"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God" (Matthew 5:9).
Peacemaking is an important responsibility of people who follow Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Christianity requires that we, ourselves, become the living, breathing, flesh-and-blood manifestation of the teachings of Jesus. Our calling is to a radical obedience to Jesus' call to follow him (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship). The teachings of Jesus are extreme and difficult: "Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you" (Matthew 5:44). This teaching is the pathway to peace.
Sept. 21 is the International Day of Peace. It is a day set aside to focus our attention on a global ceasefire, peacemaking, nonviolence, and the goal of creating a culture of peace. We hope and pray that it will be a day when bombs and guns are silent, where knives and machetes draw no blood, where we cease our verbal violence, where we each hold our peace in the name of peace. Most of us cannot through the power of our own decisions stop the violence in faraway places, but we can stop the violence of our own speech. We can dedicate Sept. 21 to the peace we can make on the earth beneath our feet, in the world within our reach.
Religion has often been blamed for violence and war. In my opinion, this is a mistake. Religion intends unity. It at once provides a means whereby humanity can experience the ties that bind us and a means to know transcendence. Religion takes us to love through faith (Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity). However, when religion stops at faith, when it stops at a particular tradition, doctrine, tribe, nation, or historical moment, it becomes a way to define our identity, to set us apart, to separate us from humanity, creation, and God. It is at this point when religion becomes dangerous and violent.
The radical love of Jesus requires us to not only love the people who are like us, those who love us, but to love the Other, even the enemy Other that hates us. Our command to do good is without exception. Thus, the way we ought to respond to our enemy is with love, blessing, good deeds, and prayer. This is our imperative for both personal and national enemies.
So let us remember Sept. 21, the United Nations International Day of Peace. Let us remember it in our homes and churches, but most especially in our secret prayer closets, looking forward to the day when God's kingdom of peace will come on earth as it is in heaven.
Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at JustPeaceTheory.com. She received her Ph.D. in Religion and Society from Temple University and taught Christian Ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.