The more chaos I see in the world around me, the more I cherish the wise words spoken by Jesus Christ almost 2,000 years ago. One statement is especially poignant in our day and age: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). It seems to me that our world could use a few more peacemakers, and I am not alone in my opinion.
I have spent much of my life involved in various capacities of Christian ministry, but now, as the age of sixty draws ever nearer, I find myself more deliberately seeking to leave a legacy for the generations to come. We may disagree on ideologies and methodologies, but most of us can agree on one thing: we want those who come after us to inherit a better world than the one handed to us. But for that to happen, considerable work is necessary. In particular, we need more peacemakers who understand how to wisely navigate the tumultuous waves of human conflict in an increasingly toxic social atmosphere.
A Root Issue of Cultural Conflict
Experience has shown me that most people are relatively passive when it comes to matters of religion and politics. As long as we are comfortable, well-fed, and gainfully employed, we are pretty content to do our own thing. Only when we find ourselves subject to loss, when life becomes painfully uncomfortable, or when we are presented with a clear threat do most of us feel compelled to act.
A smaller but no insignificant facet of society involves those we might call “people of action.” These individuals are motivated to facilitate change for varied reasons. Some have tasted firsthand the pain of loss or oppression. Others are burdened by injustice. Still others are perceptive visionaries who can see how today’s trends will affect tomorrow’s culture.
Regardless of their motivations, people of action realize that they cannot accomplish their goals alone. Thus, they feel compelled to “stir the pot,” to create agitation and discomfort among those who might otherwise do nothing. This type of work is often necessary to motivate people to act, but unhealthy tactics will create larger problems down the road. In large part, I believe “activist stereotyping” to be a key factor in making U.S. social media culture so toxic.
In this short series of blog posts, I plan to introduce and explain some ideas that will help make us better peacemakers. If what I write serves as nothing more than a reminder of principles you already know, then please let my thoughts serve you well. And if you learn something through these posts, well, that is all the better!
Putting Stereotypes in Their Place
I once heard a gay-rights speaker talk about how he and a conservative Christian leader would often publicly malign each other because it was helpful in raising funds for their respective causes. The general idea is to motivate people to give and serve by creating a common enemy who threatens all that is good. Thus, every conservative Christian becomes a “hater,” and every LGBT advocate a “morally-depraved reprobate.” Stereotypical enemies are so vile and so malicious that if we fail to act now, our society will unravel at the seams—or so we are told.
I see two massive problems with activist stereotyping. First, it rarely fits. I know a good many people who believe homosexuality to be wrong and unhealthy, but whose beliefs have absolutely nothing to do with hate. I also know those in and associated with the LGBT movement who are driven primarily by compassion. In other words, they do not fit their respective stereotype either.
The second huge problem with activist stereotyping is the detrimental effect on interpersonal relationships. Enemies, of course, must be held in low regard, and as a result, we treat them as such—if not worse. Sitting on our high moral perches, we look down and scoff at those who fail to conform to our noble expectations. Thus, the fires of conflict are fueled as “identity politics” become the order of the day.
Three Steps to Being Peacemakers
How do we overcome the problems associated with stereotyping? Below are three simple but effective ideas.
1. Recognize the greater enemies at work. During Hurricane Harvey, a vast number of blacks and whites came together to help one another. In the face of death, skin color suddenly meant nothing. Ironically, the ferocious enemy that meteorologists named “Harvey” helped people realize that many of their stereotypes were dead wrong. In our culture as a whole, toxic conflict is our deadly enemy. If we fail to recognize that fact, the future is bleak indeed.
2. Deliberately get to know people who are unlike you. Living in a university community, I have had the opportunity to meet a fair number of Muslims. In all honesty, there were one or two who I think would have killed me had they been given the opportunity. At the same time, there have been many more followers of Islam—some of whom I call friends—who I found to be kind, caring, and community oriented. In various capacities, we have “done life together,” and I am a better person for it.
3. Determine to treat all people with honor and respect regardless of how they live or how they treat you. We do not have to agree with people’s actions or beliefs in order to accept them as individuals. We simply need to recognize that they have value because God created them in His image.
We did not get to where we are overnight, and positive change might take even longer to effect. At the same time, we can honor God by becoming the peacemakers who reflect His true nature.
Photo credit: Shutterstock: Little Perfect Stock
If you would like to learn more about the root issues of conflict from a Biblical perspective, please check out the fourth session from Bob’s Treasures of Grace video series. (Viewing sessions one and two first will help the fourth to make more sense.)