Shall We Make for Peace?

Blessed are the peacemakers . . .
Matthew 5:9a

In college I took a class on peacemaking and the Bible.  Our teacher, an old Brethren minister, told us stories about befriending gangs, visiting death-row inmates, and trying to get Democrats and Republicans to pray together.  His wealth of experience made it one of the richest classes in my college career.  His sincere desire to see the Gospel cause people to come to peace with each other challenged me to make Christ and his Gospel the lens through which I saw our earthly divisions.[1]  One class he invited a guest speaker to come and talk to us about peacemaking in the West Bank in Israel.  It was an interesting presentation from a world completely foreign to me. Everyday this man walked children to school through violent neighborhoods.  I was pretty awestruck by such sincere devotion to peace and safety.    He also told us that he and his organization were committed to achieving peace in this long embattled region.  Then I asked a question, “So have you been able to get Israelis and Palestinians to sit down together and talk?”  

He was a little startled by the question and responded, “Don’t misunderstand me.  We do not talk to any group who perpetuates violence.  We refuse to speak to anyone who would take violent action.  We only work with likeminded groups, committed to peace.”  

To which I said, “So you’re making peace by only talking to people who already believe in peace? Surely you don’t think you can stop violence without talking to violent people.”

“Yes, that’s exactly what we believe.” I immediately went from awestruck to dumbfound. 

Let me put it to you: have you ever seen two people reconciled because of a commitment to not talk to each other?  Has silence and distance ever brought people together?  Have you ever seen war turn into peace without dialogue? Unfortunately, this is exactly what we believe.  Somehow we think that we can love our enemies without talking to them—that we can make peace without interacting with the groups that cause for unrest.   Imagine a Jesus who refused to dine at the home of Pharisees or be touched by an adulterous woman.  Imagine a Jesus who posted his controversial opinions online, but never looked Scribes and tax collectors in the eyes.  Imagine a Jesus so committed to sterilized holiness that he walked on the other side of the road when he saw a man naked and beaten in the ditch.  Imagine Christianity with a Jesus not committed to drawing close to sinners.  

As a species we tend to be good at talking at issues without talking with diverse people about issues. And by the time the issue inflates to the point of war we are almost giddy that we don’t have to talk anymore.[2] History shows us that it takes an enormous amount of blood before warring factions will agree to sit down with each other—and recent history in places like Palestine, Ukraine, and Syria illustrate that even when we agree to cease fighting in order to talk, we quickly choose violence over peace, death over compromise, blood over listening. Violence and division mix to form one of humanity’s surest realities. The world needs a Church who believes the second great commandment actually matters—that the Gospel can enable people to interact peaceably.  The world needs blessed peacemakers who can talk to both sides.  Not unhappy silence-and-distance-makers.

So here we are in the wake of another great tragedy. And the divides in our country are expanding into impassable ravines. Each faction now vies to capitalize on the loss of life. All the while the blood cries out from the ground to match the weeping and wailing of those who suffer and grieve. 

Shall we make for peace by caring for people different from ourselves? Shall we make for peace by listening to those we disagree with? Shall we make peace by weeping with those who suffer?  Or shall we be silent and distant?  Or just argue with people online? 

It’s a good time to ask: just what exactly do we believe?

[1] Too often we confine the Gospel’s peace to righting our relationship with God.  Never forget that the second great command is inextricably linked to the first.  Jesus came to restore our relationship with God and with others.
[2] Make no mistake, the North and South were excited when the Civil War began.  They both thought it would be short and that they would win the war and thereby win the argument. For the South, for instance, loading a musket was easier than listening to cranky abolitionists. It took four years of unparalleled bloodshed before they could even agree to talk to each other.  


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