A few weeks agao I was asked to write a short article on the need to be prophetic for the ‘Peace in 21st Century’ newsletter. Here’s the result!
Over the past five years the Fellowship of Reconciliation has focused on two specific areas of militarism- the arms trade and more recently, the growing use of armed drones. We have chosen to focus our energies on these issues for a variety of reasons, but perhaps the single most important reason is that working on these issues allows us to speak about the wider issues of how we are to live together in our world today. I’m not for a moment suggesting that our campaigning on these issues is not sincere. Rather, we campaign on these issues because it allows us to speak about the sacredness of life, global security, justice, what it means to be aChristian and how we can build “a world order based on love”1 as well as the specifics of the arms trade or armed drones.
Increasingly however there has been a pressure not to speak about those wider things. Increasingly there hasbeen pressure – from funders, from the media, from sister organisations – to be realistic and to focus on ‘what can be achieved’. To me, over the past ten years or so there has been a real shift away from speaking about the big picture – for us war and peace – to focusing instead on small, narrow realistically achievable’ aims.
This is in part, I believe, a reaction to New Labour phenomenon of ‘targets’ and ‘measurable outcomes’.Whilst this way of thinking has brought an important rigour to work for global change, it seems that it has also brought rigidity. While it’s very important that we ground ourselves in reality, its equally important that we be unrealistic. By that I mean, of course, that we be prophetic.
In relation to the arms trade for example, there are many good organisations, not least Oxfam and Amnesty International, who are campaigning on the issue. However they will not call for an end to the arms trade itself, not because they do not believe that would be a good thing, rather because it is not realistically achievable in the short-term. They feel, I believe, that to make such a call would lose them credibility with those in power, and they would not be able to report a ‘success’ to their funders and donors. Far more credible, it seems, to call for reform and regulation of the arms trade, rather than an end to the practise itself.
Christian peacemakers too face this crisis in credibility. In order to be a player in the political game, credibilityis extremely important and believing and working for an end to war in our world today is literally incredible.
However our calling as Christians and peacemakers is not to be credible in the eyes of the world, but tobe prophetic. Our calling is to speak about the division and alienation in the world – what we would term sin – and how we can overcome that sin by loving God and loving our neighbour.
There is of course much more to say about this state of affairs but in the short space that I have I would want to make two brief comments.
Firstly, as Christians we are working to a different understanding of time and time-scales than the world. We know that the principalities and powers have been defeated by the Prince of Peace but it has yet to work itself out in history. Also in relation to time, we, as a community of peacemakers, are part of a movement that stretches itself way back in time and way forward into the future. Our work for peace and justice must have an understanding of that view of time. I am saddened by people who expect – and are then subsequently disappointed – when ‘peace’ is not achieved after a particular campaign, or event or witness.
Our work for peace is the work of our lifetime. Indeed we could say that the work for peace is thework of time itself. We long for the ending of time and the coming of the eschaton2 and our daily work for peace must be seen in that light and not in an effort to gain worldly credibility.
Secondly, as Christians, we know who it is who will bring peace. It is not us and our work alone thatwill be effective in ending war, violence and conflict. Our human tactics, lobbying and strategising, our organisations and campaigns are created by imperfect fallible, sinful human beings. Our work for peace and reconciliation must be inspired by the Holy Spirit through being rooted in prayer. However we must be careful here. It is not faithful in any way, I believe, to be completely disinterested in the effects of our work.
We must simply not make effectiveness into an idol. As Daniel Berrigan said “The good is to be done becauseit is good, not because it goes anywhere.” As Christian peacemakers we may sometimes (often!) be out of step with how the world sees peace and seeks peace. I believe that our calling is to be prophetic and to witness to the peace of Christ rather than to be realistic and seek peace in the world’s terms.
Chris Cole has recently stepped down as the Director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. He will continue to campaign, write and act for peace. For more details see http://www.figtree.org.uk.
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