Religious Leaders as Peacemakers
[THE THIRD POST IN A BLOG SERIES ON RELIGION & GOVERNMENT BY BOB ROBERTS]
I’m a part of a small group of twenty global evangelical pastors that gather yearly somewhere in the world. We’ve become close friends and co-laborers. Each of us started our church and each of us start churches. All of these have thousands in their movements, most have millions. We learn from each other, compare notes, and see what’s happening globally and how we can help each other. Each of us is very unique and bring a different set of gifts to the table that are all complimentary. We tackle hard issues, visit one another’s churches, and talk about what it looks like to live as the global church. This year we decided to meet in Bethlehem. We had no idea about President Trump’s announcement on moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem or we probably would not have met there – and that would have been a mistake.
We heard that the announcement might come once we were there. The night of the announcement we were eating at a local restaurant and happened to be with Bishara Awad who started the Bethlehem Bible College, Jack Sara the current President of the college and Pastor Munir Kakish, the President of the evangelical church council there. I interviewed them, prior to the announcement and you can hear it on a pinned tweet on my twitter feed @bobrobertsjr if you want. We actually wound up watching President Trump live on our iphones. Once it was over, we went back to our hotel to keep a low profile, especially those of us that were Americans.
The next day was calm, but around 11:30pm while we were eating lunch in a café in the hotel we heard a loud banging we thought was some hammering on the roof. I’ve been in war zones and thought it could be guns, but at first didn’t think much. Plain clothed guards in the hotel begin to bolt the windows. A huge interior iron door was closed and bolted with iron rods. I found out our hotel is ground zero for where they protest in Bethlehem. Palestinian protesters went out into the streets to protest as they often do when something like this happens. The Israeli’s responded with tear gas and rubber bullets as they do. It was all very predictable. I would agree with reports that protests were limited and not “raging” as some had called for but there were some incidents. To them, more was being taken away and this was the only way anyone could or would hear them. Out one window down an alley you could see young people, male and female, putting on Palestinian headgear that covered their faces and run out into the rode and throw rocks towards the Israeli check point that was a few yards from our hotel. The loud banging came again, followed by guns with rubber bullets. The loud banging was tear gas and water canons. All of a sudden a strong wave tear gas entered the hotel and all of us cleared the café literally running to our rooms. Our eyes were watering our throats parched and impacted from the tear gas and skunk water.
I didn’t like my wife being there – I’ve been in places in the world that were tough but never take her with me to those places. I prayed for God’s protection over us and especially Nikki. As we were running another pastor and his wife were running beside us and that pastor’s wife, from a church of tens of thousands in a Muslim Majority nation began to pray outloud, “Oh Jesus for the pain of the Palestinian people, please be with them Lord, help their suffering.” The pastor’s wife was praying for God’s protection over the Palestinians. Man was I convicted. The rioting went off and on all day, the next day we left for Abu Dhabi. As we drove past the checkpoints, past the 30’ concrete walls to the other side, though glad for us, I was heartbroken for all the evangelical Christians who cannot leave, stuck behind those walls facing an uncertain future.
Governments and Presidents and Kings will do what they do, but what about the global body of Christ? Aren’t we to be peacemakers? What does that look like? Do we mix the Kingdom of God with the kingdoms of the world to force God’s hand? It bothered me more than anything how some far far right evangelicals, that live in the media in America were perceived by part of our brothers and sisters in Christ in another nation, even worse as being a part of creating their pain and suffering. The geo-political and non-essentials theological views of fellow brothers and sisters in Jesus from a nation across an ocean, a sea and two continents was creating hardship, pain, suffering, and fear among fellow Christians in Bethlehem, the very place Jesus was born.
I’ve been grateful over the years to see many evangelicals, especially younger evangelicals who still support Israel nevertheless challenge Israel when she is unjust taking homes and land that people have owned for centuries. With the evangelical leaders we were with not a single high profile evangelical leader in America, except a lady who was working with our government, called to encourage them and let them know they were not alone. There were some global evangelicals that also reached out. I asked the evangelicals I was there with, “How do you feel about the evangelical church in America?” Their answers were alone, abandoned, ignored, and they don’t care about us. However, many of them would also point to evangelicals who have befriended them, built relationships with them, and are aware of their situation and trying to make others aware as well. Media for evangelicals was pretty one-sided in the news, some social media had evangelicals challenging what was taking place. On twitter I encouraged other evangelicals to encourage them, regardless of their position on Jerusalem and gratefully many did – but others actually spoke condemnation to me for encouraging them. Ten years ago, I would have been the same, I knew no Palestinians let alone Palestinian evangelicals and my view of the second coming was more religious populist hype than biblical let alone theological, so I understand. I knew God had me and my wife there to encourage them and love on them – they needed an evangelical from America to know that there were evangelicals back in the States that loved them, supported them, and would stand with them. Many evangelicals in the U.S. I reminded them were just oblivious that there were evangelicals there.
Personally, I support a two-state solution and a shared capitol in Jerusalem – which has been at the heart of the negotiations for decades. President Trump has made it clear he supports that as well. I have supported Israel all my life and will continue to do so. I am sorry to say, I have only supported the Palestinians in the past decade. I allowed my own “speculative” theology about the second coming of Jesus to determine my views on foreign policy. I allowed fictional religious authors and bad hermeneutics provide me with a disjointed, sensationalistic, us against them ethic of escatology that shaped my entire view towards loving Jews and Israeli’s but not Arab’s and Muslims. What kind of Great Commission is that? I’ve had to repent of it. The crazy things I was taught and swallowed like there were no Palestinian people. If that logic is true, and this logic persist then the same logic means there can be no Lebanon, no Syria, no Jordan, no Egypt – at least not as we know it because the original borders of the land promised in the Old Testament involved all those nations. God has a future for Israel, and he has a future for every nation! God loves all the nations and in eternity he will orchestrate and put things as they are to be. My response to the second coming is to live ready for Jesus to return at any moment and help others be ready.
Jesus is called the Prince of Peace. We are called to be peacemakers. We are called to the Ministry of Reconciliation. We are Ambassadors for Christ. We must be very very careful of trying to drive foreign policy. We need to understand there are consequences for our positions, statements, and pushing politicians to do things because we move as voting blocks instead of the people of God, filled with the Spirit, living out the presence of Jesus in the Kingdom.
If you want to live as a peacemaker, let me give you six things that I try to do. I’ve learned being a peacemaker requires me working on me more than people I would seek to reconcile! I’m sure there are more things than these, but this is what I’ve learned so far in working with Arabs and Israelis, Muslims and Christians, and Christians mad at Christians!
- Love them all as equal as possible. All are created in the image of God. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks book, “Not in My Name” has got to be one of the most incredible books I’ve ever read. Anything he writes is good. The book is basically a commentary on Genesis in which he says the essence of that entire book is for brothers not envy one another but each celebrate who they are. Cain and Able, Esau and Jacob, Joseph and his brothers all illustrate this. Jesus says love one another, love your family, and love your enemies. He doesn’t say like, he says to love them. You can’t love people you don’t know. There has yet to be a race of people or a nation or a tribe that isn’t “lovely” in various ways. When all you see is the dark side of a people or nation, you aren’t seeing them. When all you see is the bright side, you aren’t seeing them as well. Your ability to truly love is your credibility that enables others to sit down with you and those that they are at odds with. We often want to sit down with people without truly knowing them. Spend time on the front end knowing someone before you try to see them reconcile.
- Know history – both histories! Everyone and every nation has a story. Do you know the story? When I’m asked to visit a nation I have never been to or don’t know much about, I start reading all I can about it. When we began to work in Vietnam I read many books about Vietnam, the only problem was they were about the Vietnam war. There is so much more to Vietnamese history than 1963-1975! I began to read Vietnamese literature. Their poetry is incredible. Their paintings and art work are incredible. Vietnamese food is awesome. For years the only way Americans could look at Vietnam was through the pain of a war, but there is at least 3,000 years of history in that part of the world. If you’re going to be a peacemaker you will also have to look at your own history towards a particular people. I remember the first time I went to Vietnam in 1995 and landed at the airport in Saigon from which many American soldiers were shipped home in body bags. That was what my mind and imagination saw as we sat on the tarmac that day. I had to get over my fear, anger, sadness towards Vietnamese because of the 58.000 soldiers that died there, some that I knew. As I did, and I came to know the Vietnamese I found out that over 2,000,000 of them had died. You have to be able to acknowledge the hurt from all sides, because all have been hurt. I once had a Palestinian tell me that what made reconciliation so hard between the Jews and the Palestinians was that they were both victims. The Jews were Nazi victims and the Palestinians were victims from the occupation of the Israeli’s. Victims operate out of woundedness.
- Listen critically. This involves more than anything a high level of emotional intelligence. What is fact and fiction. What is real and what is not real. Often people’s positions don’t reflect them as much as it does the tribe that they’re associated with. Sometimes individuals are far more open to negotiate and build bridges than their tribes are. This is good. This is the kind of person you want sitting at the table because of they have the respect of their tribe they should also be able to challenge their tribe. To build peace there must be trust established between people. It’s not always possible to fix everything at once, build it out over time. All or nothing generally winds up with nothing. Find places of agreement that you can execute on immediately. Instead of a peace treaty we should be thinking peace treaties one at a time. Emotional Intelligence on the part of the peacemaker means knowing how far to push and when to stop. Emotional intelligence always demands your willingness to have both sides at times upset with you. If they aren’t, you’re probably not an impartial peacemaker. Emotional intelligence is important on the part of the peace maker also in the sense of not getting their feelings hurt or taking things personal. A peacemaker also has to listen and yet ignore the critics from the outside. A peacemaker is going to be shot at from every angle. I learned long ago it isn’t worth responding to some people. Let them say what they will, they want a fight, or they want to win, they don’t want to reconcile.
- Build a path from where you are not where you were or wish you were. You can’t change the past but can create a future. Knowing the past and how it got there is good. Using the past as the starting point will stop you from moving forward. Where are you? Build your future from there. Often peacemaking gets stuck because we view things as right or left. Great peacemakers see third ways of doing things, just like Ghandi and his non-violence movement. His was the first in the world that freed an entire nation through non-violence. When I have gathered pastors and imams we do an exercise where we each write a sermon on peace from our Scriptures and then present it. Then we give them blank paper and tell them, we will never agree on theology or other things, but if you would create bridges to each other so we don’t fear and fight each other and the sky was the limit how would you do it? It’s been amazing seeing them come up with ideas and later execute many of those ideas. We get stuck in old thinking and narrow solutions.
- Follow the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is orchestrating all kinds of things – as a follower of Jesus we have to stay open and follow the Holy Spirit. So many unexpected good things happen when we step back and let God move. When I read the book of Acts I’m amazed the Spirit moved in Acts 6 over how they cared for widows, and then in Acts 15 the Jerusalem Council, and Paul being exposed to all the Roman leaders through prison. Always pray before, during, and after meeting with people to bring about reconciliation. I was once in a country with some diplomats from that country that has said Israel shouldn’t exist. We had been together several days, eaten meals, laughed, learned from each other, etc. At one of the conversations around formal tables, I told them, “You’re country is incredible, the levels of education, the development – I had no idea. If the world could only see you as I’ve seen you!” They were beaming. I then said, “You know guys, Israel isn’t going away – but your rhetoric makes the rest of the world afraid of you when you’re not as bad as what they think and what one of your leaders keeps saying. You guys should chill on that some.” I said it with a grin in a low key way hoping for the best. One of them said, “You know Bob, I’ve been telling . . . the same thing! I think it’s a great idea – it’s just people being political.” I responded, “I figured as much, but you shouldn’t be held back because one person can’t control their emotions.” They nodded their head yes and we all went out to eat and talked the practicalities over a meal. The Spirit opens people, moments, words, and ideas like nothing else. This country still has a ways to go, but the reality is there are people always open, don’t paint with a broad brush.
- Lay down your life. Be willing to put your heart and soul into it, if not even your life, for the sake of others. I was asked to speak recently to hundreds of world leaders of different religions and governments and organizations on peace in Abu Dhabi. I spoke why I as an evangelical am committed to peace and how Jesus was the Prince of Peace and why he went to the cross to establish a way for men to have peace with God. But I told them there is another cross, and command of Jesus to every follower of Jesus that he gave in Luke 9:23 “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, daily, take up his cross and follow me.” I explained that this is a cross that Jesus says his followers are to choose, this cross is also a place of death and sacrifice but for the sake of someone else. As Jesus went to the cross for us, so he calls us to go to the cross for others. The cross of Jesus was for all of us to have peace with God, the cross we take up for others is to build peace between men. What are we willing to die for? Who are we willing to die for beyond our own families? Who do we love like Jesus so that we die for others, even if they don’t appreciate it? I told them for me, “It’s you – that’s why I’m here, that’s why I’m willing to be misunderstood by others in my own tribe – because you matter to God and you matter to this evangelical.”
Everyone is going to have different positions on various issues. For those of us as followers of Jesus, we just have to keep in mind that our body is global and how we communicate in the public square can be a thing of tremendous pain that we unintentionally cause others. Let’s be peacemakers, and be called sons and daughters of God.
Bob is the founder, senior leader, and chief spokesman for Glocal.net . His primary focus is to connect leaders and estabish relationships to explore transformation. Follow Bob on Twitter at @bobrobertsjr.