I’ve wanted to write about the journey to becoming a Christian peacemaker for a while now. I understand what it’s like feeling the conviction of Jesus’ call to peacemaking. There can be a sense of urgency that is difficult to describe. And paradoxically, I know first hand the sense of isolation experienced when one answers the call to Christian peacemaking. But I also know the overwhelming joy that comes when one finally affirm Jesus’ call to pick up the cross and follow him. And I know the sheer joy that makes the cost of becoming a Christian peacemaker – even the ultimate demand of surrendering one’s life to others – well worth the exchange because of the real joy of knowing Christ in his sufferings (Consider Philippians 3:10)!
So it entered my heart to share what it was like becoming a Christian Peacemaker to encourage others to know that they’re not alone, especially since the convictions of Christian peacemakers run so contrary to the overwhelming majority of the world around us – both “secular” and “Christian” alike.
And I suppose it would be helpful for me to define what I mean by “Christian Peacemakers” for those who haven’t been following my writings: Christian Peacemakers follow the manner of Jesus’ life in eschewing the use of violence to deal with evil in favor of proactively overcoming evil with good. One of the reasons I am turning away from the term “pacifist” is because the term carries so much baggage that it becomes unproductive. And, even more so, many people hear “passivity” in pacifism. And it is one of the core convictions of Christian peacemaking that passivity in the face of evil is just as evil as returning evil for evil. Jesus was neither “passive” nor “violent” in the face of evil.
So with that purpose in mind, I thought I would trace my own development.
The early stages of this journey are different for everyone, but I have found one commonality shared by most: Jesus’ teachings from the Sermon on the Mount and his example on the cross are what take firm hold of one’s thinking that lead to Christian peacemaking. For there really is nothing else to compel such a radical change except that one is so inwardly gripped by the grace of Christ for sinners that the discontinuity between him and the way of violence simply won’t satisfy our inward desire to really know Christ any longer.
My own journey took place while living abroad in mainland China near Hong Kong. My city underwent historic crackdowns on Christians from the CCP beginning in 2017-18, and it was during this time that I was connected with Christians who were suffering severely under the weight of the CCP’s boot. I was forced to bring the good news of Jesus into this context and I wrestled to do so against my conception of justice that was more heavily influenced by Constantine and Thomas Aquinas than it was by Jesus. Then, again, beginning in 2019, we had an up close and personal view of the protests that erupted in Hong Kong because of our city’s close proximity. So I was once again forced to bring the cross of Christ into the context of the HKPF’s brutal response to the protesters. And again I struggled to do so against a view of human liberty that was shaped more by the principles of the American revolution than by Jesus. And I must confess that these experiences not only shaped how I understand the Christian peacemaker’s response to evil, but they also took a severe toll on my health.
These things, taken together with global geopolitical rearmament, escalating tensions between world powers, and internal civil unrest back home in the United States, gave me a real sense of urgency compelling me to answer the burning questions in the back of my mind. I knew that there was a real possibility that I would be required to answer tough questions that I was unprepared to answer if war should break out between world powers or civil war should break out in the U.S. But at this point I didn’t understand the logic behind Christian peacemaking (or even realize there was a system of logic to it). So my thinking during this time was characterized more by the drive to answer my own questions than by any attempt to “teach” or “answer” anyone else. And I’m sure that those private conversations that I did have with others probably gave the impression that my thinking was very “inconsistent” or “unstable” on these matters. And I know I certainly felt a sense of internal frustration as I was trying to reason through these issues without possessing the essential logic of Christian peacemaking.
So this was the early stages of my becoming a Christian peacemaker.
Stepping Into The Calling
I returned to the U.S. in the middle of the worst global pandemic since the Spanish Flu and in the middle of the most contentious Presidential Election in my living memory. After our near-miraculous return home, we entered an environment that goes beyond “culture shock”: the animosity and hatred we saw between Americans was unreal. The simple act of wearing or not wearing a mask was like a declaration of which side one was on. I saw people on both sides get up in people’s faces and scream with the kind of hatred for one another that I have rarely had occasion to witness firsthand in my life before. And in one of my first public outings after our 14-day mandatory quarantine, I saw a loudly self-professing Christian and American Patriot escorted out of the eye doctor’s clinic after becoming confrontational over the issue of the mask (I don’t want to indicate which side this confrontation took place over). And I had to step into a new ministry in a small church whose membership was divided on along different lines on these issues, although by the grace of God, with only a few exceptions, the differences among our members did not cause the kind of trouble being reported by other ministers across the country. Still I had to step into the calling for Christian peacemaking in the midst of a very complex and challenging set of circumstances.
For me it was in this polarized context that the logic of Christian peacemaking began to take shape. Although I can now reflect on these things and see very clear instances where I failed to understand and/or implement the logic of Christian peacemaking well, I can also see where pieces of that logic were coming into place. For example, even though my distinctly American political loyalties were leading me to get swept up in the current of outrage that carries so many Americans from “scandal” to “crisis” to “scandal” to yet another “crisis” along the river of spiritual compromise, I also began to dismantle those loyalties one by one in my thinking. I started discovering that a Christian’s loyalties cannot be divided (See Matthew 6:24). And it’s our mixed loyalties between “God and Country” that is causing the western Church to become drunk on the Harlot’s wine!
One of the byproducts of this process is that my answers to these quandaries slowly began to lead me into direct opposition to the answers others around me were giving. So as I began to step into Christ’s calling to Christian peacemaking, I began to feel isolated, misunderstood, mischaracterized, misrepresented, and even condemned. Yet, I was also filled with inexpressible joy as my faith was renewed, my hope was re-energized, my love was re-invigorated, and my fellowship with the Lord was refreshed.
I was greatly comforted when I read what Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in a letter to his dear friend Karl Barth, explaining why he fled Germany to London:
“One of the strongest [reasons for coming to London] was that I no longer felt inwardly equal to the questions and demands that I was facing… I found myself in radical opposition to all my friends. I was becoming increasingly isolated with y views of the matter, even though I was and remain close to these people. All this frightened me and shook my confidence, so that I began to fear that dogmatism might be leading me astray – since there seemed no particular reason why my own view in these matters should be any better… than the views of many really good and able pastors whom I sincerely respect. So I thought it was about time to go into the wilderness for a spell, and simply work as a pastor. At the time it seemed to me more dangerous to make a gesture than to retreat into silence.Dietrich Bonhoeffer, London: 1933-1935
And I was equally chastised and instructed by Karl Barth’s reply, who feared that Bonhoeffer’s move was an escapist move in which, just when the German church so desperately needed his voice, he removed himself from the troubles that he needed to face for Christ’s sake. Barth replied, “Under no circumstanes should you now be playing Elijah under the juniper tree or Jonah under the gourd; you need to be here with all guns blazing!” In other words, Bonhoeffer was removing himself from a fight that his call to Christian peacemaking would have him fight to the last. Bonhoeffer clearly reflected on this and returned to Germany. A move which cost him his life but allowed him to act as a true Christian peacemaker!
Although it is not the point of this article, I feel like I should recommend the book “Bonhoeffer the Assassin?” by Mark Thiessen Nation for anyone who is still under the very wrong impression that Dietrich Bonhoeffer surrendered his pacifist views and participated in the assassination plot to kill Adolph Hitler. This book goes a long way, if not succeeds, in completely dispelling that myth. Dietrich Bonhoeffer returned to Germany under the convictions of his calling to Christian peacemaking, and died in that cause.
What characterized this part of my journey was the awkward but necessary stepping into Christ’s calling and piecing together the requisite logic of Christian peacemaking. In so doing I welcomed an infilling of inexpressible joy at the prospect that we really can share in the same manner of life that our precious Jesus lived out on earth. My faith was renewed and strengthened by the conviction that Jesus’ grace really could free me from the grip of fear that might otherwise compel me to respond to evil with the violence of hatred. And, although this did not resolve the struggle I’ve had against my flesh to fully step into this calling, for the first time, this struggle is no longer the struggle of doubt that one can walk in Jesus’ same love… even for his enemies.
So this was the awkward stage of stepping into Christ’s call to Christian Peacemaking.
Standing Without Compromise
Anyone who thinks it is awkward to step into a calling should wait until they’re asked to stand in that calling! Perhaps nothing is more hateful to our post-modernist world than someone who refuses to compromise on their core convictions. Even Christians struggle to know how to respond to their brothers and sisters who take an uncompromising stand on their convictions. So there comes a point when answering Christ’s call to Christian peacemaking when an awareness arises that this calling is not simply and ornamental decoration in the Christian’s life, but it is actually at the very heart of what it means to pick up the cross and follow Jesus since it is unmistakably true that “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did” (See 1 John 2:6). And this uncompromising commitment to follow Jesus in his way of life is singularly derived from the compelling desire to know the Lamb of God even in the fellowship of his sufferings (See Philippians 3:10).
This is a strange sentiment to the world I think. But there’s an insatiable hunger and burning desire not to be separate from the Lord in anything even if that means surrendering one’s own life. And it is in this love that one begins to understand what it means to feel that it is better to be wrong than to wrong (Consider 1 Corinthians 6:7).
Dietrich Bonhoeffer well understood how overwhelming the endless flood of moral quandaries could be that moral relativists (as they were called then) love to pose to baffle and stump anyone who would dare stand without compromise upon anything other than the idols of self and self-pleasure. Bonhoeffer later commented about his own commitment to Christian peacemaking that “Things do exist that are worth standing for without compromise“. There simply comes a time when a Christian peacemaker not only steps into Christ’s calling, but also decides that this calling is one that is worth standing for without compromise. The Christian peacemaker gladly accepts the isolation, mischaracterization, misrepresentation, and even condemnation of others in order to stand firmly on the calling to follow Jesus’ manner of life in eschewing the use of violence to deal with evil in order to proactively conquer evil with good. In order to be the enemy of no one, one must be willing to be hated by anyone whose friendship is conditional upon hating others. To overcome evil with good, one must be willing to stand alone beside condemned sinners before their executioners. This calling demands that one believe that Jesus’ cause is worth standing for without compromise.