Glen Stassen is a professor of Christian Ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA, the author of Just Peacemaking: Transforming Initiatives for Justice and Peace (1992) and the editor of Just Peacemaking: The New Paradigm for the Ethics of Peace and War (2008).
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 | Glen Stassen: "Just Peacemaking"
In emphasizing the ten practices of what has been termed "just peacemaking," Stassen offered this analysis: he saw the evidence of Just Peacemaking Practice #6 -- fostering just and sustainable economic development -- in Turkey's general approach to governing the Kurdish areas of the country. He said that in Turkey's overarching move from hostility and militancy toward the guerrilla movement known as the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) to a committed strategy of economic development within Kurdish regions the threats of civil war, insurgencies and terrorism have been greatly diminished.
[Admittedly, because of Kurdish gains in Syria along the Turkey border, because of the massive influx of refugees from Syria due to the civil war and because the PKK are stepping up their attacks, the relations between the Turkish government and the PKK have severely increased in complexity and become intensely more strained.]
Of the ten practices in Just Peacemaking: The New Paradigm for the Ethics of Peace and War -- practices that "build peace" and "make war less likely" -- two are fully concentrated in the necessarily social order of justice. In briefly drawing out the intimate connection between justice and peace during the Evangelicals for Peace summit, Stassen argued that it is effective to do justice because the effect of justice is peace. In other words, the way to make peace in the real world is to do justice in the real world. Make no mistake.
I couldn't help but think: If peace is a book of well-being and flourishing that is certainly worth writing anywhere and everywhere, including Sudan, Afghanistan or Israel/Palestine, then justice is its sure-fire must-read preface.
Stassen is a Christian ethicist at an evangelical seminary, so he theologically and thoroughly roots the "just peacemaking" paradigm in the teachings of Jesus as found in what came to be known as "The Sermon on the Mount." Therefore, rather appropriately, the just peacemaking paradigm is centered on practices, he says, not ideals. It is meant to be practiced, not idealized. We are a long way from fairy tales. Which confirms one of my ongoing suspicions about Jesus in the first place: that he was an exceedingly practical man -- notwithstanding the heights of his divine wisdom or his penchant for having no place to lay one's head.
Of course, Stassen's insistent pragmatism of calling for justice so as to make peace echoed the indelible print of peacemaking actors from the 20th century like Martin Luther King, Jr., who, when blamed for "disturbing the peace," said that true peace in America is actually the presence of justice, or Desmond Tutu, who pleaded on behalf of his beloved South Africa: "Peace without justice is an impossibility." The two are seemingly marked by a marriage-style union: two bodies, but one flesh. It is a wedding that American Evangelicals must take seriously when we engage in Christian peacemaking adventures of all sorts. Not to do justice will leave peace (still, hopelessly) unmade.
Furthermore, as an emerging peacemaker in the specific arena of Christian-Muslim relations, Stassen also prompted me to consider anew the interdependent biblical themes of reconciliation and peace in a more pronounced way.
Reconciliation, in the vision of one formative apostle in the Christian tradition, is fundamentally about bringing separated or divided, even hostile, peoples together. Thankfully, in Jesus himself, Christians have a divine pattern for the moral responsibility and, again, practical ministry of reconciliation. Reconciliation that is rooted in the Christ-story vigorously seeks to break down ethnic, racial, social, cultural or religious barriers in the way of Jesus -- in order to bring people nearer to God and to each other, which is part of the Gospel's redeeming work and witness.
Peace, then, is preceded by this robust type of reconciliation, which is focused on the twin acts of breaking barriers and bringing near. In turn, reconciliation must be preceded by justice; reconciliation worth its salt or light demands justice. Though it is hardly a direct line, perhaps we could picture its flow like this: justice --> reconciliation --> peace. In other words, there is a kind of doing justly that leads to a very true reconciliation, which was the very thing needed for a genuine peace all along.
So, practically, if it is indeed peacemaking and peace that we aspire to through our Christian-Muslim relations (whether the interactions are interpersonal, inter-religious or geopolitical), then American Evangelicals -- along with other faithful Christians -- must continue to count the small, medium and large ways that we must act justly toward our Muslim neighbors, in the U.S. and among the nations. The counting and the acting justly are an indispensable part of any hoped-for reconciliation, though we can only mostly work on our end of any conflict equation. Nonetheless, we must see the work as worth every ounce of purpose-filled energy. Because where there is reconciliation, there is certainly peace.