Thoughts on Peacemaking

Four Steps for these Perilous Times

Peacemakers’ Dinner

Highland United Methodist Church

Raleigh, NC



We live in perilous times!  This can’t be any clearer than if you just turn on the news any given day. 

-The threat of global climate change has become clear.  

-We stand at the precipice of a nuclear war with North Korea.

-We are in a nation that threatens to tear itself apart because of America’s original sin.  We still can’t see beyond skin color and we still readily allow for rampant inequalities along color lines!

-We are in the midst of a persistent national healthcare crisis.

Our world is imperiled by multiple threats to peace.  Each of these threats are significant, potentially world ending, and all undermine people’s stability and security.  Each of these issues must be dealt with if we are to have peace on earth, if we are to be peacemakers. 

For me, my understanding of peace is born of an understanding of its Hebrew counterpart, Shalom.

Know Justice, Know Peace

Though clearly inclusive of the idea of the cessation of hostilities or the elimination of noise, it is premised on a different overall concern.  In essence, Shalom is predicated on the larger notion of “wholeness.” 

-In order for Shalom to exist relationships that are broken need to be fixed.

-In order for Shalom to exist violence that persists needs to be stopped.

-In order for Shalom to exist the rend in the social fabric must be mended.

-In order for Shalom to exist balance that has been disrupted needs to be restored.

-In essence, in order for Shalom to exist…then justice must be done!

1)    Need for Justice

I want to start my conversation today, with the notion that if we want to see peace, then we have to work for justice!  That old saying “No Justice, No Peace,” made famous now in scores of protests if fundamentally true.  The truth hidden in “no justice, no peace,” is that there really cannot be any peace without justice.  In essence, in Hebrew, there can be no Shalom, without tsedek.  Tsedek is that notion of justice being done on the social level, of righteousness or piety being maintained on the personal level.  It is the call for the organs of our society to function fairly, to ensure that all members of society are protected and have their rights respected.  All of those people we think of as marginalized were central to God and tsedek required that their needs be met.

So perhaps my first point is simply that, if we want to be “peacemakers” then we have to start by being “justice-seekers.”  We have to seek to right the wrongs of our society out of balance…we have to restore balance:

            -balance in rights, in opportunity, in power, in privilege, in access and in economics.

2)    Need for a fusion lens to look at all of these issues as one. 

If we are to be justice seekers, we have to begin to “complexify” our justice issues.  We have to become “fusion” thinkers.  I first became associated with this concept as I worked with Dr. Barber on the Moral Monday Movement.  This fusion justice movement was premised on the fact that we cannot win by staying in our issue silos focused on our solo concerns.  We have to begin to see the bigger picture, work towards bigger victories, learn about the importance of intersectionality.

The way that this works is in part a matter of practicality.  There are not enough people working on say climate change to force society to change.  As a result, we have limited victories if victories at all as we try to get the General Assembly to ban fracking or stop the coastal pipeline or increase the renewable energy portfolio.  But if we are joined in our efforts by people concerned about the healthcare implications of climate policy, and people concerned about the future of our children in relation to climate policy, and people concerned about the issues impacting minority communities in relation to climate policy, then we can increase the people concerned with our issue and our collective power.

But fusion politics is about more than practicality and increasing numbers.  At its core it is a recognition that many of our issues are related.  So, if you are concerned about civil rights you are probably concerned about voting rights, and probably concerned about workers rights, and should thus be concerned about LGBTQ rights.  It is a recognition that though yours may not be the issue that got me to the table, it is a related issue to mine and therefore one I have a stake in as well.

Further, a fusion vision of justice recognizes that we don’t want a society that has:

            -No nukes, but poor education;

            -Or good education, but poor healthcare;

            -Or good healthcare, but limited access to the polls;

            -Or equal voting rights, but horrible climate policy…

You get my point…in order to have the kind of world that we want, we ultimately have to have victories in all of these areas!  Fusion justice acknowledges the interrelatedness of our issues and calls us not necessarily to be the champion of them all, but to be allied with, in coalition with, in partnership with those working on other issues.

Fusion justice calls us out of our silos, encourages us to partner with others on their issues, and seeks to win greater victories by amplifying our collective voice.  If we are not careful, fusion justice may even call us into some unusual partnerships:

            -The religious community may find itself standing up for LGBTQ issues;

            -African Americans may find themselves standing for immigrant rights;

            -Anti-nuclear activists may find themselves standing for workers rights;

Because we realize that in the end our issues are intertwined and the kind of just society we seek requires us to have victories in all of these areas. We can’t have a better world without seeking victories in a host of different areas…all of which make for justice, hence all of which make for peace.

3)    Need for a new calculus of human and planetary valuation. 

I think if I had a third point, it would be that we need a renewed sense of the value of people and the planet if we are to be peacemakers.  In our current worldview, profits are often a greater consideration in our collective political decision making than people.  Don’t believe me then why do we:

-allow the gun industry to control policy that relates to access to guns even as more that 32,000 people will die from gun violence in our nation every year?

-allow the pharmaceutical industry to set astronomical prices for the medicines people need to survive long after they’ve recuperated the cost of investing in the development of the drug?

-allow our energy producers to continue to pollute our environment with carbon-based fossil fuels that are endangering human life on this planet in the long term and destroying our drinking water and health in the short term?

I could give countless examples of this, but suffice it to say that we have put profits over people and we are suffering because of it.

I think we need a spiritual reorientation.  Perhaps it can come from a simple insight.  Perhaps we need to reread those first two Creation accounts at the beginning of the Bible.

There it says that we are all created “betselem Elohim.” In the image of God.  This simple statement says that we are all inherently valuable as human beings.  There is a Divine investiture, an aspect of Divinity that lingers on each of us.  Dr. King called it the “indelible stamp of the Creator” that is impressed on all of us making us special, worthy of consideration.

King further said that, “Every human being is a child of God, created in God’s image and therefore deserves to be respected as such.  Until people see this everywhere, until nations see this everywhere, we will be fight wars.”  You see, King saw the notion of the image of God as the basis for ending war!

I might go so far as to say that human life is sacred because of this and should be deemed inherently valuable.  That all of our policies, decisions, agendas, should ultimately be measured by their impact on human beings.

This is followed up by the theological dictum in the Christian New Testament in Matthew 25 that God is found in the least of these.  In essence, what we do to those society on the whole tends to overlook, underrate, undervalue, underemphasize, is what we do to God, God’s Self!  Therefore we should ensure that whatever the impact, our policies do not hurt the vulnerable.

In addition, that Creation account reminds us of another point.  We are the “bene haadam” “children of the Adam, or the earthling” created from “ha adamah” Or the “earth.”  The Bible reminds us that we are children of this planet.  If God is our Father, she is our Mother, we are scooped from her clay, fashioned from her dust, spirit-breath of God embodied in her substance.  We are related to the earth.  In this regard, the earth is valuable and should be treated with great dignity and respect.

Stated more simply, we can’t have healthy people, unless we have a healthy planet.  We need to work for policies that we ensure that people and the planet are valued.  As peacemakers, the value of people and the planet are preeminent concerns!

4) Fostering a Cleaner, Greener, Better World

I want to end by adding one other notion to this conversation. I think that at this time of multiple crises we need to target our peacemaking activities on making a cleaner, greener, better world.

            -By cleaner world I mean working towards the elimination of carbon based fossil  fuels as our primary mode of energy production.

            -By greener world I mean fostering a shift to renewable energy sources like solar, and wind a hydro electric and geothermal that pose not threat of planetary  pollution and no threat to the health of people.

            -But by better I mean that I don’t want to save this world replete with its power imbalances, racism, poverty, and inequalities.  No, this world should die and we should let it.  In its place we should foster a better world where there is racial equality, democratized modes of energy production, shared prosperity, and the elimination of poverty through the proliferation of living wage jobs.  This is the kind of world that we should work towards; it is a fairer world, a just-er world, a better world… a world worthy of our collective striving.

And it is an attainable world, if we finally believe it can be so and live to make it so.  We can have this world, if we work and will it into being…it will be!  It is in our hands to make it so.

In this time of manifold crises it’s time for peacemakers to work for a cleaner, greener, better world. This is a vision around which we can all rally because it is about saving the planet and all of its people. Let us use this crisis as an opportunity, to realign our priorities, to engage in that spiritual renewal, and to remake our world into the just, fair, loving place it should be!  Let those of us who are peacemakers work to address the climate emergency!

 Why focus on the climate emergency? Because the climate emergency is perhaps the most obvious emergency that involves us all. If we lose our planet then literally none of the other issues about justice, equality, healthcare, education, or anything else will matter. The climate crisis that imperils our planet and all of its people is the least common denominator for all of humanity! All of our futures depend on us successfully addressing this.

 As you start to think about addressing this problem let us do so from the perspective of a single table. This single table should be in inclusive table. It should include all people regardless of color, religion, language, nation of origin, or any other aspect of our identities. This conversation should engage our allies and our enemies, the climate protesters and the climate polluters, those who have been beneficiaries of the system and those who’ve been oppressed by it. We all have a space at this table and a role to play in the planet’s redemption.

 We need everyone at this table for a number of reasons.

 1)      The earth belongs to God, but each of us has an equal stake in our world. We cannot allow this problem to be solved by the wealthiest and whitest among us. We can’t wait for someone else to step in and save us. We can’t wait for the next Martin King, the next Jack Kennedy, the next Rosa Parks, the next Barack Obama…If this truly is all of our world, then we all have a stake in what happens and we all have a responsibility to ensure that we work together to remake it.

 2)      The solution needs vision found in all of us.  Each of us from our various perspectives and different vantages can give a little piece of the solution to this “world sized” problem.  Perhaps if we’d all been at the table before, we would not be in the situation we are now in.  But now, more than ever, we need to bring new thinking from a diversity of world views to this climate problem.

 This is the work for peacemakers today.

            -To foster Justice that makes for Peace,

           -To work for a fusion vision of Justice,

            -To do the spiritual work of reimagining our valuation of people and the planet,

            -And to work together to make a cleaner, greener, better world.

 Let me end with this quote from Dr. King. “Progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability, but comes by the tireless effort and persistent work of those willing to be coworkers with God.”

 We’ve got some work to do! It’s time that we join our work as peacemakers to God’s Justice bringing, Love showing, people uplifting, planet redeeming work that we might help give birth to a better world!

 God bless you all!