Peace, Community, and the Necessity of Non-violent Conflict

On first glance, this essay may appear to contradict a statement that I previously made on this site about peace, when I attempted to parse the difference between “Peace” and “Non-violence” by stating the following:

“Non-violence” is the name for one competitive force in opposition to another competitive force, namely violence, and ultimately it depends upon violence for its very existence as a category or a position at all.

Peace is something entirely different. Peace is the absence of competition, force, and opposition. Peace is the name for the wholeness that exists within the Trinitarian God’s relationship with Godself. Peace is the name for the wholeness that God, in God’s wholeness shares with the world. Peace flows, like a river, from God towards humankind and all of the created order. Only by entering fully into the river of God’s peace can we become people of peace through whom the river continues to flow out into the world.”

I still believe that to be true, though if I didn’t I should hope that I am not afraid of being wrong and saying so. However, I do believe that over the last year and a half, I have learned a great bit more about what it means to live peacefully, and I have seen that there is a certain amount of necessary conflict that one must undergo before entering fully into the Peace of God.

As we sit here in the middle of Holy Week, we certainly know this to be true. On Palm Sunday, Jesus marches head on into the midst of conflict in Jerusalem in the model non-violent protest. Throughout the last week of his life, Jesus continues to step deeper and deeper into the midst of conflict and does so with the faith, hope, and trust that a truer and deeper Peace will emerge from his struggle. With that in mind, we must consider the role that non-violent conflict plays in the development of peace and community.

“Peace,” and “Community” are buzzwords amongst millenials both religious and secular. These words have been utilized by conservative evangelicals, hippy-dippy new agers, pragmatic politicians, and even members of the corporate world to promote their various causes. Because it would take a near miracle for all of those different groups to land on the same page, it must be the case that we are all using these buzzwords in different ways. So, what do we mean as Christians when we say “Peace,” and “Community?”

For Christians, the two words are inseparably linked. In the Genesis story, the first people know a shalom that is essentially a description of the wholeness of the relationship that they share with God, with one another, and the rest of the created realm that encompasses their Edenic existence. Peace and Community, are bound together like Adam is bound to the Earth, by the soil from which he was made; to God, by the breath from which he was given life; to Eve, by the rib which he shared with her.

The prophet Isaiah offers another image of the inseparability of Peace and Community in his timeless foretelling of the Peaceable Kingdom, which will one-day reign on earth. Isaiah describes a peaceable community where wolves and lambs, leopards and goats, calves and lions exist together in harmony led by a little child in an earth full of the knowledge of the Lord.

In the New Testament, Jesus of Nazareth begins to construct that peaceable community. He binds together a group of powerless outsiders: women, tax collectors, sinners, and fisherman. Over and over, the New Testament narrative describes Jesus and his little group of friends as lambs, goats, and calves going to the places where the wolves, leopards, and lions reign and inviting them to join their peaceful community. Over and over again, Jesus and his friends step into these spaces and the wolves, leopards, and lions attack, and eventually destroy.

When the wolves, leopards, and lions murder Jesus, they do so in the name of Peace. The name of the Pax Romana, the Peace of Rome, which is the name given to the order maintained by the power of Rome’s hierarchial authority. The order which Jesus and his friends threatened.

As Christians, we embrace a Pax Christi, the Peace of Christ, which is the name given to the wholeness that we share with God, within ourselves, with one another, and with the rest of the created realm.

When we say, “the rest of the created realm,” we really mean it. The Pax Christi is a peace that necessitates the involvement of everyone. This is what makes the Peace of Christ so different than the Pax Romana. The Peace of Rome, or the “peace of the world,” creates order by separation, or more poignantly, by segregation. The “peace of the world” insists that the only way to maintain order is to segregate based upon every line of differentiation. So we are left with a world that knows “peace” within all kinds of “communities.” We have “peace” within the “conservative community,” within the “liberal community,” within the “running community,” within the “business community,” within the “educators community,” within the “local foods community,” within the “evangelical community,” within the “Catholic community,” within the “white community,” within the “black community.”

The list of the communities within which we find ourselves is endless, and the amount of peace we experience therein is unprecedented until our communities mistakenly intersect for a moment, and order is disturbed.

The Peace of Christ is not a peace brought about by segregation but by inclusion. And here is the crazy part of this whole conversation about peace and community, when we attempt to be inclusive we stir up conflict. When we intentionally attempt to cause our segregated communities to intersect we disrupt a limited order towards the greater good of establishing an ultimate order.

I didn’t know this when I set about my Catholic Worker work of attempting to provide hunger relief and community development. I thought peace was all bliss and happiness. I thought that if I just put a warm plate of food in front of somebody, the world would become a better place. But I realized when I set about to put a warm plate of food in front of anyone and everyone in the same space, that I was starting to stir up conflict. And when I started to stir up conflict, I was surprised to find myself feeling as though I was aligning myself with Jesus. I felt my spirit had aligned with His, I felt his energy rushing through my body.

Christians believe whole-heartedly in Peace and Community. A Peaceable Community is our ultimate hope, and as such we must acknowledge that a Peaceable Community is the name for a community that includes the whole of the created realm. It is our work then, our peace and community work, to stand in the spaces of intersection and attempt to turn our segregated and exclusive communities into an inclusive and united community, a peaceable community.

This reality necessitates that we embrace conflict. We cannot run from conflict in hope of making the world into a more peaceful place, for all that our running will do is create further segregation. Creatively, consistently, and faithfully, we must answer the call as Christians to align with Jesus, and to stand non-violently in the spaces of intersection holding out hope for the development of the true Peace and Community that lies on the other end of this struggle.

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