I write this at a very pertinent time in the United Kingdom. A British soldier walking the streets has been brutally murdered by two young men claiming that the killing was in the name of Allah. They wanted notoriety, and they certainly achieved it with their faces plastered all over the newspapers and our television screens. Tension is high and fear is causing many to say things against Muslims that they would not normally say. Some people have a vested interest in situations like this and the English Defence League and others were quick to promote riots.
It seems as though extremists on both sides had a great opportunity to exploit the situation and polarise views stirring up fear and hatred. But in the noise and clamour there are moderates, Christian, Muslim and Secular speaking out and seeking to produce peace. These are the peacemakers that Jesus said were blessed and called the sons of God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called sons of God. (Matthew 5:9 ASV)
This blog posting explains what it means to be a peacemaker in today’s world. It explores the “us” and “them” situations which cause alienation, prejudice, exclusion and often violence. Being a peacemaker is not the same as being a pacifist nor is it about keeping peace in a passive way but it is about actively making peace, bringing reconciliation, wholeness and well-being to people who suffer violence, exclusion and alienation.
Us and Them
The human race consists of over 7,000,000,000 people. Can we identify with them all? In practise we create groups for ourselves. The world becomes divided into ‘US’ and ‘THEM’. These groups can be large or small.
- Family and non-family.
- Our tribe and other tribes.
- Human beings with our skin colour and people with darker or lighter skin.
- Speakers of our language and speakers of other languages.
- Members of our club and non-members.
- Those who attend our particular church and people outside.
- Believers of or adherents to our religion and people of other religions or no religion at all.
- People who agree with us and people who disagree.
- Voters of our preferred political party and people who vote for other parties.
- The rich, the middle class and the poor.
- People like “us” and people of a different sexual orientation.
- Our age group and those who are younger or older.
- Citizens of our country and citizens of other countries.
- People who are fit and healthy and people who are challenged by disability or health.
- Believers of “Pro-life” and believers of “Pro-choice”.
Dividing the world up into various combinations of ‘US’ and ‘THEM’ has a number of effects:
- It expands, emphasises and reinforces the distinctions between members of our group and other people.
- Produces self-satisfaction, superiority and pride in being a member of our group.
- The exclusion of nonmembers.
- A feeling of alienation amongst those not belonging to our group.
- Fear of people who are different and fear of our own group if we do not conform.
- Closing our minds to other opinions thereby polarising beliefs and attitudes.
- Prejudice and discrimination.
- War, strife and violence between our group and other groups.
Pacifism and Peacemakers
Being a pacifist is not necessarily the same as being a peacemaker. A peacemaker goes far beyond refusing to fight (although that may be a valid option). A peacemaker is one who tries to reconcile the two sides of an argument or combat situation. There are those who have a vested interest in stirring up confrontation and violence between people. A peacemaker will confront such persons and expose them so that other people caught up in the situation will not be corrupted by extreme views.
Peacekeepers and Peacemakers
Being a peacemaker is far more than just been a peacekeeper. United Nations peacekeeping forces try to keep combatants apart but do nothing to produce reconciliation between them. Keeping the peace is often passive and can be cowardly. It takes a brave man or woman to confront the two sides and be a bridge between them. That person stands the chance of criticism and being shot at by both sides.
One of the hardest things about being a peacemaker is the possibility that we can be treated as a traitor to our own side. If we belong to any group then we seek acceptance from that group and don’t naturally want to deviate from that groups values. Often the most vitriolic criticism can come from our own side. If we seek to understand that the other side has some valid opinions and beliefs, this will not sit easily with members of our own group.
Fear can prevent us from speaking out. We desperately want to be accepted and respected by members of our own group. This fear needs to be overcome because, if the two sides do not have some dialogue, there is no hope for any form of reconciliation.
- Fear causes a gang member to stab a young person from another gang because he or she desperately wants to be respected and fears rejection from the gang.
- Fear of being labelled a communist or a liberal may prevent us from speaking out for the rights of the poor or those disadvantaged by society.
- Fear of being labelled a heretic may prevent us trying to understand the beliefs of another religion.
- Fear of accusation of compromise may stop us accepting that some of our political opponents views actually make sense.
Love your Enemies
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy’.
But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.
He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?
And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that.
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Matthew 5:43-48 (NIV)
To be a peacemaker means that we must love those that set themselves up as enemies. Loving our enemies means respecting them and looking after their interests. This is contrary to what comes naturally to us. It’s easy to love our family and friends but not so easy to love those that treat us badly. It is easy to respect people who respect us but not so easy to respect people who seem to have no respect for us.
The example we have is God himself. God causes the sun shine upon the good and bad and sends the rain on those who love him and those who ignore him. God’s love for all people is unconditional. He loves People who curse Him as well as people who try to follow him. He gives good gifts to all men. If we choose to love those who are against us, then God promises that we will be, “children of your Father in heaven”.
Jesus the ultimate Peacemaker
Now peacemaking is a divine work. For peace means reconciliation, and God is the author of peace and of reconciliation. … It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the particular blessing which attaches to peacemakers is that “they shall be called sons of God.” For they are seeking to do what their Father has done, loving people with his love.
John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount
Jesus was the ultimate peacemaker. Our ‘group’ was the whole of humanity and we were alienated from God. But God, “so loved the world” that Jesus came to reconcile us to God. He brought peace between us and our Creator. This peace is far more than absence of conflict between us and God but offers the possibility for everybody for wholeness, well-being and inclusion into ‘His group’.
For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (Romans 8:19-22 NIV)
I find this passage from the Bible exciting and so full of hope. The thought that the whole of creation is waiting for the sons of God to be what they are meant to be. Following in the tradition of Jesus, we can help bring reconciliation and peace to this violent world of ours.
There are so many ‘US’ and ‘THEM’ groupings bringing criticism, superiority, discrimination and ultimately violence. Being a peacemaker means creating harmony, being inclusive, accepting others and promoting peace, not just avoiding conflict. It involves giving up our own rights and loving unconditionally, just as Jesus gave himself to produce reconciliation between the creator and creation.
How blessed we are to be peacemakers in todays troubled world. And what greater privilege to be called sons of God.