In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God (Matthew 5:9 NRSV). As we live in God’s kingdom on earth, we can be peacemakers both by opposing war and by taking action to bring about peace in various situations.
Saying “No” to War
Speaking out. Whether you are opposed to all wars or accept some wars in particular circumstances, there are times to speak out against wars that you consider unjust and wrong-minded. As an advocate, you can take part in public debate and organize forums at your church and other venues to oppose the war and offer peaceful alternatives. You can circulate petitions, write to public officials and visit their offices, send letters to the editor, call in to talk radio. You can attend anti-war rallies and participate in other kinds of nonviolent demonstrations.
Conscientious objectors. Young disciples of Jesus who are coming of age can consider declaring themselves to be conscientious objectors and refuse to take part in military service. Members of the armed services who hear Jesus’ call to love your enemy and reject violence can consider resigning on the basis of conscience.
This is less an issue currently in the United States, Canada, much of Western Europe, and other countries where there is no active draft, but nevertheless you can take a stand. It is more a challenge in nations with active conscription for military service. Some of these systems allow conscientious objectors to serve in noncombatant roles, such as medical corps, or in alternative civilian service. Where there is no such opportunity, objectors face the possibility of imprisonment. Such may be the cost of discipleship.
Occupational choice. You can say “no” to war by declining to work in civilian jobs dealing with the production of weapons of war, their delivery vehicles, and other aspects of preparation for and conduct of war. Your choice may be complicated by the fact that many international corporations have divisions with a wide variety of products. In such case you can limit your choice to only socially worthy activities. Remember what Jesus said about collecting treasures for our own benefit on earth: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
Investment choices. The same issues arise in investment choices. You can avoid investing your money in any company whose primary business is war related. One way to do this is to seek out mutual funds dedicated to socially responsible investments that avoid defense industries and show sensitivity to the environment, equal rights, and other social concerns.
Tax refusal. Some persons demonstrate their opposition to war by withholding the portion of tax payment that goes for war-related expenses. They follow the example of Henry David Thoreau who in 1846 refused to pay a local poll tax in protest against slavery, explained in his essay “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience.” Nowadays in the United States the government has ways of seizing assets of tax refusers so that tax refusal becomes basically a symbolic gesture but for some persons still worthwhile for the message it sends.
On the positive side there are a variety of actions that we can personally undertake as peacemakers.
First of all, we can make peace with whomever we are quarreling. In various situations we can apply Jesus’ instruction in the Sermon on the Mount where he tells us to make things right with our brother or sister before offering our gift at the altar (Matthew 5:23-24). Regardless of who caused the rift, we can take the initiative. Acceptance of our adversary as a person of worth and our willingness to forgive helps to lay the groundwork for reconciliation.
Secondly, we can serve as a peacemaker when there are disputes within groups that we are a part of. This could be family, school group, at work, within the community. We need to recognize that we are not wholly neutral. Nevertheless, we can appeal to others to sort out our differences, to listen carefully to one another, to be honest, also kind and patient, willing to compromise if necessary, to be forgiving. All the attributes of love for neighbor and for enemy can enter the picture.
Thirdly, we can be a mediator to help settle disputes among others. As such we can serve as a neutral third party who facilitates conversation by persons in dispute. A mediator provides a comfortable setting, allows the parties to state their positions and respond, listens, asks clarifying questions, and patiently helps the parties come to agreement.
Beyond these individual activities we can be advocates for peace using techniques described in the page on public advocacy.