that is not enough, we need peacemakers, active peacemakers.

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