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A Theology of Peace I

In January I took a class at Semilla, an Anabaptist seminary in Guatemala—Peace and Justice: Latin American Perspectives. In describing the course to a friend on Facebook, I used the phrase, “peace theology.” He asked what I meant by this, and since Facebook is an insufficient platform for life’s more persistent questions, I posted the following thoughts on my blog to clarify.

At the time of the conversation, I was sitting in a coffee shop waiting for my wife to get off work, so I had limitations of time and materials to reference. My only tools were Google, Bible Gateway and Ellen White’s book, Welfare Ministry. Even though I could now add additional sources, I have decided to leave the essay in its original form with only minor revisions.

The month-long class in Guatemala addressed how to live peace theology in a violent society. We studied how churches have worked to promote a culture of peace in a historical context of massive human rights abuses. They risk death threats when standing with abused women. They give of themselves to help those economically destroyed when husbands and sons have been disappeared. They walk with lawyers to thwart a culture of impunity. They build schools for people groups ignored by government development funds or targeted by government violence. They teach conflict resolution classes to infuse society with new ideas for dealing with differences.

In this context, by peace theology I meant the biblical concept of peace (shalom & eirene) as the framework for understanding God’s kingdom and mission. For instance, in the New Testament we find:

Peace is a broad term; the biblical usage goes far beyond our common conception of “absence of violence.” Any injustice breaks peace as much as outright war. Righteousness and justice are integral to peace, and in contrast to how we normally use them, they are quite related (Colson Center, IV Press). An understanding of the Jewish conception of compassion and justice helps make these connections more clear (e.g., Judaism 101, 7 words, Just Action 3& 4). Peace includes justice because peace is a relational word—right relations, harmony, the weak are safe, no oppression/injustice, needs are met.

Part II coming tomorrow.

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