Friday, August 15, 2008

Hauerwas challenges Christians to move peacemaking front and center

PEACE TALKS, ANYONE? I hardly ever hear Christians talk about peace. And when they do, many talk about it in muted tones and in terms that seem to justify whatever violence is necessary to procure peace for themselves or their nation—a reflection of the world instead of a nonviolent, transformative witness to it. I guess these want to appear “reasonable” and “practical” to their neighbors. In doing so, they inadvertently compromise the heart of Christian faith and scuttle the greatest possibility of mission-witness of our generation. I invite all Christians to reconsider their assumptions about the Biblical call to be peacemakers.

HAUERWAS’ REFLECTION. One place to begin is with the following snippets that I lift from a piece called “Peacemaking” in a collection of essays by Stanley Hauerwas titled Christian Existence Today (Brazos Press, 2001). In the spirit of John Howard Yoder, Hauerwas is considered by many the most important American theologian today. Sifting through these assertions could make for an invigorating extended conversation.

WITHIN OUR HOUSE. “Peacemaking among Christians…is not simply one activity among others but rather is the very form of the church insofar as the church is the form of the one who ‘is our peace.’ Peacemaking is the form of our relations in the church as we seek to be in unity with one another. Such unity is not that built on shallow optimism that we can get along if we respect one another’s differences. Rather, it is a unity that profoundly acknowledges our differences because we have learned that those differences are not accidental to our being a truthful people--even when they require us to confront one another as those who have wronged us.”

CONFRONT SHAM PEACE. “Regarding those outside the church, first, I think we must say that it is the task of the church to confront and challenge the false peace of the world which is too often built more on power than truth. To challenge the world’s sense of peace may well be dangerous, because often when sham peace is exposed it threatens to become violent. The church, however, cannot be less truthful with the world than it is expected to be with itself. If we are less truthful we have not peace to offer to the world.”

THE HABIT OF PEACE. "Second, Christians are prohibited from ever despairing of the peace possible in the world. We know that as God’s creatures we are not naturally violent nor are our institutions unavoidably violent. As God’s people we have been created for peace. Rather, what we must do is to help the world find the habits of peace whose absence so often makes violence seem like the only alternative. Peacemaking as a virtue is an act of imagination built on long habits of the resolution of differences.”

LACK OF IMAGINATION. “The great problem in the world is that our imagination has been stilled, since it has not made a practice of confronting wrongs so that violence might be avoided. In truth, we must say that the church has too often failed the world by its failure to witness in our own life the kind of conflict necessary to be a community of peace. Without an example of peacemaking community, the world has no alternative but to use violence as a means to settle disputes.”

CONFRONT WITH RECONCILIATION. “Peacemaking is not a passive response to violence; rather, it is an active way to resist injustice by confronting the wrongdoer with the offer of reconciliation. Such reconciliation is not cheap, however, since no reconciliation is possible unless the wrong is confronted and acknowledged.”

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