In the church setting, peace is largely about setting safe boundaries. Churches are communities of people of faith. The people are sharing their faith with one another, and seeking a place to help themselves and one another live out this faith. Faith is very important to us: Faith helps us to shape our ethical views. Faith helps us to set our priorities. Corporate faith helps build an identity with a community.
Unfortunately, where there are groups of people, there are opinions about what direction the group should take. Where there are resources such as money, there are opinions on the best way to spend that money. Where there is a public voice — there are various opinions of what that voice should say. Where there are a variety of opinions, there will be politics. Unfortunately, politics can disturb the peace of the community.
Even more unfortunate is that people often bring politics with them. While it is true that our priorities and our ethical views affect our views of national and local politics. While this is good, too often, people want to use the church community as their mouthpiece. Unfortunately, this results in people getting passionate about urgent matters that, while urgent, are not important to the faith community.
Christianity is not dependent upon politics. The church grew when the state was hostile to the church. When we embrace the urgency of the political system, we risk being distracted from the things that are important. Even more importantly, we often forget that the gospel is for all people, and not only for those people who have the same political views we do. We cannot afford to put faith in princes before our faith in God.
I’ve experienced some of the disquiet caused by division through politics. I was on staff during a split that was largely motivated by issues which were political hot topics of the time. In conversations with people on both sides of the split, I heard narratives about other people — stories that cast them in the worst possible light, and attempted to imply things which in most cases were not true. People on different sides could not even always decide what the issues were, the only thing they knew was there was disagreement, and something had to be done about it.
What I learned is that peace requires listening and conversation. Even more, peace requires a safe place. One of the acts of war is to dehumanize, or at least villianize the other. The major role of a shepherd is not to enlarge the flock, or to build up a property. The major role of a shepherd is to keep the flock safe from harm. In the case of the church, it is important to maintain a safe space where it is possible to worship God and share faith. These things break down when the peace of the community breaks down.