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Like many pastors, I both enjoy and am embarrassed by the church signs that congregations create to lure in, I mean evangelize, people driving by.
“Where will you spend eternity, smoking or nonsmoking?” is still one of my favorites.
For a time, my work schedule had me drive by a local United Church of Christ Congregation. Every morning and evening I would contemplate the large yet simple sign the church had erected in its front lawn. It still reads, WAGE PEACE.
Fresh out of the Marine Corps Infantry, the sign made me angry. Were the people of this congregation accusing me of something? Other days I would offer a snide chuckle, patting myself on the back for providing the freedom for these progressives to live in their naive bubbles. The sign and I were not getting along.
A lot has changed in the 20 years since I first saw that sign. The world is different. I am different. No longer a warrior, I long for peace, for shalom, for justice, for equity. But for some reason, the memory of the sign still nags at me. I realize now that my younger self had an issue with the object of the verb…peace. Today, I struggle more with the verb. Can peace be waged? In a word — yes.
In the early days of March, 2021 Sister Ann Rosa Nu Tawng knelt in the streets of war torn Burma. As police officers were moving in to squash the protests caused by the recent military coup, Sister Ann Rosa fell to her knees on the dirty ground. With outstretched arms she begged the officers not to shoot the unarmed protesters. She was not successful that day. Tears streamed down her face as she watched the blood pool around one protester, shot in the head. He was one of two to die that day. Sister Ann Rosa is an unsung hero in a world that’s torn apart in war. She is waging peace.
Waging peace is always dangerous. From Burma to Baltimore waging peace always costs a great deal. Sister Ann Rosa is willing to pay the price. I prefer to hide, hope, and pray. And there’s the rub. The sign is right, in today’s world, true peace must be waged.
Much has been eloquently written about the role of the contemporary evangelical church in the divide and even injustice of modern America. As a pastor, I love and get to serve a congregation who is committed to justice in our community. We are not perfect, but the people I get to shepherd care deeply. Yet, I go to sleep regularly asking myself: Does my silence make me complicit? Am I lovingly pastoring a congregation to a better place? Am I selling out the call of the gospel for the sake of keeping a paycheck? What is the relationship between pastor and prophet?
I do not know the answers to all of these questions. But I am confident that followers of Jesus must stand, or maybe kneel, for peace, for justice, for the kingdom. All of us are called to do our part.
As I reflect on my journey, I have noticed my shift in thought has most meaningfully come through the voices of Christian women. At the risk of generalizing, many women have been on the wrong side of power for many years. As more opportunities are opened in church and the world, I marvel that many female Christian leaders speak out for and live into grace, justice, and shalom when, at times, I might have been looking for a little revenge.
Of course I am not limiting the peace war to women, nor am I abdicating my responsibility as a faithful herald of the whole Gospel, but I do think that the generals in the effort will be people like Sister Ann Rosa, Nadia Bolz-Weber, the late Rachel Held Evans, Kristin Du Mez, Deb Rienstra, and so many more. These are just a few of the heroes waging peace in a church that is still secretly desiring war or at least isolation.
Waging peace might come at the expense of a few, or maybe even more than a few battles, but it must be waged for nothing short of the Gospel is at stake.