We are often reminded by students of scripture that the biblical definition of peace, designated by the Hebrew word shalom, means a great deal more than the simple absence of military conflict or physical violence. Instead, shalom refers to an inclusive state of harmony and well-being between and among human beings, the rest of creation, and the Creator.
As such, shalom assumes, among other things, a peace between nations that is rooted in justice and in respect for the dignity of all peoples and persons. And the clear implication throughout scripture is that so long as injustice, oppression, and alienation persist, so will the accompanying curses of violence and bloodshed.
Those of us who seek to apply biblical faith to political realities have often done a good job of bringing this biblical understanding of peace to the questions before our country. We've pointed out the relationship between the mammoth U.S. military budget and the neglect of the poor among us. We've insisted that there can be no true, enduring peace in Central America until the long-standing wrongs of exploitation and dominance have been righted.
We've joined with the leaders of South Africa's majority in proclaiming that reconciliation between black and white can only come in partnership with the redistribution of political and economic power. Some of us even point out the futility of Middle East "peace" talks that ignore the issues of justice and self-determination for the Palestinians.
All of these claims are, for us, rooted in the biblical teaching that peace can only grow from relationships of justice and mutual respect. And in each case, our understanding of the biblical call has been enriched by listening to sisters and brothers living in the middle of those violent situations.