Peacemaking

Give (The Department of) Peace a Chance

Heart-shaped American flag,  pashabo / Shutterstock.com
Heart-shaped American flag, pashabo / Shutterstock.com

The U.S. has resisted this peacemaking policy for generations. Even as far back as 1792, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Rush, along with Benjamin Banneker, suggested the blueprint for an Office of Peace (intended to counter what was then known as the Department of War). President George Washington stated that his first wish was “to see this plague of mankind, war, banished from the earth,” yet legislation for a Department of Peace was not introduced until 1935, which, by 1969 wasfollowed by 90 additional bills. And so, while many U.S. citizens state a longing for peace and nonviolence, we seem to lack the political will and public motivation to make it a reality, and the result is a continued state of destruction. 

On Syria: We Must Use a Moral Compass to Guide Our Moral Outrage

ANDREW COWIE/AFP/Getty Image
Demonstrators protest against potential British military involvement in Syria in London Thursday. ANDREW COWIE/AFP/Getty Image

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama said that if Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against innocent civilians, there must be “international consequences.” The president is right. But what should those consequences be?

The issue here, again, is one that we have not decided how to deal with: terrorism. The definition of terrorism is deliberate and brutal attacks upon innocent people — whether by individuals, groups, or heads of state. By that definition, Assad is a terrorist. And terrorists who possess weapons of mass destruction and demonstrate their willingness to use them are most dangerous ones. But how should we respond?

I am in in the U.K., where political leaders last night backed off the decision to make immediate “military strikes” while the U.S. and other nations are considering them. The feeling here is that international and legal legitimacy need to be established first, that the U.N. inspectors should finish their examinations in Syria before any actions are taken, and that all other means of response should be fully explored first. These are good decisions.

Why is there such public “war fatigue” in the U.K. and the U.S. in light of Iraq and Afghanistan — and why is that creating reluctance to more military action? Because wars and military solutions have FAILED in response to terrorism — failed to achieve what they were purported to do.

Antoinette Tuff: Blessed Are the Peacemakers

Peace illustration, jdwfoto / Shutterstock.com
Peace illustration, jdwfoto / Shutterstock.com

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons [and daughters] of God.” Matthew 5:9

The news cycle, the blogosphere, and social justice advocates often focus upon crisis, tragedy, and pain. Moments of freedom, of healing and hope are often drowned out by the cacophonous sounds of self-interest, fear and danger. Today I’d like to silence that cacophony and trumpet loudly about the brave and humble Antoinette Tuff, a peacemaker filled with the Spirit of God, who faced a gunman with her arsenal of love and compassion and saved a school full of children.

Antoinette Tuff’s faith and courage changed the outcome of history on Tuesday, Aug. 20. It is a day that will not live in infamy. Unlike other days that started on a similar path to violence, families did not grieve the loss of their children to the would-be mass gunman who walked into an elementary school with almost 500 rounds of ammunition. Police were scrambled to the scene, but did not have to evacuate classrooms of frightened children watching for a shooter. In fact, despite the heavily armed suspect and a heavily armed law enforcement response, not one person lost their life.

Our Obsession With Violence and the Stories You’re Not Supposed to Hear

Typewriter, sematadesign / Shutterstock.com
Typewriter, sematadesign / Shutterstock.com

Upon my recent return from the Middle East (with The Global Immersion Project), I was struck more than ever before at our Western infatuation around military aggression, violence, and division. Not only are these the primary narratives we are fed through our major media outlets, they are the narratives we subconsciously embrace through the latest bestseller, box office hit, or video game. Violence, death, and division have become normative. We are becoming numb to the very things that we – as ambassadors of hope and reconciliation – are to turn from as Resurrection People. It is as though there is a stranglehold on our on our ability to see and participate in the stories of healing and new life.  

As surprising as this may be, embedded in the midst of these conflicts are endless stories of hope that never make the latest headline or sound bite. And in the times I've followed Jesus INTO these places of conflict, I continue to encounter stories of peace and hope that embody the Gospel message, stories by real people, happening right now, in places usually known only for conflict, violence, and death.

The Violence of Peacemaking

Blessed are the peacemakers Bible passage, Wellford Tiller / Shutterstock.com
Blessed are the peacemakers Bible passage, Wellford Tiller / Shutterstock.com

Jesus says some stuff in the inaugural speech of his ministry that really upsets the status quo of both the religious and non-religious. In essence, he says, "If you are to follow me as King of this newly inaugurated Kingdom of God, you will need to start loving your enemies as much as yourself. You will need to start getting creative in how you deal with your oppressors in order to choose the way of love and reconciliation rather than the way of revenge and contempt. In fact, when you live as peacemakers, you best reflect what it looks like to be children of God. Those of you that choose this way of life will be blessed."

A few years later — after Jesus has been announcing the good news of the Kingdom through both word and deed — he looks over Jerusalem and begins to weep. Here is the people and the city that is to symbolize right relationship with God and humanity. It is to be a place of shalom where salvation flows through all aspects of life. It is to be the city of peace. Instead, Jesus stands on the Mount of Olives overlooking the city and laments, "If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!" 

Finally, Jesus, as king, messiah, and deliverer models this way of life to the point of death on a cross. Refusing to accept the lure of power through military might or pursuing peace through violence, Jesus embodies the life of suffering and self-sacrifice that he is calling his followers to emulate. Jesus, as the ultimate peacemaker, shows us that the life and work of peacemaking isn't some fairy tale euphoria, but the gritty, subversive and sacrificial life of faithfulness to a God and kingdom that lives by a different standard than the systems and powers of the world.

New & Noteworthy

WAGS AND WISDOM
Critically acclaimed author Sue Halpern writes about experiences with her trained therapy dog, Pransky, illuminating seven classic virtues along the way, in A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home: Lessons in the Good Life from an Unlikely Teacher. A charming and insightful book. Riverhead Books

GOD AT THE BORDER
In Kinship Across Borders: A Christian Ethic of Immigration, Kristin E. Heyer develops a theological analysis, mainly rooted in Catholic thought, that examines the injustices of the current U.S. immigration system in the light of concepts of social sin, Christian family ethics, and broader policy considerations. Georgetown University Press

FOR BUDDING WRITERS
Skipping Stones, a nonprofit literary magazine for young readers ages 8 to 16, is celebrating its 25th year of encouraging creativity and multicultural and environmental awareness. Published five times a year, each issue includes poetry and prose by children and book reviews and resources for parents and teachers. skippingstones.org

FINDING MUTUAL RESPECT
The two-part film In the Footprints of Francis and the Sultan: A Model for Peacemaking explores the historic meeting of St. Francis of Assisi and Sultan Malek al-Kamil and how it continues to inform a powerful model for interreligious dialogue today. FranciscanMedia.org/francissultan

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An Unhindered Hope

IN EARLY AUGUST 2010, 10 aid workers were murdered, execution-style, in the province of Badakhshan, in northeastern Afghanistan. Among them were six Americans, two Afghans, a Briton, and a German, all part of a medical mission. It was the deadliest attack on aid workers the country had seen.

Dan Terry, 63, an American humanitarian who, with his family, had called Afghanistan home for more than 30 years, was among the dead.

What compels a person to risk his or her life in a foreign land so riddled with conflict? For Terry it was simple—he was called to a life of peacemaking and service.

A friend of Terry's since childhood, writer Jonathan Larson draws us into Terry's passionate character and the vision he shared with friends in Afghanistan: reconciliation and dialogue. "In the end, we're all knotted into the same carpet," Terry was fond of saying. From a swath of interviews with family, friends, and colleagues, both Western and Afghan, Larson has assembled "oral narratives," sharing with us the exhilarating life of a generous and gentle man, heroic but humble.

The best advice I received as a humanitarian aid worker in Afghanistan was from a leader cut from the same cloth as Terry: "Make no assumptions" and "listen first." We too often accept media caricatures of the other, labels that shut down discourse and clamp off possibility and hope. Challenging this, Terry insisted on the unwavering potential of each person he met. "Categorical 'enemies' have rescued me ... again and again," he once wrote to friends.

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10 Things I Learned in the Middle East

Photo by Jon Huckins
Photo by Jon Huckins

Over the past four years I have had the opportunity to spend a significant amount time in the Middle East. I no longer approach the time as a tourist, but instead seek out relationships and experiences as a listener who has much to learn about the way God is at work in contexts much different than my own. In that posture, it has been remarkable how much I have learned and begun to integrate into the way I live, love and lead back in my neighborhood. Theologian Paul Knitter describes it well when he refers to ones inherited worldview as a telescope. 

"No matter how objective we may think we are or desire to be, we all see the world through a specific telescope/worldview. When we choose to look through the telescope of people who are “different” than us, we begin to get a more comprehensive picture of the world and the way God is at work within it."

Leading our first Learning Community to the Middle East apart of The Global Immersion Project I recently co-founded, I was invited to take a look through the lens of friends’ telescopes who live amid conflict in Israel and Palestine. Here are some of my key learnings:  

Abrahamic Faiths on Peace

EARLIER THIS year, the Interfaith Partnership of metropolitan St. Louis held a public panel presentation addressing three Abrahamic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—on war and peace. Members of Interfaith Partnership and interested people from the community filled the chapel at Eden Theological Seminary to hear a Jewish scholar, a Muslim academic, and a Christian theologian (me) offer brief presentations on how our respective faith traditions value peace, as well as why, when, and how each religion views the use of violent force as sometimes morally justified.

During the question-and-answer period, I highlighted how in recent years both nonviolent and just war Christians have worked together on an approach, known as just peacemaking, for dealing with the underlying causes of war and thereby preventing its outbreak. As is often the case when I talk on this topic, most persons in the audience seemed unfamiliar with just peacemaking. After I attempted to clarify it further, someone asked the panel if other religious traditions had anything comparable to just peacemaking. The answer is yes, at least for Judaism and Islam, as shown in Interfaith Just Peacemaking, edited by Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, a theologian and ordained minister in the United Church of Christ.

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Just Peace Theory and Foreign Policy

Global respect illustration, Stephen Coburn /Shutterstock.com
Global respect illustration, Stephen Coburn /Shutterstock.com

Just peace theory begins with the idea that peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peace building is a day-by-blessed-day proposition. Unlike just war theory, it does not begin when violent conflict is imminent. There are 10 just peacemaking practices that have a record of success. A just peace foreign policy employs these practices for the purposes of both national security and of international peace.

The 10 just peacemaking practices are: support nonviolent direct action; take independent initiatives to reduce threat; use cooperative conflict resolution; acknowledge responsibility for conflict and injustice, and seek repentance and forgiveness; advance democracy, human rights, and interdependence; foster just and sustainable economic development; work with emerging cooperative forces in the international system; strengthen the United Nations and international efforts for cooperation and human rights; reduce offensive weapons and weapons trade; encourage grassroots peacemaking groups and voluntary association. (Just Peacemaking: the new paradigm for the ethics of peace and war Glen H. Stassen editor)

Cooperation, interdependence, human rights, and democracy are important elements of just peacemaking practices. I say this is a power-with, not a power-over model of foreign policy. This is not a model of weakness, but one of strength. The strength comes from building relationships and partnerships with other nations on the basis of mutual respect.

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