My journey to becoming a peaceful person has taken place over the course of my life. Although I come from a people that have historically been peaceable people and peacemakers, my heritage has only been a small part in my journey to embrace and work for peace. Quakers have been known for their work in the underground railroad and opposing slavery as well as being conscientious objectors and protesting war. Ohio Yearly Meeting (Conservative) has a query that reads, “Do we live in the life and power which takes away the occasion of all wars? Do we, on Christian principles, refuse to participate in or to cooperate with the military effort? Do we work actively for peace and the removal of the causes of war? Do we endeavor to cultivate good will, mutual understanding, and equal opportunities for all people?” Likewise, the second Advice admonishes, “Be faithful in maintaining your testimony against all war as inconsistent with the Spirit and teaching of Christ. Live in the Life and Power that takes away the occasion of all wars and strife. Seek to take your part in the ministry of reconciliation between individuals, groups, and nations. Let the law of kindness know no limits. Show a loving consideration for all people.” Pacifism and non-violence were common threads for me growing up. There was always talk against war and violence. Supporting the military through taxes was and continues to be acknowledged but grumbling about it consistently shows up in answers to the above query (#6) Instead of stories of heroes of war, I heard adventures of conscientious objectors such as those who were fire jumpers.
A book that I read when I was in middle school or high school called A Peace Child really impacted my view of peace. The book detailed a missionary’s life and work among remote cannibal tribes. One of the tribes partook in cannibalism “fattened by the feast of friendship” - they ended up killing and eating someone they had befriended. There were a couple of different ways that some tribes made peace with each other, but true peace involved trading a child from each tribe. In one custom, as long as the children lived then there was peace between the two tribes. In another, at least one of the children was eaten but the peace was meant to last much longer than the span of a human life. The peace that the missionary witnessed was a family with only one child giving that child up to be “the peace” child. The Lord finally reveals to the missionary how to share the gospel with this tribe by equate Jesus as the Eternal Peace Child. Up to this point, Judas, who betrayed Jesus, had been the hero as he fit into their cannabilistic and betrayal culture. Later on in the story, a man from the opposite tribe is sick. A man from the missionary’s tribe is angry and wants to cause harm to this man. The missionary is lead to pull on the angry man’s ears and remind him that he is not permitted to harm the other man because Jesus, the Peace Child, lives. At this, the angry man is transformed and instead of harming the sick man, comes to his aid. Peace was not just the absence of war for these tribes. Peace was very costly to obtain and maintain. How people treated each other changed and it was not simply with indifference and/or ignoring the other party.
When I was in college, one of the topics we discussed in the Honors Program was Pacifism versus Just War Theory. That really stretched me and helped me grow in my understanding of both viewpoints. I was glad one of the advisors was Mennonite if I remember correctly and was a pacifist. The Hebrew equivalent of peace is “shalom”. It is this sense of well-being in every area of life, a thriving. Studying the meaning of “shalom” and some of the Jewish culture and customs helped me to gain a much deeper understanding of “peace”.
When I was in graduate school in New Mexico, a friend introduced me to the book “Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence” written by Preston Sprinkle, foreword by Shane Claiborne. It is a book that grapples with hard questions such as the violence found in the Old Testament and the God portrayed there versus the God (and Jesus) found in the New Testament, horrible dictators such as Hitler who caused so much suffering, war, and the ultimate question every Pacifist gets asked, what if someone attacks your family. I encourage you to read this book for yourself. For some, it will be an easy read, confirming the journey you have been on concerning non-violence. For others, it may challenge you to even consider that violence, even in war, is wrong. It may challenge you in ways I cannot conceive and in ways not intended to.
For myself, I am coming to think of myself more as a peacemaker than a pacifist and to live out these simple truths I find in following God in my personal and professional life. Often the root of violence and war are envy, jealousy, and anger. If I can destroy these in my own life before they have a chance to grow, and if I can help the community in which I live and work to extinguish these root causes, then I can be a peaceable person.
Another aspect of peace is that which only God can give. It truly is a peace that passes all understanding. This peace that I experience in my life is one that says despite all of the hard trials and suffering in my life, everything will be okay because God is God and I am His child. I can look back to a day in March when I was in 8th grade when I know I surrendered my life to Christ and felt His peace for the first time. Since then, I have learned that I must make decisions in life that protect this peace and do not give way to my own or other people’s desires and expectations. I must make decisions that are not only in-line with what God commands (in the Bible) but also in how He is leading in my life. I will do anything to keep my peace, which means obeying God no matter what.
In attending one session of Ohio Yearly Meeting’s annual business sessions in 2019, it occurred to me that perhaps we are no longer a people of peace, but rather a people who avoid confrontation. We occasionally still make public statements about where we stand on issues and call others to return to a closer walk with God. Yet, I wonder what more we could truly be doing to impact our country (the United States) and the world for Christ and His kingdom. How could we be more faithful peacemakers? I do not question these things in order to suggest that we do more things. No, if anything, we need to scale back considerably the tasks we undertake as we continue to shrink in numbers.