Over the weekend I participated in a discussion of how best to represent God’s image when our beliefs are not in synch with the beliefs of the elders or leaders of the community of believers we are part of. This came up as we discussed how we should apply the scriptural instructions regarding head covering for women and short hair for men. Since some of the people came from a Plymouth Brethren or similar background and practiced head covering for women, this was more than an academic discussion. Several individuals suggested that when we disagree with the practices of our congregation, we have a responsibility to approach the leaders of the congregation and present our beliefs. However, once that happens, they contended the right course of action for a Jesus follower is to “keep the peace,” based on our call to be peacemakers, and conform to the practices of the congregation.
As we sat discussing keeping the peace on Sunday afternoon, I kept thinking about the women who are in abusive relationships while sitting in churches that teach the only righteous position for women to take is complete submission to their husbands. (Before dismissing this as something that rarely occurs, a quick Google search on domestic abuse in Christian homes will give a sense of just how often this happens.) I was also remembering the little boy in one of the congregations my father pastored. For the smallest infraction, even when he was as young as two, and even at church, his dad would “spank” him with a belt, in sessions that left the other children in the congregation, and even some of the adults, frightened by the cries of the child and the harsh voice of the man. Though this congregation believed it was appropriate to spank children as part of discipline, this man’s actions troubled many. Yet everyone “kept the peace.”
At the same time as I sat mulling over my thoughts during this discussion, a friend in another community was spending the weekend grappling with how best to represent God’s image when your congregation has not addressed the issue of sexual abuse of a child within the congregation. My friend is preparing to pay the potential cost to relationships and family when your voice is going to be the one upsetting the “peace,” yet knowing there isn’t another voice to speak for those who have none.
I’ve been thinking about the differences between peacekeepers and peacemakers. Both are focused on peace, but the similarities end there. Peacekeepers are involved with minimizing disruption. The idea of “keeping the peace” involves conforming to keep from disrupting the status quo. In some cases peacemakers are those who go into situations where two warring factions have not been able to come to peaceful agreement between themselves. Beyond that, though, aren’t we being peacemakers when we use our voice to require justice for those who have no voice?
When we say we’re Jesus followers, we’re stating our intention to follow the pattern He gave us for reflecting the image of God into the world. He said the peacemakers would be blessed and called children of God. He also said He didn’t come to bring peace, but to bring division. We must understand that His call for us to be peacemakers will invariably place us in a position to cause division. Sometimes peace can only be made when we refuse to conform, daring to speak out, regardless of the resulting disruption. In so doing, we truly reflect God’s image into the world around us.