On September 14, 2012, in the Copley Formal Lounge on the campus of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., a gathering called Evangelicals for Peace convened. By its self-definition, the event was "A Summit on Christian Moral Responsibility in the 21st Century." The conference was co-sponsored by Peace Catalyst International, the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, Sojourners, Evangelicals for Social Action, and the World Evangelical Alliance.
Earlier this year, in January, I joined Peace Catalyst International as a Consultant for Christian-Muslim Relations. So, in the context of our nation's capital, I found myself personally and professionally engaged and absorbed into this significant initial network of Evangelicals for Peace. What follows here is a personalized version of an extended playback, a way of replaying for a wider audience some of the words and ideas expressed at this one-day summit.
In each post, my form is to describe the moment that became catalytic for reflection. My hope is that these conversations surrounding Christian peacemaking will indeed become catalytic for further reflection and constructive action -- especially in Evangelical America. But perhaps also among my Muslim friends in the States and around the world.
Evangelicals for Peace | Extended Playback | Opening Prayer
In his opening prayer for the summit, David Shenk, Global Consultant with the Eastern Mennonites and co-author of A Muslim and Christian in Dialogue, twice used the word "ambassador": once, in reference to the U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was killed in a terrorist-inspired attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012; the other, a channeled reference to the Christian scriptures, to the language found in a New Testament book called "The Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians," where it is written: ...we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.
It was either profoundly unwitting or evocatively strategic: to juxtapose the tragic incident involving a U.S. representative to Libya with the Christ-inspired office of ministry into which all Christians are divinely called (i.e. "ambassadors of reconciliation"). And this fascinating juxtaposition, done in the context of prayer, amidst a gathering of people who are attempting to faithfully and thoughtfully work out the relationship between a Gospel-oriented witness and the work of Christian peacemaking in the real world, is worth a few connections.
These connections, I think, are instructive and constructive.
First, undeniably prayer is the truest under-girding of the Christian peacemaking enterprise.
Yet I often wonder if I sincerely believe it. Not to mention, if I believe in prayer. Am I convinced of what Dallas Willard calls a divine-human power-sharing arrangement?
In their commitment to and perpetual practice of prayer, some Christian monastic movements believe that in prayer the monk takes the whole of the world into his physical body as he performs this spiritual activity. Though he is cloistered, it is said that this image is reality; the monk's gateway for interfacing with the desperate brokenness of our world is prayer. So too the logic of Christian peacemaking. It is the logic of intercession.
Second, to be an ambassador from somewhere to somewhere else must necessarily mean that we are not our own.
Through her presence, an ambassador represents the interests of another. Christian peacemaking that draws its pattern from the Good News story centered in Jesus is surely caught up in Another's irreducible narrative: the reconciliation of all things (Colossians 1:19-20). Christian peacemakers are fundamentally Ambassadors of Reconciliation. We participate in God's abiding interests when it comes to the inhabitants of this ancient, fearful place. And one of those interests is: breaking down barriers and bringing people near -- toward himself, and toward each other.
Third, most circles of American Christians who gravitate, either passionately or reluctantly, to the identity-marker "Evangelical" have an ongoing ideological and theological wrestling to embrace.
This Evangelical wrestling is centered on how we come to understand the meaning of "witness" and likewise the meaning of "peacemaking" and their possible convergence and coherence. But in David Shenk's opening prayer there is an implicit connection between the two.
He does it by linking an indefensible act of extreme violence against a U.S. ambassador with the Christian obligation to follow Jesus precisely as an Ambassador of Reconciliation, the work of which is animated by Christian notions of enemy-love and forgiveness as well as justice. I couldn't help but think: God knows what Evangelicals long to know: peacemaking in the way of Jesus, in the heart of violence, is bound to be a witness.
For more extended playback from the Evangelicals for Peace summit in Washington, D.C., go here.