Oh the Simplexity of Social Peacemaking!

by Rick Love

The famous Yale theologian and peacemaker Miroslav Volf spoke recently to pastors at the Vineyard Great Lakes Regional Conference in Columbus, Ohio. He told a story about the Common Word Dialogue between Christians and Muslims at Yale: “Prior to the dialogue, we inserted a brief apology, asking for forgiveness in the Yale response to the Common Word. People got so upset! They said you should not ask for forgiveness until Muslims ask for forgiveness first!” Miroslav paused, and with a big smile on his face asked, “Since when is my moral behavior predicated on the moral behavior of another?”

In his book, Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites … and Other Lies You’ve Been Told, Bradley R.E. Wright notes that Christians do very well ethically compared to the rest of society. We are neighborly, forgiving, and caring of the poor. Moreover, he demonstrates that general goodwill toward others increases with church attendance.

However, Wright also admits that Christians in general and evangelicals in particular do not like people of different races, religions, and sexual orientations (pp 155-179). Evangelicals seem to struggle most with three communities: Muslims, Illegal immigrants (usually Latinos or Hispanics) and the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) community. Yet the biblical commands to pursue peace with everyone, to love our neighbor, and to love our enemy push us toward these very groups.

Interpersonal peacemaking focuses on conflict between individuals, whereas social peacemaking addresses conflict between groups. Some of the most prominent group conflicts include gender conflict (male vs. female), class conflict (rich vs. poor), religious conflict (Christians vs. Muslims), racial conflict (black vs. white) and conflicts over sexual orientation (evangelicals vs. the gay community).

Social peacemaking, with this group vs. group focus, compounds the complexity of peacemaking. But there are also simple steps we can take. That’s why I like to talk about the “simplexity” of peacemaking in my peacemaking seminars. Peacemaking is both simple and complex at the same time.

Social peacemaking can be simplified when the individual peacemaker reaches out to the “other” in a Christlike manner. Let me share a few brief stories.

  • My wife was talking to an African American man who worked at the airport. He was sharing how different African Americans are from Africans. He used the Somalis as an example. He said, “Somali women get very nervous if I touch them or sit close to them. So I have had to learn about their culture and have tried to respect them by not treating them like I would an African American woman." This simple act of respecting their culture made a big difference.
  • A woman attended one of Peace Catalyst’s “Love Your Neighbor Dinners,” where Christians and Muslims gather to discuss love of neighbor and enjoy a meal together. That simple experience of meeting Muslims in a setting of love helped her see that they are people just like her. She said, “I no longer fear Muslims. In the past when I saw a woman wearing a head covering (hijab) at a store I was fearful and avoided her. Now I go up to her and greet her warmly!”

The first step in social peacemaking is proactively engaging the other. Paul the apostle makes this clear in Romans 12:18: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with everyone.” We take the first step. We take initiative. The Bible always puts the responsibility on us. This the way of Jesus.

Next, we take responsibility for the barriers on our side. We get the logs out of our own eyes before we address the issues of others (Matthew 7:3-5). This usually means that we may need to ask for forgiveness. Two stories immediately come to mind.

I attended a global dialogue between Christians and Muslims called the “Common Word,” which took place in July of 2008 at Yale University. I was in an important closed-door meeting when the veteran Mennonite peacemaker David Shenk said with humility and passion, “I am grieved over the Iraq war. Would you please forgive us?” The leader of the event from the Muslim side, Prince Ghazi of Jordan, later thanked David publicly for his apology.

More recently, I went with the Vineyard Community Church of Gilbert to the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix for a “Love Your Neighbor Dinner.” During this gathering, both the Imam and Pastor spoke about love of neighbor from their sacred texts. When Pastor Jack Moraine spoke, he said, “As followers of Jesus, we have failed to love you, our Muslim neighbors. Would you please forgive us?” You could hear a pin drop in the Mosque. The Muslims were visibly touched. All tensions in the air melted immediately as Jack modeled what it means to “get the log out of our own eye.”

Many Christians resist this kind of humility. Instead they wrongly want to begin with the peacemaking practice of “rebuke.” They want to focus on the logs in Muslims' eyes, but in doing so they disobey the teaching of Jesus. They fail to follow the Prince of Peace, and opportunities to build bridges are lost.

Yes, there is a place to point out our grievances and differences with Muslims. Eventually we need to speak the truth in love to our Muslim neighbors. But that comes AFTER we have pursued peace, taken responsibility for our own “logs” and reached out in love to our Muslim neighbors.

Let me go beyond my own specialty (Christian-Muslim relations) and venture into the unknown. How might social peacemaking work, for example, between the gay community and evangelicals? How does Jesus’ teaching on peacemaking apply to the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender) community?

I can imagine many of my conservative evangelical friends retorting immediately, “Why do we want to make peace with the gay community anyway? Homosexuality is sin.”

Ok, so how did Jesus’ relate to “sinners?” He was accused of being a friend of sinners (Matthew 9:11; Luke 15:2)! And how did Jesus relate to sexual sinners – like the woman interrupting the Pharisee’s party (Luke 7: 36-50) or the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11)? Jesus demonstrated love. By contrast, Jesus’ opponents, the Pharisees, were antagonistic toward sinners. They believed they demonstrated love for God by hating sinners; that holiness manifested itself through hostility. Sadly, many evangelicals follow the way of the Pharisees but do so mistakenly in the name of Jesus.

I love how Brian Zahnd addresses these issues:

"I’m not sure it is helpful to automatically identify secularists, homosexuals, and Muslims as enemies. But even if we do, the fact remains that Jesus calls us to love and bless our enemies, and not mock and revile them. Let’s get this clear – loving the homosexual is no more an endorsement of homosexuality than Jesus’s refusal to stone the adulterous woman was an endorsement of adultery. Because Jesus would not stone the adulterer did not mean Jesus was pro-adultery. Because Paul addressed the pagans of Athens respectfully did not mean Paul was pro-paganism. As we learn to sincerely love and respect secularists, homosexuals, and Muslims, it does not mean that we advocate secularism, support gay marriage, or endorse Islam. It simply means we are attempting to be authentic followers of Christ" (Unconditional? The Call of Jesus To Radical Forgiveness p 146).

Therefore, social peacemaking between evangelicals and the gay community follows the same steps mentioned above with the Muslim community. We do not begin with rebuke. Rather, we take the initiative to reach out in love. Next, we get the logs out of our own eyes. We show humility by asking for forgiveness for not loving our gay neighbors as ourselves. We repent for the hatred and anger evangelicals have displayed toward gays. Then we can speak the truth in love about our differing views of marriage and sexual orientation.

But social peacemaking, like all peacemaking, is not just about methods, it is about our motives.

If we do peacemaking in order to evangelize Muslims, or do peacemaking in order to correct the gay community, our motives are most likely not right.

God commands us to pursue peace with everyone, not as a means to an end but as an end in itself. Peacemaking is a good deed that glorifies God. Another way of saying this: God commands us to love our neighbor without an ulterior motive. As one of my pastor friends says: “Love God. Love Neighbor. Period.”