Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
I am writing this letter on November 5, two days after the elections. Some election results are known and some are still pending. My purpose in writing is not to mourn or celebrate any of the results. Rather, I would like to think out loud with you about what God is calling us to do as Lutheran Christians from November 5 onward.
I ask that question because I anticipate that there will continue to be bitter arguments and verbal attacks for weeks and even months after the election, possibly even physical violence. I pray that this will not be so. Yet, I feel that our country is sharply divided and our unity is being tested more than it has ever been since the Civil War.
For that reason, I am certain that Christ is calling us to begin working as peacemakers, in the same way that he called his first followers in the Sermon on the Mount. God envisions us to be a community where all people treat one another with respect and dignity, even in the midst of disagreements and conflicts. Part of our calling, therefore, is to work with Christ to heal broken relationships and restore shalom, peace, to our hearts, families and society.
Being a peacemaker does not mean that we become neutral on every issue, giving up or silencing our own viewpoints or political positions. One key part of our calling as Christians is to provide food for the hungry, homes for the homeless, protection for children, and justice for the oppressed, just as Jesus did. Therefore, it is necessary for us to passionately denounce what is wrong in our society and actively work to make things right. At the same time, however, we are also called to be peacemakers. A peacemaker not only cares about achieving a just end, but also cares about the process in which people arrive at that end. Specifically, a peacemaker models, teaches and helps people to work through their conflicts and disagreements in a manner that is respectful of others and to work towards outcomes that are fair, just, and unifying for all.
As we witness or find ourselves involved in conflicts in the weeks ahead, here are some specific things we can do as peacemakers.
· Model what you want. If you want to be listened to by another person, listen to them first. If you don’t want to be verbally attacked or insulted by another person, don’t attack or insult others.
· In every conversation, spend 50% of your time (or more) listening to people with whom you disagree, rather than talking at them. When someone says something you disagree with, rather than immediately jumping in with a counter-argument, say, “Please say more about this. I see things differently, so I’d like to understand your thinking and how you came to this conclusion.” This will also help them to listen to you.
· If you witness someone being verbally attacked or insulted, go and stand at their side and say to the person being insulted, “This is a really difficult moment. I want you to be respected and safe.” Say to the one speaking insults, “My experience is that insults always make things worse. What is it about this matter that makes you feel so strongly?” That gets them out of their reactivity to talk about the issue itself.
· Don’t get drawn into bitter or insulting exchanges on social media. Don’t try to address or resolve conflicts by email. It is so easy for us to misinterpret the meaning or tone of what someone has typed out to us when we are conflicted about something. Use emails for exchanging information about dates and activities, but the minute that some tension or disagreement appears, say to the other person, “Let’s talk about this on the phone (or in person, or on Zoom.)”
· Reach out to a local mosque, synagogue, or Historic Black congregation to get acquainted and offer support. No matter who wins the election, violence and verbal attacks against non-Christians and people of color are going to increase in the months ahead. Peacemakers give special care to those who are at highest risk and make sure that they have a voice at the table.
· Hopefully this will not happen, but think through what you will do if a person comes to your church openly carrying weapons. Acquaint yourself with what the local laws are about openly bearing arms in public places. Introduce yourself to your local police department, both to establish a good relationship and learn from them about relevant ordinances and what to do in such situations.
· Being a peacemaker is both satisfying and stressful, both deepening and exhausting. Therefore, don’t try to do all this on your own. Find others in your congregation who will support one another as a peace team. Learn and get support from community organizations such as Braver Angels who are active as peacemakers, helping people in the United States to address conflicts and restore our unity as a nation. (See www.braverangels.org)
Martin Luther called upon government leaders to govern fairly and called upon citizens to work together to build communities where every person receives the respect, support, and care that God wants for them. Today, the Spirit of Christ is stirring and calling us to break out of our constant, heated divisions and learn again to talk, deliberate, and live together in a way that is fair for all.
Jesus once said, “Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back?…I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind.”Luke 6: 31, 35-36 from The Message Bible
Christ not only frees and teaches us how to live, but also empowers us through the Holy Spirit to live in a new way. May Christ give a double measure of that Spirit to our nation in this crucial time. May we open ourselves to the Spirit, so that we work courageously as peacemakers.
Bishop Rick Jaech
Southwestern Washington Synod, ELCA