7. the peacemakers
Blessed are the ‘peacemakers’ – the true ‘children of God’.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God. (Matt.5.9)
There are many devotees in many different religious traditions who claim to be the ‘children of God’. And many of these so-called ‘children of God’ slaughter their brothers and sisters in the name of God.C hristians, Muslims and Jews use the violence advocated in the Hebrew Bible to justify their violence. After all they say, Moses says, ‘if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise’(Exo.21.23-4)
Christians should note, in the past 1,000 years, there have been more devastating wars among Christian states fighting each other than between Christian and Muslim states.And predominantly Christian states have killed more Jews and Muslims than predominantly Muslim states have killed Christians or Jews. 1
Jesus treated the Hebrew Bible, our ‘Old Testament’, as his authority (Matt 5.17-20). But he interpreted the Law according to the Prophets, especially Isaiah, whom he quoted at the start of his ministry.(Luke 4) Jesus’ devotion to peacemaking was inspired by Isaiah’s vision for peace. Jesus knew by heart ‘how beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace.’ (Is. 52.7) He knew a bringer of good news ‘will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets – a bruised reed he will not break and a smoldering wick he will not quench’.(Is.42.2) The prayer for his people: ‘no longer will violence be heard in your land, nor ruin or destruction within your borders.’ (Is. 60.18) John the Baptist introduced Jesus at the beginning of his ministry as ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.’ (John 1.29) We know the word ‘Lamb’ is not meant to be taken literally. Jesus was a ‘Man’ not a ‘Lamb’. However, the word ‘Lamb‘ is used to describe the kind of ‘Man’ he was. He was a ‘Lamb’ of a ‘Man’ – pure and peaceable – not a ‘Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing’ – duplicitous and dangerous.
Jesus, the ‘Lamb of God,’ sought to develop communities, of what he called, ‘flocks of sheep’ at the grass roots. (John 10.11-16) ‘Sheep’ was a seemingly innocuous, but essentially counter-cultural term, that Jesus used to describe people who lived with ‘wolves’ who preyed on other people but, who refused to become ‘wolves’ themselves – even if it meant that the ‘wolves’ might rip the ‘flock’ to pieces because of their refusal to join the ‘pack’ and prey on others. ‘I want you to live your lives as sheep, even in the midst of wolves.’ said Jesus. ‘Be shrewd. But always be harmless. (Matt. 10.16) ‘Always treat other people as you would like them to treat you.’ he said. (Matt. 7.12) ‘Even do good to those who do evil to you. Love those who hate you. And bless those who curse you.’ (Matt. 5.44) ‘Don’t ever be afraid’ he said to his flocks, ‘of those who can kill the body, but can’t kill your soul.’ (Matt. 10.28)
Jesus explicitly, specifically and repeatedly contradicted the Mosaic law that legitimated retaliation. ‘You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” But I tell you, Do not resist (or retaliate against) an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also’. (Matt.5.38-9) Jesus told his disciples ‘you should always be ready to die – but never to kill – for your faith’.(Matt16.24) So, under his guidance, the Jesus movement became a Jewish peace movement.2
For three centuries, Christianity was a completely pacifist movement. The Apostles taught Christians the pacifist principle:‘ Love does no harm to its neighbour’ (Rom.13.10) Paul said to:‘ Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge. On the contrary: “If your enem(ies)are hungry, feed (them); if (they) are thirsty, give (them) something to drink.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’ (Rom.12.14-21)
When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, Ambrose and Augustine develop-ed a set of criteria to call those in power – who make war – to be accountable to the principles of justice.
They argued that in order for a war to be conducted according to the principles of justice it would need to meet eight specific conditions. One, it would need to be motivated by a ‘just’ cause – and the only cause considered to be ‘just’ was to stop the killing of large numbers of people. Two, it would need to be administered by a ‘just’ authority – duly constituted authorities had to proceed carefully according to due process before taking action. Three, it would always need to be a last resort – after all means of negotiation, mediation, arbitration and nonviolent sanctions had been exhausted. Four, it would need to be for a ‘just’ purpose – to secure the welfare, safety and security of all parties in the dispute, including the enemy. Five, it would need to be a reasonable risk – not a futile gesture, but a realistic venture, with a reasonable hope of success. Six, it would need to be cost effective – the outcomes of victory would outweigh the human costs of battle. Seven, that any government intending to go to war should announce their intentions – articulating the conditions that would need to be met to avert it – in order to avoid going to war if at all possible. Eight, that, if the war were to go ahead, that not only the ‘ends’, but also the ‘means’ would need to be ‘just’ – noncombatants must be protected; once combatants surrender, they too must be protected from slaughter; and all prisoners must be protected from torture.
According to this criteria, our current wars are not ‘just wars’. As Christians committed to peace and justice, we should robustly oppose these hostilities and actively seek reconciliation with our enemies.
Christ says only committed ‘peacemakers’ have a legitimate claim to be called the ‘children of God’.
2 Glen Stassen & David Gushee Kingdom Ethics IVP, Downers Grove, 2003 p 152