Peace. We hear the word a lot around Christmas. We talk about the Prince of Peace and we pronounce a blessing of peace on earth. But what is peacemaking? John Calvin explains that peacemakers “labor to settle differences among others, who advise all men to live at peace and take away every occasion of hatred and strife.” The Hebrew term for peace, shalom, is more than the absence of violence. It is the righting of relationships. If you reconcile with your children, or make nice with your neighbor, have you become God’s peacemaker? You’re off to a good start, but we can do better, right? The call goes beyond ourselves. We are to dismantle racism, sexism, and all manners of hate-fueled injustice.
My own awakening to a broader understanding of peacemaking started in 2009, while touring the city of Hebron in Israel. I was introduced to Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), who were serving as non-violent accompaniment for Palestinian children getting beat up or harassed on their way to school by Israeli settlers. In Colombia they protect farmers from paramilitary groups. They guard Kurdish civilians from warlords in Iraq. In Canada, they stand between First-Nations’ people and corporations who want their land. CPT’s bravery humbled me and their humility moved me. But these people weren’t just born brave--God moved individuals and churches into action. How? In 1984, Ron Sider shocked the Mennonite World Council in Strausburg, France by issuing a challenge to churches for whom peace is at the core of their identity.
“...Mahatma Gandhi once said that if the only two choices are to kill or to stand quietly by doing nothing while the weak are oppressed and killed, then, of course, we must kill. I agree.
But there is always a third option. We can always prayerfully and nonviolently place ourselves between the weak and the oppressor. Do we have the courage to move from the back lines of isolationist pacifism to the front lines of nonviolent peacemaking?”
–Ronald J. Sider
Sider’s challenge was the impetus for the birth of CPT, whose slogan for years was “Getting In The Way.” What would our Reformed response be? If we are to “take away every occasion for hate and strife,” as Calvin suggests, if we are to become peacemakers, as Jesus commands, then how do we move to the front lines of nonviolent peacemaking?
Here’s the rub. If we want to be peacemakers, we have to be bold in challenging the way things are but shouldn’t be. We can’t just buy fair trade coffee if we aren’t willing to seriously discuss just agricultural reform. We can’t just buy local, grass-fed meat and not advocate for humaneness for animals in all farms. We can’t pretend that relocating a refugee family absolves us from looking at immigration reform. We can’t love Israelis without loving Palestinians. We have to be willing to rattle the cages of conformism. Being on the front lines means closing the back doors that make it easy for us to get out of doing the hard stuff. It means adopting a lifestyle of change. This advent season, I pray for courage to become a peacemaker the way Jesus was a peacemaker.
“Jesus disturbed the status quo – but not for mere love of change. It was his commitment to shalom, to the right relationships promised in messianic prophecy, that make him a disturber of an unjust peace. He brought right relationships between men and women, between rich and poor by his radical challenge to the status quo.”
–Ronald J. Sider
May we all “be called Children of God.”
- For the courage to challenge unjust peace for the sake of reconciling ourselves and all things to God.
- For individuals who would lead the church in that direction.
- For collective will to follow Jesus’ calling.