As we have entered the liturgical season of Christmas it is appropriate for us to reflect on the Christian theology of peace during this season where we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace to our violent world. 2000 years after the birth of Christ we still face a violent reality. Our advances in science and technology have raised the gravity of social violence. Nuclear weapons, ICBM’s, terrorism, chemical and biological warfare, all these elements give us grave concerns. Today we continue to recognize ongoing violent conflicts in the regions of Africa and the Middle East. Recently we have become further concerned with the re-ignition of the Korean conflict. And now that wiki-leaks is publishing some delicate state secrets we also fear the potential for violent conflicts that may result from these unfortunate revelations. There is no denying the fact that we still live in a violent world.
What Christian is not aware of the fact that they are called by Christ to be agents of peace in our world? It is one thing to recognize this principle, but it is quite another thing to actualize such a challenging call. Scripture offers us some guidance on this subject. During this liturgical season our first readings will come from the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah consults the court in Jerusalem during a time of great conflict and turmoil. His recommendation is fidelity and justice. The prophetic tradition of that time never saw any distinction between the earthly desire for peace, the pursuit of justice, and our fidelity to God. This was a one package deal. Fidelity to God offers a hope for peace (Is 2:2-4). Fidelity to God includes a commitment to social justice. Consider this passage from Isaiah and reflect on its relevance during this years Christmas season.
Your new moons and festivals I detest; they weigh me down, I tire of the load. When you spread out your hands, I close my eyes to you; Though you pray the more, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood! Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good. Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow.– Is. 1:14-17
Peace is found when we are fidelity to God is expressed in the works of justice. Pope Paul VI perhaps said it best in his 1972 World Day of Peace Message which was titled: “If You Want Peace, Work for Justice.” The Catholic church along with its social teachings have annually highlighted the Christian theology of peace with the annual World Day of Peace Message, a tradition that started with Pope Paul VI in 1968 and which continues to this day. The messages highlight a specific aspect of pursuing peace in the context of social or cultural concerns. Pope Benedict XVI has recently released his 2011 World Day of Peace Message “Religious Freedom, the Path to Peace” and I will be commenting on this message with another blog post. Also, The U.S. Bishops have a document written in 1983 but which is still very much relevant today with the official Catholic positions in relation to aspects of violence and war that concern us. The document is called “The Challenge of Peace.”
True peace is a gift from God that will be given to us when we live our lives consistent to His vision of justice. Instead of debating the militaristic position of our nation as the policeman of the world and creating knee jerk military reactions whenever our perceived allies or even we feel threaten we should examine the reality of social and economic injustice from which violent conflicts are born. We need to cultivate a lifestyle that pursues justice and nonviolence. Once this is done we as a community can start becoming creative with alternative domestic and global policies that promote an environment of justice and peace rather than raising our defenses and extending military contracts. In our global world the promotion of an authentic policy of disarmament coupled with a greater global partnership to address the issues of social and economic injustice will yield better results than economic isolation and militarization.
There is a prominent historical myth that I continue to question. It is suggested that it was World War II and not the New Deal that got our nation out of the Great Depression. This myth is used to debunk the pursuit of social justice in favor of a military based economy. I tend the argue that the result of the rapid new industrialization of this nation which World War II brought on was made possible by the financial security, social stability and domestic infrastructure created during the New Deal. But one aspect of this position doesn’t quite add up. During the New Deal it was the government, in pursuit of justice, that became the spender of these social improvements. During World War II it was again the government, in pursuit of war, that purchased military goods and services. So in the end the argument is not for or against Government spending, it is an argument for the object of Government spending. Why is it that we are more comfortable with Government spending for war versus spending on social justice? How can we hope to achieve our Christian pursuit of peace if we as a nation are ready to economically rationalize our pursuit for war?