Thursday, August 22, 2013

What In the World Is a Peacemaker?

I took part in a public forum today that turned out to be a bit more public than what is normal (or even comfortable) for me.

First, I joined Governor Haslam, Senator Corker, former mayor Bill Purcell, CNN's David Brody and a few other key business and political leaders for lunch. Then, along with several hundred other people, I listened to Senator Corker made a foreign policy speech.

In his speech, Senator Corker referred several times to our church, and to the way we have been addressing the realities of globalization in the American heartland. That took me by surprise. So I thought I should explain to my church family why I attended this meeting, why I am affiliated with the U S Global Leadership Coalition, and what all that means.

It is fair to ask why a pastor would involve himself so openly with those who form our nation's foreign policy.  What realistic contribution can spiritual leaders hope to make to that process? How can a spiritual leader, however well intentioned, avoid getting pulled into the political rankling and horse trading we often assume goes along with this kind of political territory?

Because I have often asked myself such questions, I nearly declined the invitation to open today's meeting. Thankfully, I accepted it. I offered a few remarks about the importance of our country's global role in addressing poverty, disease and education. I prayed for God's blessing on our conversation. Then, over lunch, I enjoyed a pleasant conversation with some of our national leaders about these issues.

Like many of you, I am inclined to dismiss the importance of gatherings like these. It is easy for me to think, "what difference does my opinion make?"

As it turns out though, that attitude is immature. Our opinions actually matter a lot.

One of the leaders of the U S Global Leadership Collision remarked, "several of us have been watching how your church addresses the serious issues of our times. You offer clear and solid principles. Nonetheless, you do it in a way that invites further discussion from those who disagree. There are few examples of that approach now and we think you provide an example of how real conversations among people of differing positions occurs and becomes productive."

Well, thank God for that.

To the extent to which this is true though-- that we really have been addressing serious issues with a clear voice that nonetheless invites conversation -- is the extent to which we have heeded our Lord's words, "blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God."

"Peace maker," Jesus says.

He didn't say "peace keeper."

A peace keeper tries not to open his mouth; he tries to avoid taking a stand. A peace keeper puts his finger in his mouth, holds it up in the air to see which way the wind is blowing to find out what he is going to say. A peace keeper's only objective is to avoid conflict. So he will do whatever is required to do that.

A peacemaker, in contrast, does not avoid conflict at any cost.  He will fight if he must. He will even die defending his values. However, he does not seek to harm, diminish or belittle others. Even when the struggle for justice and truth becomes intense, he remembers that all human beings, including his opponents, are made in the image and likeness of God. He is fighting on the behalf of ideas. He is not fighting people.

Isn't that what St. Paul says, that "our war is not with human beings but with spiritual forces in high places?"

A peacemaker keeps this spiritual reality in mind. He seeks to show genuine respect to those who hold different opinions than he.

The U S Global Leadership Collision, of which I have been a participant, includes among its members every single previous American Secretary of State. It brings ranking members of both parties together for real conversation. Sometimes sparks fly.  Huge gaps can open up between their very different opinions. However, sometimes, these brilliant people solve problems precisely because they hold different opinions. Remaining engaged in conversation with those who hold different opinions, forces one to to look at a topic from another viewpoint than the one he normally holds. For this reason, real conversation with one's ideological opponents opens up the mind and heart in ways that conversation with one's ideological allies does not.

That's why I agreed to open the meeting today. I need the conversation as much as anyone else.

It is always an honor to discuss our local, state and international issues with governmental, business and academic leaders. I have learned to look compassionately at their challenging responsibilities. And, I believe, they try to open their heart to consider how their actions -- and their lack of action -- affects those who have little voice in the way the world is run.

My pastoral role is to keep leaders mindful of the human cost of their political and business decisions. However, it is also my role to understand that their problems are usually more complex and challenging than what it may appear in front of the television. When one is sitting on his couch eating pizza, blowing off steam to his brother-in-la, it may seem that global problems would be solved if only our leaders had enough common sense. But when we sit down with them face to face, and understand the weight of the responsibilities they shoulder, we realize that they need prayer and understanding, just like everyone else. Sometimes, our leaders also need a different perspective, from someone in a different line of work, but who will offer that different perspective with grace.

I want to be a peacemaker. Its just that  most of the time I don't think I can make much of a difference in the world. Then, on a day like today, I realize that some of our nation's leaders really do pay attention.

So, like the Bible says, don't forget to pray for those in authority. Don't rail against them. Don't participate in slander. And, when you have the opportunity, graciously offer your opinion.

You never know.

It might make a real difference.

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