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Called to be peacemakers

I recently went to see the movie, Charlie Wilson’s War. Charlie Wilson was a United States Congressman who became actively involved in a clandestine operation aimed at the defeat of the Russians who had invaded Afghanistan in 1979.

The movie is both a fascinating and frightening insight into the political manoeuvring involved in such a venture and the consequences that follow. The provision of arms to the local Afghan resistance fighters resulted in major losses of Russian aircraft and tanks and led to the withdrawal of all Russian forces in 1989. However, the Americans, having achieved their political objective, effectively abandoned the Afghan people to fend for themselves and the outcome of that, as we know, was the rise of the Taliban and all the excesses that inevitably followed.

Charlie Wilson saw this abandonment of Afghanistan as an appalling betrayal. Reflecting on all that had happened he said: “These things really happened. They were glorious and we changed the world. Then we (totally messed) up the endgame.”

Like almost every other generation in human history, we are witnesses to the constant perpetration of armed conflict, violence, inhumanity, genocide and murder. Israelis and Palestinians go on maiming and killing each other and Christian pastors fighting for justice in the Philippines are routinely assassinated. Human rights abuses in many countries are an absolute disgrace and tribal conflicts, nepotism and corruption in a number of African nations mean that millions of people live in poverty and fear. The war in Iraq is far from any kind of constructive resolution and the killing goes on.

Though images and stories from these many different situations of conflict are constantly before us through TV, radio and newspapers, it can be easy for us to become indifferent and complacent. The suffering of others has no direct impact on our own circumstances. It is not our own safety, or that of our families, that is threatened.

In the face of all this, what does it mean to be disciples of Jesus in a world of conflict and violence? We can’t really avoid that question and nor should we.

Doug Hynd, a Mennonite from Canberra, writes: “Christ commits Christians to a strong presumption against war. The wanton destructiveness of modern warfare strengthens this obligation. Standing in the shadow of the Cross, Christians have a responsibility to count the cost, speak out for the victims, and explore every alternative before a nation goes to war.”

Peacemaking is central to our vocation as Christians and is central to our confessing Christ in a world of violence, and it begins with us, where we are, in all our relationships and interactions with others.

The Uniting Church has consistently affirmed the church’s role as a peacemaking body in the world.

The Christian faith is grounded in the good news that God loves all of creation and that all people in the world are called to be as neighbours to each other. We believe that God came in the crucified and risen Christ to make peace; and that God calls all Christians to be peace makers, to save life, to heal and to love their neighbours. Any person who is not treated with dignity and respect represents a turning away from the belief that human beings, our neighbours, are made in the image of God. The path of faithful discipleship does not mean retreating from the difficulties of the world, but getting involved in finding a better way.

It does not mean avoiding life and its struggles, but rather taking risks, standing up for what is just, acting as neighbour to those in most need and sharing the great love of God in all we say and all we do.

Being faithful to Christ means that we will seek to resolve conflict and pursue reconciliation even when we believe that we are the victims of misunderstanding or abuse.

We are not ready, or even competent, to address issues of global significance, until we have dealt with our own demons and can pray with sincerity, “Forgive me my sins as I forgive those who have sinned against me.”