Scripture in Common Usage IV: Positive Application I – Scripture as Peacemaker

August 23, 2013

In light of the entries I’ve made so far in this series on scripture in common usage, some readers may be wondering if I see any positive applications of scripture. We’ve looked at scripture being misused by being set up in opposition to science, misinterpreted by being divorced from history, and being misconstrued by flat readings which ignore a text’s intended community, cultural context, and its neighboring texts. Hopefully it has been apparent that there are positive ways of “doing” scripture, even if that has been best seen so far as the  direct contrast to the common misuses described. But in this next leg of the series I plan to showcase concretely a few ways in which scripture can be used positively. Along the way I will continue to push at what the concept of scripture itself might be, what it is that makes particular things function as scripture and what repercussions that may have–not just on those who adhere to a particular scripture, but to everyone. The prologue I did for this series briefly described a conversation on climate change; on issues such as that one, the effects of scriptural interpretation affect not just “believers” but everyone living on the planet. If policy is affected by those who misuse scripture to argue for disengagement (or opposition to proper address of contributing factors) with policy issues affecting climate change, everyone will feel the effects. That is far from the only issue in which this is so; but I aim to argue that the positive applications of “scripturing” can also affect the rest of the world. I begin with a big one, for me the big one–scripture as “peacemaker.”

* What is “Peacemaking?”            

Christian Ethicist Glen Stassen argues that peacemaking is the true call for Christians to engage with the world around them. “Peacemaking,” according to Stassen, is that which the biblical witness (for Christians) truly gives account of, and that it is peacemaking that should best dictate active political  Christian engagement rather than any theory of “Just War” or “Pacifism.” So what is “Peacemaking”? It is active (never passive) engagement with the world to  correct that which is wrong, repair that which is broken, heal that which is sick, and in every possibility make a friend of those who are enemies. It is not the disengaged, inactive stance of pure pacifism nor the following of all orders in carrying out all “necessary evils” of Just War. It is truly a Christ-following path in which one works to actually do what is needed after careful discernment and conversation to determine what that action actually is. Furthermore, Stassen claims, “peacemaking must be understood holistically. It must include economic justice, human rights, [and] defense of the ecostructure.” (Stassen. Just Peacemaking. 1992 ed. p. 28)   Stassen doesn’t leave it at flowery language and move on. He gives constant concrete examples. The first edition of his first major work on Peacemaking focused intently on the nonviolent movement to bring down the Berlin wall, particularly the intense, organized efforts of Baptist and other Protestant groups in East Germany who sought to bring down the wall through nonviolent means, modelling their work after Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, and especially for these churches which placed a significant level of importance on scriptural authority, Jesus. Stassen’s work throughout the years has addressed time and again different methods to end war. Stassen’s work cuts clear paths directly from scripture exegetically applied to policy and political actions to redress injustice, all with careful attention on how this is best done in a multicultural and pluralistic society. Nuclear disarmament, the Iraq War, and all manners of economic justice and human rights are specifically focused on in his work. All is done with a constant compass set to careful, for him prayerful, consistent yet creative, context-specific and culturally applicable uses of scripture.

So that is what “Peacemaking” is. I am not using the term just to reference a church consulting scripture to settle an in-house dispute (though that could be included under the topic of the next post in this series, “Scripture as Communal Conversation”). I am talking about scripture used as a referenced impetus for proactive engagement with culture and society to bring about justice–justice not just for the community who holds a particular text sacred but justice for all and in full.  This is a key use of scripture that has often been ignored by those who wish to castigate all that is in any way related to scripture. I can understand that desire, especially by those who know only the “texts of terror” (as Feminist theologian Phyllis Trible describes them). Scripture has done it’s share of harm and served as a tool of oppression quite often. A healthy discussion on that issue is certainly warranted. Yet it has also done it’s share of good,  and overlooking the role it played in the Civil Rights movement in America is a key result of disparaging scriptural use in its history entirely. Were it not for the serious ways in which Martin Luther King Jr. engaged with scripture and used it in his prayers, sermons, and speeches, a good portion of his audience would not have heard the call to work for justice quite so compellingly and many others may not have followed his methods of active (peacemaking) non-violence either.

Scripture as Peacemaker is a function of scripture certainly not limited to Christian (and Christian appropriation of Jewish texts) either. Jewish movements, including ones grounded in conversations springing out of Torah, Midrash, Talmud, and not to mention Jewish song, prayer and art (all of which are Jewish “scriptures”) aiming at peacemaking are countless. Islam, so often notoriously scapegoated as only a violence-inspiring religion, has a history replete with examples of Qur’anic exegesis inspiring co-existence, acceptance, room for difference, and an umbrella for justice which includes those of other faiths.  Islamic theologians and Qur’anic commentators have often found even in the most troubling texts inspiration for equality, justice, and an extended covenant for others. Speaking of troubling texts, one which in its surface is fully focused on war and the duty one has to play out one’s role in it when found embroiled therein–the classic Hindu work the Bhagavad Gita–was a source of constant inspiration for Gandhi in his nonviolent quest; he even wrote his own commentary on the work and found joy in interpreting it as guidance for the inner spiritual war one has with oneself (very much like the broader, fuller extension of Jihad in Islamic theology and the Qur’an).

Scripture used as peacemaker is a positive application of scripture from which the whole world can benefit. It is also a much broader, more nuanced, more complex topic than this brief foray into it has probably shown. Hopefully we will return to this in additional ways as we progress through the last half of this series.



3 Responses to “Scripture in Common Usage IV: Positive Application I – Scripture as Peacemaker”

  1. […] in touch over long distances of time and geography, and serve as the nexus between the role of “scripture as peacemaker” that was discussed last time and the role of “scripture as meditative redeemer,” which will be discussed in the next […]

  2. […] in just peacemaking; I placed “Scripture as communal conversation” at the nexus between just peacemaking and the focus of this entry, “scripture as personal meditative […]

  3. […] IV. Scripture in Common Usage IV: Positive Application I- Scripture as Peacemaker […]

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