I want to be a peacemaker.
I’m so sick of people screaming and arguing and fighting.
I’m so sick of people acting as if destroying their opponent in an argument gains them anything.
But the “peace” that Jesus talks about is not superficial, fake smile, act-nice-and-be-polite-while-injustice-mutilates-people-but-hey!-no-one-is-raising-their-voice.
Thus, here I am, longing to be a peacemaker, but longing for the real peace, the reconciliation and restoration of God that breaks down the dividing walls of hostility (Ephesians 2). I envision living and embodying the shalom that leads people into full relationship with one another and with God-who-is-love (1 John 4).
And at the same time, here I am, weary to death of the bitter, self-serving acrimony that we see (and fall into) across the political chasm and, worse, between Jesus followers with different understandings of this calling. The only credit I can take for being different is that I keep my arguments in my head most of the time. Believe me, I’m sick of that noise, too.
Do you feel this? It’s a tough time for peacemakers. Maybe it always is. Noisemakers and hate-stirrers get a lot more attention. It seems easier for them to rally support.
Switchfoot, a band I’m still fond of, has a song called “Adding to the Noise.”
If we’re adding to the noise, turn off this song
Lord Jesus, if I’m merely adding to the noise, pouring gasoline on an already raging fire, just shut me up. I know, I’m not good at shutting up; I have not honed this skill over the years of my life. But I’m serious. When I write, I’m always aware and checking my spirit, feeling both burning and bound by this dilemna. Am I helping or making it worse?
You have no idea how many posts I’ve written and then consigned to the purgatorial draft folder because the more rational part of me could still discern that saying this may do more damage than healing. It isn’t a simple equation. I got criticized for a post in which I was extremely blunt about TFG (The Former Guy, i.e. Trump). I certainly could have been more diplomatic. But sometimes stating things bluntly helps those who have been harmed, which is worth the risk that others will feel criticized. I try to check these scales every time.
To give an obvious example, I’m going to speak up loudly for women who have suffered physical or sexual assault, and I’m going to consider diplomacy or being “constructive” for the attackers a secondary, tertiary, or way-further-down-the-line concern. Yes, you might have explanations or what you consider mitigating factors in why you committed assault. Yes, I desire your healing and redemption, as well.
But one in three women suffer physical or sexual attack–men are physically or sexually attacking one in three women. Note: Do you see the difference in that phrasing, that construction? Women aren’t victims of attack unless there is an attacker. Why is every headline about the victimization but not addressing who the bleep attacked them?
Yet TFG stated, publically, “It is a very scary time for young men in America, where you can be guilty of something you may not be guilty of.” Certainly a false accusation of physical or sexual violence is a frightening, potentially life-hijacking experience. That happens between two and eight percent of the time.* Think about this: one in three women actually suffer assault–that many men are assaulting them–and about twenty-five out of one thousand attackers will go to jail. Is it a dangerous time to be a young man or a young woman in America?
This is an example of true peacemaking: if we can reduce the number of men attacking women in our sphere, our nation, our world, we are making peace. If we can help heal, empower, and restore the women who have been attacked, we are making peace. If we can help protect women and empower them to protect themselves and, consequentliy, prevent the violence and reduce the horrifying one in three, we have helped bring real peace in our world.
I come not to bring this old peace which is merely the absence of tension; I come to bring a positive peace which is the presence of justice and the Kingdom of God. Peace is not merely the absence of something. but it’s the presence of something.Martin Luther King, Jr., 1957 speech, Montgomery, AL
Peacemaking is not always making everyone feel better. If peace requires the presence of justice, then speaking truth to power, confronting those initiating violence, and standing in solidarity with the oppressed and persecuted all become aspects of peacemaking. I know I’m not giving an advanced class on biblical justice here, nor am I attempting to. I’m pondering when we need to speak up and act. How often does silence not equal peacemaking? I’d guess many of us experience this continuous, unresolved tension of how to be a peacemaker during this never-ending screaming match.
I’m asking you to wrestle with this along with me. A reader whom I will not name (because I don’t know if that would be welcome) recently told me, in response to my expression of frustration:
I can appreciate your feelings, but don’t even think of giving up writing that blog! You are the thoughtful voice of reason and love amidst the madness and I ALWAYS appreciate and learn something from your thoughts and sentiments!
Yes, that helped my writer’s morale. A lot. But in addition to encouraging me, this person reminded me, with great clarity, of my purpose. Jesus, may this description be true! I mean, I could do with less madness. Sadly, it looks to me to be increasing, not decreasing, so trying to live up to these words feels more crucial than ever.
I mention it here because we need to be peacemakers, not noisemakers.
Here’s what I’ve got:
Having people complain that we speak up does not mean we are “doing it wrong.” Of course, getting pushback doesn’t guarantee we’re speaking truth or contributing constructively, either. Therefore, I don’t believe we can pull this off without some form of community that will give us feedback and check us when we are wandering off course.
BUT “some form of community” must be more than people who merely agree with all our views and are happy to cheer and echo our shouting. In an ideal world, we’d have people from many perspectives who will challenge our assumptions. I think our non-negotiable for community, though, must be folks who share our understanding of “peace.” When I ask, “Okay, how do I speak truth in love here? I’m struggling to be kind when I’m so angry,” I need a better answer than “F— kindness! Why do you have to be kind? They don’t deserve kindness!”
Yeah, I know they don’t. That’s how grace works.
I’m going to speak bluntly here. I know a lot of Christians are speaking with hostility while simultaneously taking the role of persecuted victim and martyr (when they aren’t), and somehow seeing this as okay with or even pleasing to God.
I’m not their judge and God has more grace than I do, thank Jesus. I’m horribly disturbed by this trend, just as I am aghast that so many Christians now believe–and spread–conspiracy theories.
Their behavior is not mine to fix. Thank God. Being responsible for me is more than big enough for me, as I demonstrate all too frequently. Again, that’s how grace works.
But I am committed not to reciprocate. I need community that will strengthen my faith and resolve to speak up and help me not to return hatred for hatred or attack for attack.
In the midst of such community, I will continue to seek justice in whatever ways I can and to ask Jesus to show me what more I can do. I will not let others’ unloving theology divert me from Jesus’ calling. AND I will not respond with an eye for an eye. Okay, that’s my prayer, not my noble declaration. I will try. Lord, hear my prayer.
I will continue to speak up on behalf of the LGBTQIA community and, I hope, do a better job of this. I’m learning and God has grace. If this is the point at which you decide that I have stopped following Jesus, go in peace.
I will continue to add my voice concerning the climate crisis. We are in a climate crisis, due to humankind’s poor, greedy, and selfish choices, including the horrible disparity between people with wealth and those living in extreme poverty. How we treat God’s creation is at the heart of how we love God, and how we seek justice for those suffering in poverty–upon whom pollution and environmental damage always hit hardest–is at the core of the Gospel. Jesus says God loves everyone and declares “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.”** “Today,” Jesus concludes, “This scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
I give these as examples. I’m not suggesting these are the only ones or that peacemaking equals these. I know many Christians disagree on them, but these are not “issues;” they are our decisions whether or not to love the people God made and seek justice for and with them. I cannot be a peacemaker while remaining silent for fear that speaking about them will draw criticism. I did that for too long. I repent.
As always, I am learning and unlearning. My ideas and beliefs are growing and changing. God is faithful. I’ve been wrong a bunch and expect I still I am. That’s why we must be open to change. I hope all of us are.
I’m not going to scream and argue. I started this post with how sick I am of it, and I end with that I have to accept I’m not going to solve it. I wish I could. But being silent will not keep others from screaming–trust me, I’ve tried this approach–and will only leave those who need an advocate feeling more alone. Neither will I spend my time and emotional resources getting sucked into fruitless debates. To paraphrase Tracy Chapman, I’m too old to go chasing them around, wasting my precious energy.
Your voice matters. Your advocacy matters, more powerfully and to more people than you realize. I know some of you live this more fully than I could dream. Thank God for you. I also know some of you are exhausted. I want to be a peacemaker, not in the same way I want to eat chocolate or hike in the mountains, because it makes me feel better instantly. I seek to be a peacemaker because that’s what it takes to love others. “Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”
I’m grateful for your partnership and for the hope you give me.
Blessed are the peacemakers. And a blessing are the peacemakers.
*This is, understandably, a difficult number to ascertain with accuracy. The range of 2%-8% is simply a report of the findings of various studies.
** Luke 4:16-21 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”