Becoming a community of peacemakers is the calling of Christians worldwide.
Second Baptist Church of Little Rock, Arkansas, where I serve as pastor, has made this a primal impulse of our life together over the past seven years.
But occasionally, we must stop and examine the nature of the “peace” we’re making.
If peace simply means suppressing contrarian voices, it is something less than God’s peace.
If peace simply means perpetuating the status quo, it’s quietism we’re promoting, not peace.
If peace leads to the death of God’s children, rather than the shared life and common good of all creation, it is not the shalom to which we are called.
The peace to which we bear witness is more active, generative and robust than mere quietism.
It doesn’t seek tranquility from conflict, but redemption through conflict. It doesn’t seek to secure life for “me and mine,” but it seeks beloved community for all that God created.
God’s peace doesn’t avoid hard subjects, it addresses them. God’s peace doesn’t seek pacification for those who are suffering, but justice for them.
God’s peace doesn’t mis-remember in order to create comfort, it remembers rightly in order to redeem the time.
I can’t think of a single person on the planet who doesn’t want “peace” so long as they get to determine the parameters and criteria of it.
But God’s peace includes the experiences, agonies and joys of the neighbor, especially those neighbors who are least like us, expanding the borders of our neighborhood to the ends of the earth.
God’s peace calls us out of ourselves, even as it summons us deeper into ourselves. My peace is tied to yours and yours to mine and ours together is tied to the rest of creation.
The world is crying out today for a community of people who can bear witness to how this is done. So, let it be us.
This is our time to let our little light shine. This is what I, and I hope you all with me, intend to do moving forward.
- We will be honest about how deeply ingrained racism has shaped our country and systems because there is no peace apart from truth.
If we refuse to tell the truth about our history, peace will always elude us; we will never rightly understand what’s happening in this moment if we are ignorant of the past that has led us to this moment.
- We will be intentional about inviting, welcoming and empowering diverse people and perspectives into the community – and the leadership – of the congregation because intentional racism must be met with just as intentional inclusion.
We will learn from black and brown teachers, but we will also take the responsibility of doing our own homework, so the burden of our privilege is not born on the shoulders of black and brown people alone.
- We will recognize that every time we come to the communion table, we break bread and drink from the cup with multiple races present at the table.
Therefore, calling for racial justice isn’t just loud prophetic banter, but a way of being priests and pastors to the people who share the pew, table and cup with us.
- To borrow a phrase from Martin Luther King Jr., who spoke a great deal about false peace, we will strive for a peace that is based on the presence of justice, not the absence of conflict.
We will seek real peace, even if it disturbs the peace of those in power. After all, Jesus was crucified precisely because of the nature of the peace he was proclaiming. It stirred things up, to be sure. They didn’t crucify him because he was just a nice guy.
- We will continue to repent of the ways that white supremacy and the way of Jesus became intertwined in this country, and part of our discipleship will be devoted to the disentangling of the two.
- We will fix our eyes upon Jesus, so that we can see just how peace, justice, mercy, truth, hope and love hold hands in the way we live our lives.
- We will train ourselves to think systemically, so that we don’t fall into the seductive trap of our systems doing our racism for us while we take comfort in our perceived personal innocence.
- We will stand in such close proximity to those who are suffering that whatever hurts them hurts us too. We will say their names in our prayers.
- We will remind ourselves that while our church has been historically and predominately white space, we are first and foremost God’s space and we intend our church to be a foretaste of God’s coming kingdom.
In the Bible, reconciliation and liberation hold hands in every major story. You can’t have one without the other.
If reconciliation and liberation dance together throughout the Scriptures, may they dance together at our congregation as well.
So, in the wake of our celebrations of Pentecost, the descent of the Spirit and as we reflect on Christian community and the news of our day, we must rededicate ourselves to this kind of peace.
Let us speak the truth in love. Let our tears be commingled with those who are hurting. Let us be generous in our listening and immoveable in our desire to “act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God.”
The Spirit is blowing in new and fresh ways all around us. It is stirring things up, calling attention to evil in the shadows that needs to be brought to the light and creating a new kind of humanity in this world.
This Spirit does not need our permission, and the Spirit will likely do this work apart from us if we ignore it. But the Spirit does invite our participation.
I, for one, don’t want to miss out, and I am fully alive to this work, seeing it as one of our primary gospel compunctions in this day.
What about you?
Preston Clegg is pastor of Second Baptist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas.