In this season of advent, when many of us are pondering the life and birth of the Prince of Peace, we find ourselves also remembering the life of peacemaker Nelson Mandela. For the last couple of days news programs, television specials, and radio addresses have reminded us of Mandela's achievements and sacrifices. Twitter and Facebook have been abuzz with Mandela's quotes. As I have learned much more about Mandela's legacy through all these vehicles and consider the life of Jesus, a very elementary thought has occurred to me:
Peacemaking doesn't look all that peaceful.
This is a very rudimentary snapshot of Nelson Mandela's life up to his arrest:
- Mandela was suspended from college for political agitation, and he was not called a peacemaker.
- He allied with members of the Communist party who were willing to treat black Africans with dignity and respect, and he was not called a peacemaker.
- With support of his ANC party, Mandela started a military wing, though carefully planned and focused on sabotage, was a departure from nonviolence and passive resistance, and he was not called a peacemaker.
- He snuck out of the country, illegally, to build outside allies against aparthied and snuck back in to continue his efforts against the system, and he was not called a peacemaker.
- His actions led to an arrest and imprisonment because Mandela was not called a peacemaker. Mandela was considered a trouble-maker, a rabble rouser, even a terrorist.
Causing trouble seems to be the M.O. for peacemakers, and their movements seem to be marked by a significant lack of peace, at least in the beginning. Sojourner Truth, Cesar Chavez, Jane Addams, Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Deitrich Bonhoeffer- this list is by no means exhaustive (find more than 1200 peacemakers listed here). But even this small list serves our purpose in showcasing that most were considered peacemakers only in hindsight.
I looked up the definition of peacemaker, and I found various forms of "someone who reconciles adversaries and brings peace." This is usually what we [the Church] preach about when we call our congregations to be peacemakers. We ask them to resolve conflict with in-laws, to reconcile with siblings, to dialogue with colleagues, to fix interpersonal relationships. While I certainly agree that we should be resolving interpersonal conflicts between one another, this is not why we remember the lives of these men and women, including Jesus. (Ironically enough, many of these peacemakers struggled with healthy interpersonal relationships for the better part of their public lives). The reason we remember the lives of these peacemakers is because they fought for peace AFTER.
They fought for peace after demanding justice.
They fought for peace after condemning the status quo.
They fought for peace after seeking equity and equality on a systemic level.
They fought for peace after speaking truth to power.
They fought for peace after challenging existing social structures and hierarchies.
And our beloved Christ is not exempt from this behavior. He turned social and religious convention on its head; he showed the followers a new way. He challenged the idea that some people are clean but others are not- innate superiority, innate defect. He touched bleeding women and sufferers of leprosy. He talked to Samaritans and affirmed the faith of Romans. He attended parties with drink and let prostitutes touch his feet. He told crazy stories about good samaritans and suggested the rich give up their wealth to follow him. He let women sit as feet to learn and choose for himself the strangest group of disciples. He completely ignored the laws of Sabbath if it meant healing for someone and regularly challenged the laws of Moses. It was a wild ride with this Jesus. And He, too, was not considered a peacemaker. Jesus's very birth induced mass slaughter; the result of Herod's fear of a new king.
Peacemakers overturn unjust systems for the sake of creating equitable relationships thereby achieving peace.
So here is the question for us: when we start calling people to be peacemakers, are we ready for that?
Consider your church. Are you ready for marginalized groups to rise up and demand that any inequities which exist in your current structure be torn down and a new way be created in its place that significantly changes the current power structure of your church?
Chances are there is a group in your church already seeking equity. How are you treating them right now? Are you trying to appease them? Trying to keep them out? Trying to manage them? Trying to reframe their arguments and cast them as troublemakers? Do you trust that the new system they are interested in helping to create will be equitable and will bring peace? Do you want peacemakers in your midst?
If we really look at the lives of the people we have dubbed peacemakers, it would be glaringly obvious that peacemakers are seeking something far more profound than a lack of conflict. We are calling people to pursue justice and equity no matter the cost. We are calling people to rebel, to protest, to organize. We are calling people to a life of speaking truth to power, a life of prophetic speech, a life that may stand in direct opposition to the status quo your church, your neighborhood, your community is trying to maintain. I'll be your peacemaker, but remember that means i have to tear some stuff down first and it won't look or feel very peaceful.
The life of our Prince of Peace showed us a new. But as only the Divine can do, He didn't just operate on a human level. He also operated on a spiritual one. This Prince of Peace destroyed a system of law- a system that required a level of sacrifice that none of us could truly meet. When enmity stood between God and humanity, Peace stepped in. Peace changed the system. Peace found a new way to salvation.
will you make peace? Interpersonal relationships are a great place to practice, but what would be the state of our world if these peacemakers never went beyond their families, friends and co-workers?
This advent season, will we make peace in the world?