A New Year's Prayer for Christian Peacemakers
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Last year, my wife Jeanette and I returned to Honduras with a group from our congregation. What alarmed me was that a decade ago the MS (La Mara Salvatrucha) had a considerable presence in many of the poorest neighborhoods. Now they have a stronghold. One of my pastor friends told me, "Gabriel, people are afraid to come to church. The MS killed a woman in front of the church just the other day." The MS is going global. Recently Law & Order had an episode that featured the MS presence in New York City. The MS has chapters in California, Illinois, New Jersey, and elsewhere. Increasingly, some of our youngest and brightest are seduced into a culture of violence that is perpetuated to their children and later generations. Violence, sample one.
Last month, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated as she sought to be a voice (in spite of her shortcomings) for democracy in Pakistan. Violence and disruption ensued as many are still concerned about the future of democracy and stability in Pakistan. Violence, sample two.
Presently, tens of thousands of Kikuyus in Kenya are fleeing from ethnic violence in reaction to questions about recent elections. The Kalenjin and Kikuyus have fought before and this struggle is re-emerging in ever more violent ways. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, fighting between Congolese Tutsis and other factions, including some Rwandan Hutus, has sparked the Roman Catholic Conference of Bishops to call for an end to fighting. In Sri Lanka, the end of a truce looms large and there is a growing concern of escalating conflict. The long standing violent impasse between Palestinians and Israelis still remains unresolved. Violence, samples three to six.
The conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq do not appear to be headed to an end and there is the growing question of how the countries involved will come to a place where governmental stability and peace for its citizens will emerge. Violence, samples seven and eight.
In the midst of all these examples, and so many others too high in number to mention, the question is, "How do the followers of the Prince of Peace respond to this surge of global violence?" I think that one of the contemporary challenges of the followers of Jesus is to hear the beatitude anew: "Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God." While I recognize that many may disagree on how peace should be attained, few would disagree that genocide, gang violence, terrorism, and endless wars are not what Jesus expects from his disciples. Certainly, Jesus knew that humanity has a propensity to destroy those with whom they disagree. Still, the Jesus message is a call to a higher standard. Jesus in his life and ministry took the road less traveled.
Someone once asked a civil rights leader about his method of non-violence deeply influenced by Gandhi. The response: "It's how you pick up the phone." In short, we as followers of Jesus are challenged to emulate the Prince of Peace in even how we talk to on the phone or in traffic. People of every generation are calling for a revolution in culture where we do not rush to violence, but seek the way of peace. I am not saying that tyrants need not be confronted and that theories of just war theory are not valid. Neither am I saying that I too haven't sinfully yielded to the temptations of violence in thought or speech. What I am saying is, "There's too much violence in the world and regrettably, too often it is the first and only option." I pray for the day when all of God's children "will study war no more." Until then let us model peace, in as much as we are able.
Rev. Gabriel Salguero is the pastor of the Lamb's Church of the Nazarene in New York City, a Ph.D. candidate at Union Theological Seminary, and the director of the Hispanic Leadership Program at Princeton Theological Seminary. He is also a Sojourners board member.