Sometimes our thoughts – the things we study and process – and real life events collide. Last week was such a week. I am privileged to be part of a group of churches, a denomination that calls itself Brethren in Christ. It combines so many things I have found important in my faith walk. Chief among them is the Anabaptist emphasis on a community hermeneutic, simple living and a strong stance on peace.
I have found over and over again, this denomination has the courage to stand in the “in-between” when everyone else stands in the “either-or.”
And so last Thursday as bombs were going off in Beirut, we sat together to talk about peace. To talk about why Christ calls us to be peacemakers; to discuss how the very reality of Christ as God’s incarnation means that God is peace. And to speak about the realization that Jesus on the cross is God who refuses to answer violence with violence.As it happens one leaves these days with a quiet confidence, a glow of certainty and towering pride about one’s own theology and place in the Church.
And then early evening on Friday, a friend of ours who lives in Paris activated their Facebook “Safety Check” feature. And with that the luminous glow of certainty, of pride and of utter conviction in our denominational stance came tumbling down: its easy to talk peace, but its harder to be at peace when your heart is full of rage!
My prayers that evening were for God’s love and forgiveness to flood my own life first and then to extend to the world. That same call has been repeated over and over in my Facebook feed from people whom I never expected it from. And so the luminous glow, that certainty returned slowly. I am convinced that we are the crossroads, at the time where Christians can show to a world in pain that Jesus offers a different way – a third way!
I am convinced that a large part of this world which since 2013 has seen Christianity through the barrel-hole of guns pointed at them, through the lenses of national flags, protected by bullet-proof vests and painted in camouflage needs to instead see a Christianity that says “I am for you, just as Jesus is for you and because Jesus is for all of us.”
And so, rage subsided. And then was reignited. It was reignited because of what I see as ignorant, hurtful, racist and profoundly hateful slogans that many Christians are throwing around. It got reignited because it seems that in my circle of acquaintances it seems easier to just click “share” then to go out and truly love someone. This rage got fueled when such “ignorance” hit close to home on two separate fronts. On one hand, a politician from a “peace” Church – an Anabaptist church – with that golden opportunity to be a representative of what we stand for, instead chose to fuel the flames of terror and fear and make political hay with it. And on the other hand, the famous son of an even more famous evangelist, who chose to use his considerable audience to fuel hate, to fuel violence and to fuel war.
All this filled me with one thing: it left me full of rage – righteous rage – or so I thought!
And it is where I stand today as I contemplate what nasty tweets I can send out to Mr Graham. And I so I sit here contemplating how one can get a denomination to respond to the statement of one of their most prominent representatives in the Canadian public sphere and to disown that person.
And this is where God reminded me that peace is not a reaction. Rather it is a way of being formed into the very being of Christ. Peace is not just only action of response to physical violence and aggression with non-violent action or self-sacrifice. Instead peace is a way of engaging the world with a new world-view. And this view comes from my relationship with Christ. It enters my life when I allow Jesus to take space in my being. It enters my life when I agree to be conformed into Christ and when I agree to see with God’s eyes and love with God’s heart.
So while I stand there – full of words of revenge, of challenge, of bitterness and of hatred – God is calling me to let Jesus fill me. He calls me to respond to vitriol, ignorance and hatred with love, forgiveness, understanding and peace.
I respectfully disagree with Premier Wall. And yes, I do call his denomination to publicly support the resettlement of refugees in Canada as many others have done. To make public their support for this incredible important task, to get ready for this historical opportunity to show 25000 people that Christianity can look completely different than what they experienced.
Similarly, I disagree with Mr. Graham. And because of it I will pray that instead of listening to his words, Christians in North America would rally around the idea that banded together we can do great things by responding to violence with the courage and imagination of Christ’s peace instead of the cowardness and monochromatic response of weapons and war.
But I will refuse with God’s help to do violence with my words – to attack, belittle, disenfranchise or disrespect those with whom I feel I disagree with and those who I feel distort and ignore the Gospel of Christ. Non-violence starts in my own heart, in my own being and in my relationship with Christ.