On paper, the Bible instructs Christians to be peacemakers. How that translates into thought and action is a continuing debate among evangelicals. Dr. Eric Patterson, Robertson School of Government (RSG) dean, and guest speaker Dr. Rick Love from Peace Catalyst International hashed out the issue in Robertson Hall Monday, Feb. 2. They provided their perspectives of how Christians can best work to build peace during times of war. Both have authored books about this topic and shared their experiences working across divided communities.
“You will see that faith-based actors, religious leaders and clerics are most effective in efforts before and after a war, especially when it comes to providing valuable services, meeting human needs, and working toward reconciliation and forgiveness,” said Patterson. “In contrast, the evidence is pretty thin that many contemporary wars actually stopped due to religious people grandstanding about peace after the bullets started flying.”
Patterson and Love took different approaches, but did not disagree. Patterson, a well-known scholar of just war theory, argued that Christ’s redemption works best on a personal level, inspiring interpersonal forgiveness. However, he argued, it is very difficult for governments to have that same kind of reconciliation following a bloody war. Patterson further discussed the idea that Christians can be agents of peace by fulfilling the calling of Romans 13, as police officers and military personnel dedicated to protect the weak, right past wrongs, and punish wrongdoers.
“[Christians] are most likely to have an impact on efforts of reconciliation. We all believe as Christians that the Lord can do something supernaturally to change peoples’ hearts for forgiveness. I think that’s extremely difficult in international politics, but at the individual level, the Lord does that.”
Dr. Love spoke next, telling stories of how his organization, Peace Catalyst International, engages in such peacemaking efforts on individual levels. He identified himself as a “Great Commission Christian” who has worked for 35 years to build bridges between Muslims and Christians and get mosques and churches together.
“Jesus taught and modeled both exclusive truth claims and inclusive love aims,” said Love. “Jesus was known as a teacher of truth and a friend of sinners. He hung out with the marginalized. He broke bread with the marginalized. He accepted and protected a woman caught in adultery. These are amazing examples of teaching love of neighbor and love of enemy.”
Love cited Romans 12:18 to describe his view of peacemaking. It states, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live in peace with everyone.” He acknowledged that peacemakers aren’t always peace achievers, that it takes two sides to reconcile, but argued that Christians are to be peacemakers through their personal networks and by influencing their governments.
“I think the challenge for us in the future is how can the church, how can followers of Jesus partner with the military, partner with the government to work toward peace,” said Love. “How are you implementing peace? You have a network. God has given you a sphere of influence. May I encourage you to move forward in that? You need to find Muslim peacemakers and partner with them for the sake of peace.”
RSG and Regent’s School of Divinity sponsored Love’s visit to campus, which included a breakfast with student leaders and faculty. After the discussion he met with students and signed copies of his book Peace Catalyst.