Christians responsible for both war and peace
Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand: Christian's responsible for both war and peace says Presbyterian Church leader
"Throughout history the Christian church rightly stands accused of giving divine sanction to horrific acts of genocide, violence and oppression. Such acts have been directed not merely towards people of other faiths, but also towards fellow Christians. The church, it seems, can't even get its own house in order, so what mandate does it have to talk about peace on a wider scale?"... read the full article below:
Peace on earth!' the heavenly host declared as angels announced the birth of the Saviour (Luke 2:14). Peace? On earth? We hear it every Christmas but, as the rock band U2 remind us in their song Peace On Earth, "hope and history don't rhyme." So, "what's it worth," they ask, "this peace on earth?"
The problem here is not just one of human failure to bring about the peace for which we so desperately yearn. It is also about Christianity's complicity in this failure. Throughout history the Christian church rightly stands accused of giving divine sanction to horrific acts of genocide, violence and oppression. Such acts have been directed not merely towards people of other faiths, but also towards fellow Christians. The church, it seems, can't even get its own house in order, so what mandate does it have to talk about peace on a wider scale?
An initial response to this dilemma might be to point out that, for all its failings, the church nevertheless has maintained a strong track record in the task of peacemaking and reconciliation. Just as there have been many Christians who have been all too ready to take up arms in the name of God and country, there have also been many Christians who have sought to follow Isaiah's injunction to turn swords into ploughshares. Many Christians have paid for their pacifist principles and peacemaking endeavours with their lives.
Whilst this might all be true, we should be wary of trying to offset a list of the church's vices and failures with a list of its virtues and achievements. Such a ledger-based approach is deeply problematic. Not only does it risk letting the church evade proper responsibility for its sins, but any attempt to compile such a list is bound to end in futility, for who among us possesses the God-like knowledge necessary for the task?
Moreover, if a ledger-based approach had been applied to the original disciples then the church would never have been born. Their track record was as patchy as ours. Despite occasional moments of profound insight and general diligence in following Jesus, their walk with him was equally characterised by misunderstanding, misplaced ambition, violent impulses, betrayal, denial and abandonment.
When the angelic host declared peace on earth, it was not suggesting that wars would suddenly cease and human beings would miraculously learn how to live peaceably with one another. Rather, the declaration took the form of a blessing: "Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace among people."
The occasion for this blessing was the Saviour's birth. This Saviour, the church has contended ever since, has brought our humanity into a reconciling union with God. Sin has been forgiven. The endless cycle of violence and retribution has been broken. Even death's relentless grip on our world has been prised open and the life-giving energies of God's Kingdom ushered in. All this, through the life, death and resurrection of the One whose birth we celebrate each Christmas. In him and through him, we proclaim, all humankind has been truly and profoundly blessed.
Whilst on one level nothing much appears to have changed, for human affairs are still characterised by much conflict, on another level everything has changed. This is the Good News for which the church exists to proclaim - not from a position of moral superiority, but from a position of abundant joy and humble gratitude as the angelic chorus captures our hearts, loosens our tongues and shapes our lives: Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace among people!
This Christmas, as you hear afresh this ancient blessing, may it become for you a sustaining vision and a vital hope.
- The Right Rev Dr Graham Redding, Moderator, Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand.