“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” —Matthew 5:9
“Faith-based organizations have more resources, more skilled personnel, a longer attention span, more experience, more dedication, and more success in fostering reconciliation than any government.” —Madeleine Albright
In April 2016, men from the Merle community in South Sudan carried out a raid in the Gambella province of Ethiopia. They killed more than 200 people and abducted 145 children. The Gambella province is home to one of the most active Ethiopian districts in the Church of the Nazarene. Of those killed in the raid, 20 (including 6 children) were members of the Church of the Nazarene, and 9 Nazarene children were among the abducted. In a world seemingly bent toward violence, the Church of the Nazarene is not immune. Many of our districts and local churches reside in the midst of protracted and violent conflict around the world; many others experience racial, ethnic, and economic divisions on a daily basis. As a global denomination, it is time for the Church of the Nazarene to live into the vocational and missional calling to be peacemakers.
The work of peace and reconciliation remains close to the heart of God.
The work of peace and reconciliation remains close to the heart of God. In fact, reconciliation between self and God, others, and creation should rest as a foundational component of God’s redemptive history. God is working “to restore everything” under the lordship of Christ (Acts 3:21). Paul talks about universal human estrangement from God and Christ’s reconciliation (Colossians 1). In Ephesians, Paul again talks of Christ breaking down the “dividing wall of hostility” that separates Jews from Gentiles and “thus making peace” (2:14–15). Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, explains that the love of our enemies is the true emulation of the Father. Jesus Christ, who is even now making all things new, has invited us to participate by gifting us “the ministry of reconciliation” as Christ’s ambassadors of peace in a violent world (2 Corinthians 5:18).
If our world experiences separation, enmity, and violence, and Christ has called his followers, the church, to be agents of reconciliation and peace, then we can only conclude that peacemaking is not an addendum to the church’s mission; rather, it is a natural extension of Christ’s life for the world and must be fully integrated into the life of the church.
The Church of the Nazarene is already well equipped to be effective peacemakers in three different ways. And, though we may not have placed much emphasis in our churches on peacemaking—either through resources, preaching, or training—we do have the framework to integrate sustainable peace practices.
Our Wesleyan-Holiness roots tie in well to a theology of peace and reconciliation. John Wesley preached frequently about the “renewal of our hearts in the image of God.” Wesley thus couches the language of holiness and sanctification as a relational process of reflecting to the world the image of our Creator. The process of sanctification carries within it the story of humans being reconciled back into the very life of God and therefore capable of bearing the likeness of God in the world. Violence, on the other hand, can be understood in terms of violating the image of God that has been stamped on creation itself. Whereas violence describes ruptured relationships with God, others, and creation, the language of holiness posits the complete restoration of those very relationships. Religious peacebuilding requires high levels of religious literacy and practice between official teaching and its integration into local habits of peace. For the Church of the Nazarene, our primary doctrine of holiness and sanctification allows us to tell the story of God’s reconciling grace in a violent world.
Peace is neighborly, relational work.
The Church of the Nazarene is locally present in areas of violent conflict. Gerard Powers, the coordinator for the Catholic Peacebuilding Network and professor of the practice of Catholic peacebuilding at the Kroc Institute at Notre Dame, writes: “Religious individuals and institutions are especially effective peacebuilders because they are inculturated—they are deeply rooted in their own communities, representing a complex web of relationships that often cut across economic, political, and ethnic divisions” (see “Religion and Peacebuilding,” in Strategies of Peace). For most of us, peacebuilding conjures images of foreign diplomats formally mediating cease-fires and peace accords. But in many areas of deep-seeded conflict, resolution requires the work of the people. Peace is neighborly, relational work. Building the capacity for peace requires the resources, relationships, connections, and social spaces of those experiencing the conflict. Churches in particular not only tell a grand story of reconciliation but also have people with the necessary connections and relationships that touch various stages of the peacemaking process. Even more, we have the capacity to create social spaces for reconciliation to take place. This is, in fact, what we practice at the Eucharist.
The ecclesial structure of the Church of the Nazarene lends itself to integrating peace work across the spectrum of global, regional, and local institutes. The Church of the Nazarene grew a highly effective network of missional engagement across the globe—establishing churches, missions, schools, and regional offices. Furthermore, our constant work in compassionate ministry has laid the foundation as an international organization trusted to do good work. Peacemaking initiatives can easily flow through Nazarene Compassionate Ministries and connect to local communities through NCM sites or local churches and district offices. Our global network allows for both vertical and horizontal integration for peacebuilding formation and practice. In some global areas, local churches and pastors in the midst of conflict have already begun this work. Their stories can be highlighted and shared. And in the summer of 2016, NCM’s first Compassion Conference hosted a series of workshops on conflict mitigation.
We can’t make it through the day without hearing about or experiencing increased hostility, bitter divisions, or even violence. Our world longs for peace without much hope that it will come. But the church specializes in faith and hope. We have a vision of the future—God’s kingdom come—that organizes our faith. Peacemaking is integral to the mission of the church and the holiness of the community.