I truly believe that America’s churches could turn the world toward peace if every church lived and taught as Jesus lived and taught.
How to deal with people who threaten us (in the serious, hard cases called enemies), individually and collectively, is the most difficult and enduring question of human existence. Do we overpower and destroy them by whatever means necessary? Do we flee from them in fear? Or is there another way, a third way, of dealing with seriously threatening people? According to Jesus, there is. He lived and taught another way, the way of non-violence, and the church could well be expected to understand and demonstrate that way with its own life and teaching. But does it? Has it, over the centuries, shown anything better than the fight or flight responses to enemies?
The church is an extended human family and it is in the church family that the teaching of peacemaking must begin. In spite of the rampant individualism of modern Western society, human beings have not entirely lost the sense that we are creatures of community and relationship. We still feel that we need the security of supportive others, and the friendship of people in relationship. We are creatures of family and community relationships. That’s the way we are created.
But we’ve traded the security, which God intended and Jesus revealed, for a pact with the devil offering protection through guns and bombs, walls and separation. This hostility-based mode of relationships, rooted in fear, greed and blame, is managed in today’s world by nation states and corporations. They perpetuate history’s greatest protection racket, the false promise of protection from our enemies for the price of our unquestioned loyalty, blind support of military force and uninterrupted shopping at the mall.
It is not easy to think of the church as a community of trusting relationships and a central key to making peace. But it is possible to think that way, and there is every reason why Christians, or people considering themselves followers of Jesus, should think that the church is key in the challenge of peacemaking.
A community that orders its life on the principles of justice, forgiveness and compassion is a peacemaking community. The teaching of Jesus (in Matthew 18, etc) that offenses between people are to be dealt with by an honest assessment of justice breached and truth betrayed, forgiveness extended and relationship restored is not a marginal footnote for religious fanatics. It is the true way to run the world. Another way, to be sure- it is not the fight nor flight, annihilation or separation way--but it is a way, and a way that works, as demonstrated by Jesus and by the history of non-violent movements such as those led by Dr. King and by Gandhi.
Humanity will either learn that you cannot kill enough bad people to make the world safe, or it will kill itself by failing to learn this basic truth. This is what Jesus meant when he said that whoever lives by the sword will die by the sword. Like a lot of other things that Jesus said, this is usually falsely thought to apply, if at all, only to individuals. The fact is, it is an utterly social and political statement--groups and nations that live by the sword die by the sword. It is a profoundly useful commentary on what kind of behavior is suicidal.
And so the church, the community charged with bearing witness to the truth which Jesus lived and taught, has the potential to make a decisive difference in humanity’s quest for peace--for a sustainable community based on love, sharing and non-violence instead of hate, greed and violence.
Anyone who believes in the church enough to see it as a meaningful human community (in all of its varied forms from huge mega-churches to small Quaker meetings) is able, on reflection, to see that the church should be the focus of an effort to make the third way of human relationships which Jesus revealed as the foundation of peacemaking and world renewal. It is time for the church to truly live what Jesus lived and taught. As Christians we must ask ourselves--Are we really following in the footsteps of Jesus? Are we working for peace or are we promoting war? Jesus’ third way is the hard way but it is the only way to true peace.