Every one has those things in their life that they are passionate about. For some it is sports, or a particular sport, for others it is music, or any number of things. We form a connection with these passions to the point that, when they are rejected by others, we sometimes take the rejection personally and feel the need to defend ourselves and our passions.
So when I mentioned to one of my professors my dismay that I hadn’t found a single evangelical peacemaking organization, my disappointment in his response was certainly a normal reaction. “That’s because Jesus said that he didn’t come to bring peace but a sword,” was his reply, as if that was the end of the issue. I was probably visibly shocked, but I decided not to argue just then.
My disappointment in my professor’s response goes beyond a personal feeling of rejection as a result of someone rejecting a personal passion. I think my professor’s response is indicative of an overarching problem in evangelical Christianity, namely, a poor understanding of the social aspects of the gospel. It is attitudes represented by my professor that have prompted certain accusations that evangelicals only care about the soul and spiritual salvation and care little or nothing for the body and social justice.
The gospel seems to self-evidently concern itself with justice. In fact, the entire Bible is riddled with the issue of social justice. The Israelites are constantly being reminded to care for the alien, the fatherless, and the widow. The prophets repeatedly condemn rulers for exploiting the poor. The first chapter of Isaiah addresses the rulers of Sodom and Gomorrah and pleads with them to cease their vain spirituality and exercise justice and end oppression. Jesus specifically mentions that those who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit prisoners are performing those very actions for Jesus himself! Social justice and oppression’s end is close to the heart of Jesus.
At a time when many evangelical denominations were focusing only on the spiritual aspects of the gospel in a reaction to the social gospel, A. B. Simpson presented a balanced approach to the gospel of Jesus. He argued that Christianity must seek to minister to both body and soul. To quote Simpson:
“There is room not only for the worship of God, the teaching of sacred truth, and the evangelization of the lost, but also for every phase of practical philanthropy and usefulness. There may be, in perfect keeping with the simple order and dignity of the church of God, the most aggressive works for the masses and the widest welcome for every class of sinful men; the ministry of healing for the sick and suffering administered in the name of Jesus; the most complete provision for charitable relief; industrial training and social elevation for the degraded classes, workshops for the unemployed, homes for the orphaned, shelter for the homeless, refuges for the inebriates, the fallen and helpless; missions for the heathen; Christian literature for the instruction of the people and every agency needed to make the church of God the light of the world and the mothering of the suffering and the lost. And there is no work that will be more glorifying to God than a church that will embrace just such features and completeness.”
(Simpson Body and Soul, 5)
It is easy to see, at least in the tradition of the C&MA that social justice was seen by some evangelicals as central to the church’s mission.
So, why the aversion to Christian Peacemaking?
In defense of my professor, I’m guessing that the misconception is that Christian peacemaking is viewed as social activism instead of social welfare work, and indeed it can often take on an identity of social activism. The Christian peacemaking I would like to see, however, is peacemaking that is service oriented. I think Christians need to place themselves in fractured, violent, and war-torn communities in order to be a peaceful presence, and demonstrate the Christian alternative to this world’s ways of dealing with conflict.
What would happen if Christians devoted as much effort to waging peace as nations do to waging war? This is the question posited by the Christian Peacemaker Teams (www.cpt.org). Would this effort not be an incredible witness to armies on both sides of conflicts? Picture Christians moving to war-torn Iraq, helping widows and orphans and those injured by conflicts, providing medical care to victims of collateral damage and food supplies for the poor who cannot get access to food due to embargos, etc. What a powerful witness that would be, and a demonstration that we are not afraid to love in the midst of physical danger.
I think there is a responsibility on the part of Christian peacemaking organizations to make sure they emphasize the social welfare aspects of their ministries in greater proportion than their activism aspects. There are several reasons for this. First, it would be in beneficial in creating a united Christian support for peacemaking from both pacifists and just-war theorists alike. Even Christian proponents of just-war theory should hate war as much as pacifists due to its obvious and unavoidably destructive nature. Consequently, if peacemakers focused on alleviating these destructive effects, while offering the victims of this destruction hope in Jesus Christ, rather than just picketing wars, perhaps their just-war counterparts would be in full support of their efforts. Perhaps just-war adherents would even JOIN in peacemaking. What I am suggesting is, rather than only fighting war by trying to change policy (still an honorable task, in this man’s opinion), work to alleviate the effects of war and prevent war through peaceful ministry. We can create peace through presence much more readily than we can through policy, and we might get some of our just-war friends to join us. There is no reason we cannot work together to alleviate the ill effects of war; even if we disagree on the justice of war, we all agree that the ill effects of it are tragedies. And even if there will always be wars (as there will always be poor amongst us), that does not diminish our responsibility to minister to war-torn regions.
I’ve many more thoughts on this subject, and this is certainly not a comprehensive look on the issue. This is a brief survey of the issue and some of the ideas I’m toying with. I think I will be expounding on some of these ideas in the future, but wanted to get this out there initially. I welcome critiques and further ideas on these subjects.