Sunday, October 26, 2008

Peace and conflict

"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." - Jesus (as quoted in Matthew 10:34)

Which, I think, is another way of saying, "Love really pisses some people off."

I'm amazed sometimes at the angry responses I get from fellow Christians when I mention certain beliefs of mine which, it seems to me, are consistent with God's loving character, as revealed in Jesus. For example:

- I don't believe in Hell (in the sense of a place of eternal conscious torment).
- I do believe that gay people ought to be allowed to do anything that straight people do (including marry and serve in the military).
- I believe that terrible injustices have been, and continue to be, perpetrated against the Palestinian Arabs in Israel, which has resulted in some of them committing atrocious acts of retaliation.

What these--and other beliefs I hold--have in common is that they are born out of a desire to be inclusive rather than exclusive. If I err, I would rather err on the side of loving too much than loving too little. As Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law." (13:8)

It's in our carnal nature to want to exclude. It's in God's nature to include. Jesus scandalized the religious establishment of His day by hanging out with drunks, crooks, prostitutes, lepers, half-breeds and gentiles--all of whom were supposed to be on God's blacklist. It became apparent to the earliest Christians that to accept Jesus was to reject the premise that only the Jews were God's chosen people. It also meant letting go of prejudices based on class or gender. As Paul wrote in Galatians 3:28, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

M. Scott Peck referred to tribalism as "the great sin". I think he was onto something. Tribalism says "Our tribe/race/nation/church/denomination/team is favored by God over yours." Exclusion is at the heart of it. We speak for God by claiming we're in with Him and if you're not one of us, you're out with Him. In doing so, we commit blasphemy by invoking God to further our own selfish agendas. But the God we are invoking is really a personification of our own interests. This is the height of blasphemy.

The way of Jesus is the way of inclusion. It is to seek justice for the oppressed, freedom for those in bondage, light to the blind, love to those who hate. Jesus is the Prince of Peace and He said "Blessed are the peacemakers", which He immediately followed with "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness" and "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me." It's a paradox that, by bringing peace, we also bring the rage of those who can't handle the idea of God's love being extended to those people.

One other, only tangentially related thought on peace:

I've noticed for the last couple of weeks a hand-made sign hung on a fence facing the highway. The sign says, "PEACE". Today I noticed that someone else had added a sign below it which says, "THROUGH STRENGTH". I want to add another sign below that one which says, "IS NOT PEACE, BUT INTIMIDATION".


Blogger Barry Clemson said...

I would like to add to the sign the following:

1:38 PM  

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