STILLPOINT Archive: last updated 06/14/2010

Perspectives on the Teaching of Peace

Blessed Are the Peacemakers
Greg Carmer

In the winter of 1984 a small group of friends and I gathered in the basement classroom of St. John’s Church in Jackson, Michigan, to discuss the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Pastoral Letter on War and Peace. Reagan was in office, the nuclear arms race was in full tilt, and the Nuclear Freeze Movement was gaining considerable traction.

Since those days many things have changed. More states have gained access to nuclear weapons, but the total number of nuclear warheads on the planet has dropped from 70,000 to just over 25,000. In April of this year, at a nuclear security summit in Washington, Russia and the U.S. reaffirmed their intention to eliminate weapons-grade plutonium from their military caches. The existential anxiety fueled by images of mushroom clouds and talk of mutually assured destruction (MAD) of previous decades has given way to a dull malaise brought on by a constant state of “high terrorist threat levels” and the vague threat of elusive weapons of mass destruction (WMD). And peace movements have broadened their scope from calling for arms reduction to working towards justice for all and the building of social capital in areas beset by poverty.

The themes of peace and war run throughout Scripture like a golden thread; now appearing as a present reality, and again as a future hope. The prophet Micah foretells a day when swords will be beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, and when “nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore” (Micah 4:3). On the other hand, Joel challenges the nations to beat their plowshares into swords and their pruning hooks into spears as they gather in the “valley of decision” to receive the Lord’s judgment (Joel 3).

Likewise, prophecies concerning Jesus call him the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) who will bring peace to the nations (Zechariah 9:10); yet enigmatically Jesus says of himself, “Do not suppose I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34).

These mixed messages about peace in Scripture are reflected in the range of attitudes of present-day Christians towards war. Fellow followers of Jesus find themselves in disagreement about how to pursue peace. Still, there is no escaping the clear call of Scripture to be peacemakers. The Apostle Paul, expounding upon the amazing role given to the Church to be Christ’s ambassadors of reconciliation, cannot hide his astonishment at the responsibility with which the Church is entrusted; it is “as though God were making his appeal through us,” he declares (2 Corinthians 5:20).

This message of reconciliation is not written on golden tablets nor enshrined in a sacred temple. Rather, it lives in the life and language of the worshiping Body of Christ. And it is through this worshiping body that the Lord makes His appeal to the world.

Greg Carmer, Ph.D., is dean of chapel.


Peace on Earth, Peace With the Earth
Ian DeWeese Boyd

ecological pacifism, noun, (ekeläjicel pasefizem)

Ecological pacifism is the extension of the love of one’s neighbor and enemies, advocated by Jesus, to the environment that provides for their flourishing. This gospel recognizes that humanity’s place within the created order is not to dominate it but to live in harmony with it—even to recognize God through it. As Jesus holds the raven and the lily before his disciples, he affirms that nature itself displays the caring provision of God and that these fellow beings, resting each in its specific niche, serve as exemplars of living in harmony with the world and with God. The idea that the planet is to be unrelentingly shaped to serve the ever-increasing desires of humanity, then, represents both a failure of trust and of love.

Our own redemption involves inhabiting our specific niche in the world—understanding both its demands and limits; that is, to live in peace. This pacifism isn’t simply a passive rejection of violence; it is an active striving to bring about substantive peace between humanity and the land we live upon. When the gospel is taken outdoors—taken into a world groaning under the weight of human consumption and exploitation—it becomes obvious it’s impossible to love neighbors without caring for their environs. To feed the hungry we must tend the earth. Peace on earth requires peace with the earth.

Ian DeWeese Boyd, Ph.D., is associate professor of philosophy and education.

  Gender, Body(ies) and Shalom
Lauren Swayne Barthold

Christians rightly affirm the importance of our gendered humanity—after all, as the Genesis account notes, our maleness and femaleness reflect the plurality and difference of the Godhead: “Let us make humans in our own image . . . and so male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:26–27). Unfortunately, in our zeal to affirm the significance of gender, we can end up causing each other pain and injustice—both on societal and personal levels.

Gender studies at Gordon has two main aims: the patient analysis of how our understanding of gender has been tainted by sin; and the healing and reconciliation that aims to recover the image of God in our maleness and femaleness. In part this means correcting the individualizing emphasis of modernity, switching the focus from individuals to the Church, Christ’s body. In other words, our emphasis should be on asking how the Body of Christ (as opposed to my individual body) is gendered. Recontextualizing gender questions is a way of recovering a healthy understanding of the image of God. Peace, or shalom, can happen when we consider how ideas about gender have been used to deny the image of God in each other and how they may instead be used to invoke the image of God in one another.

Lauren Swayne Barthold, Ph.D., is associate professor of philosophy and gender studies advisor.

  The Peacemaking Possibilities of Politics
Paul Brink

If the old dictum is true that “war is the continuation of politics by other means,” we might expect to find the Christian peacemaker to be found anywhere but in the thick of political life. Yet politics presents peacemaker opportunities unavailable elsewhere. Indeed, politics is perhaps the only sphere of human life in which that task of conciliating difference is a primary purpose. Today opportunities are relatively rare to meet directly those with whom we disagree and those from whom we are different in fundamental ways—we prefer to hang out with people like ourselves. Politics’ role in peacemaking becomes more important the more we allow this encounter with those others to take place.

Of course, politics is not simply about bringing people together; after all, we’re usually trying to reach a decision about some matter. But here is precisely where its peacemaking potential may be found: As we work towards that decision, politics does not demand that we all agree for the same reasons, and certainly not that we come to agreement on everything. The specific type of reconciliation that politics offers is not one that requires conversion: Political opponents do not need to agree “all the way down” in order for agreements to be reached.

The political arena thus is especially valuable to the peacemaker the more it can allow participants to maintain and respect their differences as they come to agreement. Peace and the transformation of conflict become possible in politics when participants are enabled to speak from out of their differences rather than face the requirement that these be overcome or ignored. For the greater threat to peace—and to politics—comes not when citizens talk too much, but rather when they are not able to talk enough.

Paul Brink, Ph.D., is associate professor and chair of political studies.

NEXT: Rebuilding Social Capital in Post-Communist Romania