• May 28, 2021
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    When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the peacemaker do? By Dr. Rula Khoury-Mansour
When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the peacemaker do? By Dr. Rula Khoury-Mansour

Two weeks ago, my teenage sons witnessed violent scenes of turmoil all over the country. It was the first time for them, although sadly not for me, to witness another round of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The unrest was triggered by the Sheikh Jarrah events, the attack on the Palestinian worshipers in Al-Aqsa Mosque, and demonstrations being suppressed. The brutal reaction of the police caused further protests, with violent clashes between Palestinians and Jewish citizens of Israel causing injuries and damage to public and private property in several mixed towns – including a mob of Jewish extremists attacking peaceful Palestinian-Israeli citizens inside their own homes. All of this was taking place in parallel to Hamas shooting rockets towards Israel and the Israeli air force attack on Gaza. At the end of this latest round of violence, around 200 Palestinians had been killed (including 67 children), thousands were injured and around 40,000 were displaced, mostly in the Gaza strip where heavy damage to buildings and property occurred. Twelve Israeli citizens were killed by Gaza rockets, two of them were Palestinian-Israeli. 

Feelings of insecurity, fear, and anger controlled our family’s conversations, but, perhaps surprisingly, my sons’ main frustration was with the passive response of Christians.

How can we transform these legitimate feelings of fear and anger into constructive energy that will build bridges in our country? How can we as parents, teachers, and pastors encourage the younger generation to be shaped by their Christian values rather than by wrongdoings and unjust actions, and to thereby choose forgiveness rather than hatred? How can we guide them to stand up against the injustice that exists in their country by becoming peacemakers and bridge-builders? 

In this article, I propose that conflict, despite its destruction, is an opportunity that calls us as Christians to act as the conscience of society. To do so we need to act according to the codes of Kingdom ethics and to practice peacemaking that is just.

 

How should we respond to conflict?

Conflict can be a threat or an opportunity, as it has the ability to destroy or construct, depending on whether we choose to act constructively or destructively. The bible teaches us that God’s sovereignty is complete. He controls even over painful and unjust events (1 Peter 3:17). This can be hard for us to accept since we tend to explain God’s actions based on our own ideas of what is right. Of course, God is not delighted in what is painful; yet for his eternal purposes, he occasionally permits suffering and unjustness. The fact that God is good means that he will be with us in our suffering and will work things out for his good purposes, but not necessarily protect us from all suffering (Isa. 43: 2-3). We can trust that at the right time God will bring justice and right all wrongs (Proverbs 16: 4–5). Although God may not reveal to us all we want to know in painful and unjust situations, it is important to remember that God is both sovereign and good. We can serve God more effectively as peacemakers when we trust and obey him (Proverbs 3: 5-7).

Conflict provides opportunities for us to glorify God, serve others, and grow to be more like Christ. These opportunities, which are sometimes described as being faithful to God, merciful to others, and acting justly, are mentioned throughout Scripture.[1] In Micah 6: 8 we are told, “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” God can help us turn conflicts into opportunities that draw us closer to him and to have a fruitful Christian life that will contribute to helping “His Kingdom come and His will be done”.

The fact that God has ultimate control of all injustices doesn’t release us from our responsibility and mission. Our mission, similar to Jesus’s, involves being sent to the world to love, serve, teach, heal, save and free.[2] Further, our mission to act as salt and light is an active, not passive peacemaking role; salt prevents immorality and light casts out darkness, and in this way our ministry should link the Gospel to important events and daily issues and serve as the conscience of society.[3] 

 

What is Jesus’ vision for peacemaking’s ethics?

How can Christians act as the conscience of society? A pre-condition to being sent as peacemakers and bridge-builders is the need for Kingdom ethics, as expressed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Which virtues should we be pouring around us during times of conflict? What should our values be during conflict? How do we view and understand the conflict? What are the attitudes that guide our actions during this conflict? And finally, what is our own role in this conflict?

The Sermon on the Mount teaches us that our virtues include being humble, repentant, meek, merciful, and pure, being God-seekers, peacemakers, and suffer for righteousness and for God (Matt. 5: 1-12). Our Value is reflected in how we live and invest in the Kingdom. We store up treasures in heaven when we devote ourselves to living for God’s glory and the good of others and to growing to be like Christ (Matt 6:19-20). In our Worldview, we have a “healthy eye” when we evaluate reality through God’s eyes and heart (Matt 6:22). Our Attitudes demand that we respect the lives and rights of all human beings, we value women, honor covenant, and value reason. We forgive, love our enemy, tell the truth and pray. We condemn evil and wrongdoing, resist it with good and seek justice (Matt. 5:21-48; Matt. 6:9-13, 33). Our behaviors are transformative initiatives based on the grace of God and provide practical guidance for participating in the Kingdom. In our mission, we have the effect of salt that prevents immorality and light that casts out darkness (Matt. 5:13-16).

The Sermon on the Mount is not a list of impossible ideals; it offers a way of life that helps to free us from the ungodly cycles that trap us (anger, lust, divorce, oaths, revenge..) to grace-based transformative peacemaking practices (go be reconciled, remove the cause of temptation, give your cloak, go the second mile, love, bless and pray for your enemy, take the log out of your eye...).[4] Relationships transform when love is at the core of the transforming initiative, and all the actions Jesus taught give creative expression to that love.

As we reevaluate our virtues, values, worldviews, attitudes, behaviors, and mission and make an effort to live a lifestyle that reflects the ethics of the Kingdom, the Kingdom of God will grow through our ethics and mission despite the conflict.  

 

What is the foundation of our ethical practices as peacemakers?

First, restoring broken relationships through peacemaking initiatives: In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus provides a vision of peacemaking that rejects both violence and passive withdrawal from society. Instead, he offers ways to restore damaged relationships through peacemaking initiatives (from “you shall not kill” Jesus teaches us how to restore right relationships that have been damaged within society: “go, therefore, be reconciled” Matt 5:21–24).[5] Peacemaking that is just, emphasizes taking proactive steps to create and sustain peace, confront injustice, and prevent violence in society. We can do that by supporting peaceful resistance, such as marches, demonstrations, sit-ins, strikes, and more. These peaceful actions are significant in exposing tensions rooted in unjust systems, thereby directly confronting them in order to bring the stronger party to the point of wanting peace with justice rather than pacification of the oppressed. 

David sacrificed the lives of Saul’s descendants, as he focused on solving the political crisis with the Gibeonites. Rizpah, nonetheless, exposed the injustice that had been done to her sons. Her action was both long-term and public, as she kept the fact of her sons’ deaths visible before the people of Israel for months. As a result, David had to acknowledge his wrong action publicly when he came to Rizpah and buried her sons with royal dignity (2 Samuel 21:1-14). Damaged relationships are restored by acknowledging responsibility for the wrongdoings and injustice; seeking repentance and forgiveness. Instead of continuing the cycles of violence by remaining silent, Rizpah’s creative actions affirmed the humanity of both the victims and the perpetrator. Injustice is exposed and resisted, but in a way that opens the door to repentance, reconciliation, and justice.[6]

Second, commitment to love: Christians see love as a radical force for building a community that includes our enemies and those who are marginalized (Matt 5:43-48). This radical love was modeled by Jesus through his compassion for “outsiders” – Samaritans, tax collectors, and prostitutes. Last week, during a demonstration in Umm el-Fahm, 17-year-old Palestinian-Israeli Muhammad was killed by the Israeli police. His family decided to donate his organs, saving the lives of five Israeli-Jewish patients. Muhammad's family declared: "We believe in peaceful coexistence and we choose life – we wanted to save lives regardless of religion, race, and gender." In Or Akiva, twenty Jewish-Israelis attempted to lynch a Palestinian-Israeli. He was stabbed and beaten with knives and Israeli flags. Guy and Shlomi, two Jewish brothers, intervened and protected him with their bodies and kept him away from the crowd until the ambulance arrived. In another story, Jamal, a Palestinian-Israeli rescued Reuven, an ultra-Orthodox Jew, after being caught in a lynch attack by young Palestinian-Israelis in Cana of Galilee. These are powerful stories of peacemaking, based on loving your neighbor and aimed at restoring community life.

Belonging to a community involves not only a commitment to love but also a commitment to active participation in community life. Participation could be through encouraging grassroots peacemaking groups and voluntary associations to work together for bringing peace that is just, as well as cooperate with other forces for good in the system, such as organizations that share a similar goal.[7]

Third, pursuing justice: based on the teachings of the prophets and Jesus, removing injustice is crucial for peacemaking. Jesus frequently confronted injustices, including domination, violence, greed, and exclusion, that he encountered in the authorities in his time. He challenged them through direct confrontation, and by his attitudes, practices, and teachings that confronted their theological ideologies (Luke 16:13-15, 12:42-45, 4:24-29; Mark 12:38-44; Matt. 23:29-36).

Justice and peace are intimately linked and expressed by the biblical concept of shalom. It expresses God's fundamental intention for humanity that people live in a "right" state in all areas of their lives: in their relationship with God, with themselves, with others, and with nature. Peace cannot be lived without justice and biblical justice cannot be achieved by non-peaceful means.[8] However, the pursuit of justice should be about the restoration of community.

We can stand, financially or emotionally, with the oppressed who are suffering from injuries, or those who have lost their loved ones or who have experienced property damage or faced legal procedures. We can condemn wrongdoings by issuing declarations and petitions that articulate a vision for human rights as well as for reconciliation. In this way, we can take steps to reduce threats, prevent violence and hopefully create peace.

Certainly, God will restore our eternal rights as part of bringing forth the Kingdom of justice. Nonetheless, in the here and now we are to act as agents of justice and peace. Marshall sees God’s coming justice as ‘the culmination of, not a substitute for, human striving for greater justice here and now.’[9] 

 

Conclusion

God has ultimate control of all injustices, yet he does not release us from our responsibility to act as the conscience of our society. To do this, first, our ethical practices should reflect Kingdom ethics. Second, our vision of peacemaking should include: the restoration of broken relationships through peacemaking initiatives, a commitment to love and active participation in community, and the pursuit of justice that seeks the restoration of community. This vision of peacemaking opens the door to repentance and peace.

The journey of peacemaking isn’t an easy one, yet it’s helpful if we first lower our sights to focus on the small steps we can take rather than on seeking overall victory. When peacemaking becomes a lifestyle, stories of small successful actions along with the grand vision will work together to keep us on this journey towards reconciliation. [10] Gideon saw the hunger of his people and decided to act. He collected wheat and threshed grain secretly in a winepress, hiding from the enemy, to feed the hungry. God who was watching him, appeared to Gideon as an angel and said, "The LORD is with you, mighty warrior" (Judges 6:12). Gideon, like many of us, doubted his own abilities. He suffered so many defeats and failures that he even put God to the test three times. All of us have power to act creatively even in situations of oppression. God can accomplish great things through us if we trust in him, and follow his guidance.

 

Rula Khoury-Mansour is the Director of Peace Studies at Nazareth Evangelical College

 

[1] Sande, Ken. The Peace Maker. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004.

[2] Bosch, David J. “Reflection on Biblical Models of Mission,” in Landmark essays in mission and world Christianity. edited by Gallagher and Hertig, 3-16. New York: Orbis, 2009.

[3] Volf, Miroslav. “The Church as a Prophetic Community and a Sign of Hope.” European Journal of Theology 2 (1993): 9–30. According to Tutu, everybody needs to commit effort to the process of restraining violence and seeking reconciliation. In his view, the Church must serve as the conscience of society, it is not a matter of choosing to be political; rather the choice is to be true and obedient to God’s word. See Battle, Michael. Ubuntu: I in You and You in Me. New York: Seabury, 2009.

[4] Stassen, Glen & Gushee, David. Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in contemporary context. InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, 2003.

[5] Stassen & Gushee, 135.

[6] Daniel L. Buttry. A Bible Study Manual for Transformation.

[7] Stassen, Glen & Gushee, David. Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in contemporary context. InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, 2003.

[8] Marshall, Chris. Little Book of Biblical Justice: A Fresh Approach to the Bible's Teachings on Justice. The Little Books of Justice and Peacebuilding Series. Intercourse, PA: Good Books, 2005.

[9] Marshall, 29

[10] Volf, Miroslav. Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness and Reconciliation. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996.

 

 

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