David Beasley was Governor of South Carolina from 1995-1999. In 2005, Gov. Beasley founded the Center for Global Strategies (CGS), which "exists to integrate peoples worldwide into the global economy by connecting them with experienced professionals and coaches to establish cross-cultural ties of friendship, investment, trade, exchange of ideas, peace and understanding."
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 U.S. and around the world.
Evangelicals for Peace | Extended Playback | David Beasley: It's Personal
In winding down his remarks at the conference, Gov. Beasley, a long-time Republican politician, said something he seemed to believe genuinely and thoroughly and powerfully: "Jesus is the comprehensive peace plan."
My initial reaction to a statement like that comes in the form of a tedious but curious question.
How does a former governor in the United States...someone who has no doubt passionately invested himself in the constantly-debated, often-polarizing finer points of public policy (and has the trophies and scars to prove it)...a person who has certainly experienced (however imperfectly) the realized possibilities of a good governance for the common good...a man who has, most recently, through the founding of his organization, witnessed some of the best of what a strategic nongovernmental entity can positively affect in the world's most challenging places...
How can he say something like thatwith a straight face? (No cliche or tired jokes about politicians, please.)
It sounds naive and antiquated even as it appears unhelpful and obviously too religious. Jesus is the comprehensive peace plan?
For Christians, though, Beasley's almost bumper-sticker turn-of-a-phrase is an evocative theological and spiritual reminder. The Gospel is, front and center, an undeniably irreducibly personal message. In the Christian narrative, the revelation of God's will for humanity -- for all the families of the earth -- has become fully personal in Jesus and exhaustively expressed in the person of Jesus.
Thankfully, included in God's revelation to earthlings is a plan for peace -- for the well-being and flourishing of all the families of the earth. And it doesn't involve Jesus; it is Jesus. Christians, it should be said, are fundamentally people who believe that God has not written nor could write a better peace plan than the one he has already authored, offered and exalted in Jesus.
Peace is...a Person.
Which is, I think, intended to come as a human relief, perhaps counter-intuitively, because Christians and non-Christians the world over are often under the cumbersome impression that there really is a better plan out there waiting to be devised, something that will heal more incisively the gaping wounds surrounding us.
But it is written that Jesus has personally made a way for us to be reconciled with God and with other people, thereby bringing peace and creating the possibility for peace at the same time. By implication, then, Christian peacemakers are not beholden to a theory or ideology of peace, per se, however well-intentioned or useful or effective. Instead "little Christ ones" should be beholden to the Prince of Peace, whose bold and clear intentions (not to mention, teachings) were personified in an exemplary act of self-giving, sacrificial enemy-love.
Ahmed Ali Haile, a Somali Christian who grew up as a Muslim in the traditional clan-based culture of Somalia, shares his "journey as a peace ambassador in the world of Islam" in Teatime in Mogadishu, a book co-authored by David Shenk. A fascinating and enriching peacemaker's tale, Ahmed's account of coming to Christian faith includes his honorable and enduring gratefulness for "the ways Islam prepared me to hear and believe in Christ." But, to be sure, he explains: "In Jesus I met God."
To meet God, well, of course, it's personal. This inviolable, personal encounter with God -- through Jesus -- frames Ahmed's past, present and future. It is so personal that he quite naturally uses the following language to describe the encounter (and the ongoing encounter): "I knew that in Jesus...I had indeed come home."
Later in the book, as he tells of going back to Somalia in the 1980s after the better part of a decade in the U.S., he reflects on the animating purpose of Christian community in the world and for the sake of the world. He says, passionately: "The church is a community whose goal is the fulfillment of the kingdom of God as revealed in Jesus. He is the ideal toward which God is calling all of history." It is as if, forever in Jesus, God has made human history a very personal matter.
Notwithstanding the Christian vision of peace -- where peace is, ultimately, centered in a person -- I still would not recommend that we diminish or disparage other peace plans. Those plans may very well have their place or season, function and effect. However, as Ahmed intimates, the politics of the loving reign and just rule of God -- and the kingdom's various unique expressions among the culturally diverse nations of the world -- are necessarily caught up in this other, distinctive, without-parallel plan: namely, the person of Jesus.
What I heard in Gov. Beasley's pithy proclamation at a peace conference is what I read in Ahmed's testimonial is what American Evangelicals must embrace, without hesitation, despite the political or even intra-religious barriers to doing so: Jesus is the comprehensive peace plan. I, for one, am entirely relieved.