Fighting for Peace in the Current American Civil War

by Jeff Neuman-Lee Jeff Neuman-Lee, a local pastor in Denver, Colorado, has written about the meaning of peacemaking in the Christian context: God With Us: The Biblical Message of Jesus, Life in the Spirit, Not in Religion.

Despite having grown up in the conservative atmosphere of Park Ridge, Illinois, Jeff was taken by the Anabaptist thought found in the Church of the Brethren. Ordained by the Brethren, Jeff is working on the meaning of “peace” and how to create a description for how people may be at peace, using a variety of language bases such as psychological, cultural, developmental, and spiritual. Within each language there is its truth as well as its limitation. His take on the Christian Bible is that as it contains so many different forms of “language,” its only obvious “literal” interpretation must involve paradox and a non-legalistic understanding of life. The Biblical idea of idolatry may be restated as to confuse one’s “language” with the absolute truth of God.

He wants to create a place for dialogue, where the issues of being at peace can be grasped, and, perhaps, real lessons might be shared.

I get mad, just like anyone else, when I see lies, distortions, and simple obstruction. The other night I watched Rachel Maddow report on the real, uncensored video from the ACORN case in California. Looks like the folks who lost their jobs because of this were actually doing their jobs; the videos were presented by FOX News in such a way as to bear false witness against them, charging them with encouraging child prostitution. FOX, as a shill for the my-money-is-more- important-than-humans-crowd, holds prime responsibility for this "bearing false witness" (Exodus 20:17 and Deuteronomy 5:20).

It's not the only incidence, of course. When the self-proclaimed clown Glenn Beck calls my kind of faith a communistic, Nazi faith because I see the Biblical undergirding of what is loosely known as "social justice"; when I hear the formerly esteemed Charles Grassley of Iowa blatantly lie about "death panels" and killing Grandma; when I see the unprepared, off-the-cuff, divisive Sarah Palin given any sort of regular public pulpit; when I hear obvious lies about the efficacy of government as though it is not part of the "real" economy and automatically corrupts anyone ever engaging with it; when I hear Beck's ahistorical diatribes that miseducate uneducated and ahistorical people; when the outrage of calling creationism in any form "scientific"...

Well I could go on. I've let myself be mad.

And it has a corrosive effect on us all. It's divisive in the worst way: the intent is not to find truth together, but to subjugate some to other's will. Controversy and conflict are normal and good, but the folks who have been creating this division offer no way out of this other than the rest of us to resign in conformity to their ideas. It's pretty clear that they want to win and dominate me, and that makes me want to win! But I don't want to be like that; getting others to be in lockstep with my ideas is not my sort of victory.

However, I would be glad if both of us could use the same sort of open, empirical, and dialogical process I admire. But the real battleground may be over the process. It adds up to the effect that they don't want to (or perhaps don't understand how to) have a conversation, a real conversation, because even if I listen and change my mind about some position or another that they like, I still win by having the conversation with them.

A second, obvious corrosive effect of all this division is that it confuses and exhausts a lot of people. So many people who would be part of a real conversation allow themselves to get discouraged and drop out. Which is great for the my-money-is-more-important-than-humans-crowd because the main constraint on them is people who recognize that money has limited importance and who simply are themselves and engage the world. If we get discouraged, we acquiesce to the money power. They are glad when we drop out.

It feels like war. The problems seem so intractable. It seems so very us-against-them. And the stakes are so high. There are real winners and losers. People die in this undeclared war; from soldiers and the tens of thousands of innocents in the war of choice in Iraq to the poor who lived below the levies or had no building codes when the earthquake hit or had no insurance when it was time to take the tests. Tell the victims that this is not war. Tell those who jobs evaporate in the wake of class war-fare waged from the top this is not a war.

But there I go again, I got mad. I have a problem with just getting mad. It solves nothing and we have really enormous problems to be solved. The pressures of population on resources and pollution by themselves threaten to break any hope of a world where all men and women are equal in respect and opportunity. These pressures could even break down civilization and lead to a massive die-off.

So how do we be at peace with our enemies? Jesus calls us to love our enemies. It's been done so little by the people who call themselves Jesus' church, but we are not without models or people who today take this admonition seriously. Still, it has been taken as utopian or impossible or truly impractical.

However, consider these political and cultural leaders whose successes are legendary and whose sentiments clearly reflect Jesus' call to love the enemy:

"Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?" Lincoln.

"Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend." King.

"It is easy enough to be friendly to one's friends. But to befriend the one who regards himself as your enemy is the quintessence of true religion. The other is mere business." Gandhi.

An interesting selection of men. All three faced horrifying injustice inflicted on their
neighbors, if not themselves. One, Lincoln, uses violence and gets caught up in an unforeseen maelstrom; the other two intentionally provoke violence. Their attempts to make friends of enemies kills them all. Yet, all three wind up furthering the progressive liberation of humanity.

How do we make peace in times like this?  I hope that we refrain from jumping to conclusions before we ask and listen. No matter our background, we each will move back and forth from our different metaphors to the actual physical ground. I doubt we all will agree. I can't even imagine that we would even fully understand each other. But I think that we all can be encouraged to the very necessary work of making peace in this time of the continuing American Civil War.

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