What type of ethics should guide our behavior in contemporary conflicts? Religious groups working in many parts of the world are deeply involved in providing practical and theological answers to that question. This article examines two types of Judeo-Christian perspectives that stress the imperative to act to relieve suffering and transcend violence: liberation theology and the “religious humanitarian perspective.” Both perspectives draw linkages between ethical guidelines and action, and both have influenced broader political debates. The essay poses the following questions:
What are the ethical bases of action for contemporary activists and theologians in these traditions, and have these changed with political circumstances?; and
Are there ethical and practical connections between contemporary religious humanitarianism and liberation theology, and can they provide us with a coherent ethic of action to relieve suffering and reduce violence in the world?
These questions are analyzed in light of current theological conceptions of evil, religious pluralism, and the uneasy boundaries between violence and nonviolence.