Peacekeeping: Are we doing it right?

By Ethan Harbour

Never before has the urgency of world peace needed to be attained. As globalization encompasses the world and cultures meet and clash with other cultures that it now encounters, mutual respect and awareness of the other are accompanied with a thin fuse. When these thin fuses are ignited, conflicts emerge, which may result in decades long battles between cultures, nations, and peoples.

Karen Armstrong wrote for The Guardian, “[T]here is a violent essence inherent in religion, which inevitably radicalises any conflict – because once combatants are convinced that God is on their side, compromise becomes impossible and cruelty knows no bounds.” Armstrong applies this to the ongoing action of the Islamic State (IS) and its movement, causing other nations and people groups to engage in conflict, in some instances, to protect one nation’s interest within another nation for resources such as oil, and others because IS is entering their countries and killing their people – their families, their children, and other civilians.

But how might the church respond? What does that response look like? Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount narratives that “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9, NRSV). At the same time, another narrative is recorded with Jesus saying, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34, NRSV). What are we to do with seeming conflicting texts? If we confess that God is love and that we are to resemble this love to all creation what do we do with a sword? I identify my stance with the prophet Joel who insisted that God’s children should “Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears” (3:10, NRSV) and want to claim my being a child of God as shown through my efforts of peace.

The Book of Confessions addresses problems and issues such as these that arise within contemporary culture. The Confession of 1967 states:

In each time and place, there are particular problems and crises through which God calls the church to act. The church, guided by the Spirit, humbled by its own complicity and instructed by all attainable knowledge, seeks to discern the will of God and learn how to obey in these concrete situations. The following are particularly urgent at the present time. (9.43)

God’s reconciliation in Jesus Christ is the ground of the peace, justice, and freedom among nations which all powers of government are called to serve and defend. The church, in its own life, is called to practice the forgiveness of enemies and to commend to the nations as practical politics the search for cooperation and peace… (9.45)

These responses reflect that the church and God’s people have a responsibility to show “God’s reconciliation in Jesus Christ” in ways of “peace, justice, and freedom” to all persons. As I have learned throughout this class, people of faith must listen to those who are crying out for peace, justice and freedom. Other cultures do not necessarily depict peace as people from the United States experience peace. Many countries across the world today are engaging in conflict upon their own soil, while the United States supports them with money, supplies, and troops. These cries for peace may reflect something that democratic powers are unable to comprehend, but have to be answered God’s people.

Armstrong, Karen. “The Myth of Religious Violence.” The Guardian, September 25, 2014http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/25/-sp-karen-armstrong-religious-violence-myth-secular?CMP=fb_gu.

Office of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). “The Confession of 1967.” In The Book of Confessions, Louisville: Office of the General Assembly, 2007.

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