Saturday, December 17, 2011

Incarnating Lawful Love 2 – Christian Peacemaking Basics

In my last post, I began sketching some dynamics which followers of Christ can monitor in the midst of conflict, in ourselves & others. I realized, after the post, that many folks don’t have the training and experiences I’ve been blessed to receive in Christian conciliation. So, I want to lay some biblical peacemaking groundwork before I proceed further with describing the dynamics, warning signs and red flags, as well as the encouraging and nurturing signs of God’s activity and presence within the relationships.

The initial step: The basic foundation for any conflict resolution process must be determined. We claim that the foundation for our unity is Christ himself, crucified and resurrected, so that we may inherit the promises of God. That sounds abstract, I know, so let’s give alternative examples of foundations to contrast ours. Secular mediation’s goal is to settle material differences in a dispute by use of laws and regulations which pertain to the matter. If a matter ends up in a court of law, laws and regulations which have bearing on the material differences in that jurisdiction are utilized. Religions have different governing principles than secular courts, and in some countries (including the US) religious judicatories have jurisdiction over those who’ve agreed to abide by the principles & authority of their religious documents in order to be employed, or to engage in business transactions, or to be a member of their organization. Colleges and corporations also have student, professor or employee handbooks which lay out conditions and expectations of enrollment or employment. Families, congregations and cultures have dynamic systems within which conflict is handled as determined “appropriate” by that system’s model. Of course, not all of these systems function in healthy, loving or honoring ways from a healthy & loving foundation! Prejudice is harmful, hard to root out, and will poison every interaction. Prejudice (“partiality” is the word used in Scripture) comes in many forms: favoritism, racism, sexism, ethno-centrism, nationalism, classism, deference to financial or worldly status, superiority according to human wisdom, and any scale by which we judge others rather than serve them (see the grid in the last post, for more examples and a graphic image). 

Secondly, a realistic assessment of the position or the interests from which those in conflict operate is imperative to reconciliation. Our subjective position – where we are, how we perceive ourselves & others in relation to one another, how we choose to use whatever power we may have in that relationship & how we process information according to life experiences, e.g. – and the interests we have in the conflict affect the way we use and abuse concrete, verifiable facts and legal principles. 

Consider one recent news event – Newt Gingrich blasted GOP Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to balance the federal budget in May as “right-wing social engineering” and too much of a “radical change”. Within a couple of days, he claimed to have been “tricked” by the interviewer, and said, “Any ad which quotes what I said on Sunday is a falsehood.” That statement is self-refuting and self-contradictory, because employing a direct quote cannot be a falsehood. What elicited Gingrich’s blustery response was that he belatedly realized the political context had changed dramatically from his time as Speaker of the House. The current GOP political context altered his position because his interests (being elected) required that shift. Yet, his other interests (e.g., self-protection and countering a public image of untrustworthiness) meant that he could not admit his subsequent reevaluation of his own words; thus, he threatened the news reporters and his political opponents. Belligerence toward and blame-shifting onto others is a mask for failure to face one’s weaknesses and self-contradictions.

Thirdly, power imbalances have to be recognized and redressed. Our secular legal system doesn’t do this well, at all. Yes, Legal Aid attorneys will be provided to all defendants, but no one imagines that overworked and underpaid attorneys are capable of balancing out the power imbalance. The force of deep pockets and political influence too frequently prevails. Police, State and local prosecuting attorneys have much more power than the poor, disconnected, and those discriminated against in our society. Plus, they also are pressured to “close” or “win” cases, and are judged by voters or politicians according to those rates. However, government employees that they are, they have significantly fewer resources in contrast to the financial power of corporations, the wealthy and the numerous higher-paid attorneys they employ to protect their interests, even at the expense of equal justice, appropriate governance, or proportional taxation. The 30-day sentence of house arrest plus 2 years’ probation for Barry Bonds is a sad example of unequal justice. Even worse, the complete dearth of prosecutions of Wall Street financial executives for fabricating financial instruments to defraud unwary investors, while shifting the risk from failure onto the federal government is shocking. Some applaud the penalties assessed to FNMA and FHLMC; however, I’m aware of how those penalties stand in appalling contrast to the absence of penalties to those investment banks and bankers who garnered far more wealth from their unethical and devious actions. That’s not to say that FNMA and FHLMC executives were not malfeasant in financial risk-taking; it is to say that those who were penalized had less power than those who’ve done far worse and escaped penalties, thus far.

In Christian conciliation, the goal of conciliation between fellow Christians includes more than a resolution of material differences; the goal of conciliation between Christians is unity in Christ, loving and serving God, one another and the church. The foundation has to be scripturally-based and held together in love within the Body of Christ in community. A faithful Christian understands that his/her subjective position and interests must be winnowed by the Word and the Holy Spirit’s discernment, informed by their brothers and sisters in Christ. The power Christians should use is found in the cross of Christ. We are called to humble love and service of one another, for the glory of God and the building up of the church members. 

22For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
26Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29so that no one might boast in the presence of God. 30He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1)

Fundamentally, however, Christian conciliation isn’t possible if either party to the conflict determines
  1. Christ is irrelevant to the resolution (i.e., the person’s goal is not unity in Christ), or
  2. Either party acts as an enemy of Christ, whatever profession they may make (i.e., one party refuses to honor Jesus’ command to love the other in accordance with scripture). 

In other words, all parties to the conflict must be acting faithfully toward one another, “in Christ”, and entrusting themselves and one another to the Lord who is able to make them stand. (Romans 14:1-12) The foundation for Christian reconciliation is Christ himself; we are reconciled through the cross: 

13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God. (Ephesians 2)

Basically, if one party or the other party to a conflict determines to be the other person’s enemy, there’s no possibility of moving forward toward unity in Christ. If the God we worship is the God who “so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16), then we are called to follow him in our thoughts, words, and actions toward everyone – including those who act as enemies to us. It isn’t possible to act as the enemy of any person created in God’s image while following Christ who died, demonstrating God’s love for us. “…while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son…” (Rom. 5:8-11)

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