How a commitment to peace saved my faith

The Circle of Peacemakers inspired me recently to consider why peace is so important to my faith. Here’s my story.

Back and forth from my trips to Hershey Park when I was a teenager, it was politically-inspired punk rock music that serenaded me and my carpooling buddies, Tanner and Alex. (Think Anti-Flag, Bad Religion, Rise Against, and so on.) It wasn’t good music, but it pumped us up for the 90-degree day dealing with frustrated Long Islanders who waited 90 minutes just to find out that their irritable child was too short to ride the Great Bear.

That music didn’t just pump me up for my work day, it also changed how I saw the world. I started to wonder about the military industrial complex, particularly. At this point, it was 2002, so right after the Afghanistan invasion and right before the Iraq one, and the xenophobia, jingoism, and hysteria in the U.S. seemed to be at an all-time high. Truly, it was like an Orwellian novel. I can still remember the terror alert from the newly minted Department of Homeland Security.

These days, the U.S.’s militarism and security obsession is not as overt. Although tapping phone lines and using drones isn’t as obvious as waterboarding and shock-and-awe are, it is just as disturbing and maybe even more sinister.

Ultimately, I started to wonder what Jesus might be doing right now. The environment that the Bush Administration created with its civil-rights-draining PATRIOT Act left me as a Christian disillusioned because I was sure that Jesus, lover of his enemies and prince of peace, wouldn’t bomb anyone. Even though part of my process was differentiating from the conservative household I grew up in, I knew it wasn’t all that. But I couldn’t find Christian allies for the cause of peace.

The radicals on Temple’s campus seemed to be my kindred spirits more than the reformed G.O.P. lackeys that made up one of the college ministries were. I figured, if God’s people were advocating for war, maybe I was not meant to be one of them. I felt alone in my faith in Jesus and my conviction about peace and justice. I didn’t know what to do.

Then Sean said he was going to a place called Circle of Hope. I was skeptical, but I went along with him. We took the orange line down to City Hall, transferred and got off on the Berks stop on the El and watched toward Frankford Ave. This was about nine years ago and Fishtown wasn’t nearly as gentrified as it is now. It was a creepy walk.

We got to the space late and I went up the stairs, and I didn’t know what to expect. Then I saw the bumper stick on the side of the computer monitor (monitors had sides back then) that said “War in Iraq? NO!” When Joshua and I spoke about our mutual appreciation for Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky, I felt known!

I thought this must be the place for me. There are real, Bible-believing, Jesus followers that don’t think that Dick Cheney is the leader of the Christian thought police. It took me a few more months to connect, but it was Circle of Hope’s blatant commitment to peace that saved my whole faith.

It is amazing, because Circle of Hope is part of the historic peace denomination, the Brethren in Christ. And even though the BIC’s commitment to peace is fading quickly (check out John Yeatts’ 2000 study of the identity of the BIC), I was still amazed that in Lebanon, PA, where I grew up, I still hadn’t heard of any Christian peacemakers! I’m so thankful I found Circle of Hope, and I’m so thankful for the Circle of Peacemakers, our compassion team devoted to peace.

I tell you this story because it seems to me that Christians that are interested in peace are sometimes accused of not focusing on the Great Commission, and are more interested in changing policy than changing lives. But our commitment to peace is helping people follow Jesus. And perhaps when the just warriors evangelize about their masculine, military God, they convince people to follow Jesus too—but I do wonder what version of Jesus that is and if the military industrial complex didn’t just make him up too. It doesn’t seem to be the one who cared for the least of these, or who told Peter to put away his sword. Not the one who submitted to an imperial execution in the world’s greatest display of nonviolence and civil disobedience.

Jesus is a peacemaker. And if Circle of Hope didn’t make peace alongside of him, I don’t know if I’d still be his follower today.

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