Archive for the ‘peace keeping’ Category

There are any number of scriptures we Christians don’t take seriously, but maybe none are taken less seriously than

Romans 12.18-20. Here, the apostle Paul instructs the church this way: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’”

Living at peace is tough business, and “Christian America” has particularly struggled with it in the wake of September 11, 2001. The reasons are obvious. We were struck! Hit! Devastated! All by an enemy that had long been at war with us, though many of us knew and cared very little about them. It felt reassuring to hear President George W. Bush tell New Yorkers — and the rest of the world — that the people who did this would hear from us. We needed protection from the twisted minds that could envisage, plan, and celebrate the kind of destruction visited New York, Washington, and Shanksville, PA. Innocent people were targeted, children were killed, families undone. It was a slaughter, pure and simple. And in some sectors of the world, there was dancing in the streets.

It was no wonder then that so many of us — Christians, that is — supported combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. I did! And I wasn’t shocked to learn, even years after 9/11, that the majority of Christians supported torture in some instances. It’s not that we’re evil or vengeful, it’s that we’re human. We have spouses and children; parents and grandparents; friends and classmates that we love, that we want to protect and we have a country we want to flourish. What’s more, many of us believe that God has blessed us to live in the best, most humane, most prosperous and healthy country in the history of the world. And we want the best of that country to live forever and would love for others around the world to enjoy the benefits and blessings of our system. In sum, the September 11th attacks came from a place of evil, and as scripture teaches, evil must be resisted.

But the scriptures teach us about peace too.

I don’t find the New Testament to be naive concerning nations, nation-states, war and violence. There are times, unfortunately, when nations go to war. These times should be entered into soberly and with careful thought.

But most Christians, in our day-to-day actions, are not at war. Though our nation be at war with Muslim extremists, I am not at war with my Muslim neighbor. As a matter of fact, taking Jesus seriously means my neighbor is the one whom I am called to love. And much like a nation, I can only be at war with my neighbor if I choose to be.

Which I why I find the weeds of Christian/Muslims enmity which have sprung from the earth recently perplexing. As mentioned above, the apostle Paul’s instructions are very clear, “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” This means that you and I can choose to be people of peace, to be agents of peace, to be extensions of peace. In the verse previous to this the apostle instructs us saying, “Do not repay evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.” This is a radical, counter-cultural call to peace-making. But it’s far more than that, it’s a call to sacrifice. In this very same chapter of Romans, Paul exhorts us to “bless those who persecute you” and “offer our bodies as a living sacrifice.” This, for Paul, is worship.

You and I can have our opinions regarding the propriety and necessity of when and where our nation goes to war, but that’s not my primary concern. After all, where two or more are gathered, there will be opinions. My primary concern is when you and I as individuals and in our Christian communities decide to go to war with our neighbors (or stand silently by when others do). I’m concerned about Qu’ran burnings in the name of Jesus and Mosques being vandalized. The apostle Paul assumes that those that you might be tempted to war against don’t share your values, but he calls us to peace anyway. He takes it for granted that evil has been visited upon you, he asks us to extend peace in return.

And Paul can do this for one reason: He believes in God. He believes that if there is vengeance to be paid, God is the one to pay it. I wonder sometimes if our reflex for violence and vengeance is a subtle suggestion that we think God isn’t competent to the task.

So this September 11th, I urge you, my fellow, fallible, fumbling followers of Christ, to do whatever you can to live at peace; to call your communities of faith to live in peace. Paul says, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

This is living at peace.

If you didn’t see CNN’s Christian Amanpour’s three night special, God’s Warrior’s, you’ve missed some of the best reporting I’ve seen. Please catch it this weekend! I want to offer a couple of thoughts on last night’s coverage of God’s Christian Warriors.

1. First of all, I’m not quick to say that Amanpour’s coverage was as balanced as a lot of other people are. The reason is that as she talked with Christians last night, the report seemed to equate some things that don’t quite add up. For instance, I don’t think that the bombings of abortion clinics by insane individuals is the same thing as the radical Islamic culture of death. There’s a difference between individuals acting alone and building schools designed to teach hate and terrorism. There’s also a difference between appropriate dress and Teen Mania’s Honor Academy and the Taliban’s law forcing women to cover completely from head-to-toe and never leave the house without a man. Those equations make me think that Amanpour may not have been fair to Islam and Judaism which I know much less about.

2. Falwell’s “Pit-bulls”: Under NO circumstances should people who claim to be acting on behalf of God deliberately use imagery that is predominantly associated with attacking and violence. Pit-bulls, at least to my knowledge, are notorious for attacking the weak and the small; often children. That very imagery goes against what I hold dear about Christ. That’s not to say that Jesus is never controversial, but the Spirit of Jesus does not attempt to hurt, destroy or kill. That’s what pit-bulls do. Remember: Micheal Vick owned pit-bulls.

3. Thank God for Greg Boyd and others like him. Boyd made a lot of sense last night. I commend to you his book, The Myth of a Christian Nation.

4. People homeschool for a lot of reasons. I thought Amanpour was stretching her point when she highlighted the homeschooling movement. Rochelle and I have considered homeschooling and our faith is part of the reason. Here are two other reasons: (1) schools aren’t great at teaching anymore and (2) we don’t want our girls shot in the cafeteria. Those are matters of faith to us, but not necessarily matters of faith.

5. After watching some of all three nights I can better understand those that say that religion is the problem in America. When you name a TV special, “God’s Warriors” that creates a certain imagination and sends you in search of a certain kind of person. The result? The special reports the ugly parts and ugly people of the three great world religions. I wonder what a special would look like that examined “God’s Peacemakers?” People would likely see a very different story–if anyone bothered to watch.

Peace Keeping 3

Posted: January 3, 2007 in church, peace keeping, ranting

Even though every sermon any of us have ever heard about peace—particularly if that sermon originates from Galatians—has told us that peace is not the absence of conflict. The idea here is that we can be people of peace, and have communal and individual peace even when everything around us is in the midst of tumult. This is a Biblical view of peace, but in reality the way we practice peace in the church is about trying to get to a place of peace as the absence of conflict.

This often comes when a church is looking to replace or hire a new staff member. Churches are replete with stories about one minister being too active or too controversial then leaving for another church or being fired and the very next minister being the most uninspiring, milk-toast, oatmeal talking person ever. Churches tend to swing from one side of the pendulum to the other. In this example, the new pastor comes in and gives the church what it wants in terms on not upsetting or challenging anyone, then the next thing you know, the church looks up and wonders why nothing is going on, why they’re not growing and why no new strides are being made. The reason is peace as the absence of conflict.

Some in the church have bought into the idea that peace, as the absence of conflict is always good. I seriously question that proposition. Like I said before, the transformative process by nature is not peaceful.

The church is supposed to call people away from the kingdoms of this world. Those kingdoms are the very air we breathe. We are bathed in it. We can’t escape it. That’s why the church cannot afford the absence of conflict. This, I think, is what Jesus meant when He said that He came not to bring peace, but a sword. The Savior is not interested in senseless violence, but rather He knows that to live as He is calling us to live, we would naturally be set apart—and set at odds—from the kingdoms of this world.

For example, white churches in the south repeated implored Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement to simple wait for equality and not cause domestic disturbance. This—as the absence of conflict—is peace. Yet, their position was not right. If someone had gone into a southern white church in the 1950’s and said, “Hey, we should everything we can to bring about equality for all races,” then he or she would probably have been run out of town. Yet it is the process of disrupting the peace that advanced the kingdom of God and made both the society and the church a truer reflection of the heart of God.

Peacekeeping is often opposition to God.

Peace is a good thing. Don’t get me wrong, I like peace and think that the church above all people groups should work for peace. What I’m aiming at is spiritual cowardice and poor leadership being masqueraded as “peace keeping.”

Here’s a typical example: A church I know was considering making some changes in terms of the use of women in worship. Many church members had been patiently asking for an open study of the issue. Church leadership decided to pursue it, but then—before the first Bible had been opened—the leaders responded to the backlash and opted not to broach the subject at all. The reason they gave was that it would cause division in the church. Clearly this was not a decision made out of conviction; either conviction to honor honest seekers with genuine questions nor conviction to make decisions based on an earnest examination of Scripture. My point here is not that this particular community needed to make some kind of change, but rather that the illusion of maintaining peace trumped what Christians should be doing—searching the Scriptures.

Yet this is frequently the way the church approaches things. This, I think, is what the pastor from the previous post was speaking to. Churches, to be healthy and a reflection of the heart of God must maneuver from a place of conviction and earnest belief. Anything less is other than what the ministry of Jesus indicated. Was Jesus concerned about peace keeping? I’m sure he was, but that took a back seat when he rebuked the religious leaders, chased the moneychangers out of the temple, and consistently provoked the Pharisees. Jesus comes to earth as a revolutionary and his ministry reflects it. He is a truth-teller and whatever comes from that telling is what comes. In fact, Jesus is so bad at keeping the peace that he upsets enough people that they eventually kill him.

What Jesus did do was call God-seekers to a higher ideal. He called them to Kingdom living that surpassed what they were already doing and he called them to a vision of the world that was different than what they had been taught. He called them to re-orient their lives, which is naturally tumultuous! Transformation, by nature, contains upheaval and disorientation, which people, by nature, do not like. Transformation is not a peaceful experience! Therefore, if church leaders focus on peace, when we know that upheaval and disorientation are part of the transformational process, then we are curtailing opportunities of growth for those under our care. While we think we are being Godly, in truth we are keeping people from experiencing the nature processes of spiritual formation and development. It’s what Erwin McManus refers to as “excessive nurture.” What McManus means is that churches are often so concerned with nurture—and peace is part and parcel with nurture—that they fail to mature and develop people. Where insufficient nurture leaves the back door of the church open, excessive nurture creates a logjam at the front door—to use McManus’ words. In short, sometimes the peace we wish to keep is the thing keeping us from becoming the people God wants us to become.