Peace Catalysts: Resolving Conflict in Our Families, Organizations and Communities
In recent years, attention to peacemaking has been reinvigorated among North American Mennonite Brethren. Rick Love’s Peace Catalysts is a timely resource for two important reasons.
First, Love, who serves as associate director of the World Evangelical Alliance Peace and Reconciliation Initiative as well as president of Peace Catalyst International, which promotes peacemaking between Muslims and Christians, writes out of the evangelical tradition. Love combines Mennonite and Reformed resources to present long-standing Anabaptist convictions in a language that many Mennonite Brethren will appreciate.
Rooted in Scripture and practice
More specifically, Love’s book draws heavily on biblical material with an eye toward practical application. For example, Love provides a catalogue of biblical references as he outlines the four foundational beliefs of “peace catalysts”:
- peace is fundamental to God’s character;
- the peace (i.e., shalom) of God is comprehensive (spiritual, physical, etc.);
- peace is at the heart of the gospel; and
- peacemakers are God’s children.
Indeed, Love’s ability to illustrate practical peacemaking principles out of biblical material is particularly helpful. For instance, Love uses the early church conflict about Gentiles adopting Jewish practices (or not) to explain how mediators defuse volatile conversations with gentle words, support conciliatory gestures, reframe problems into win-win solutions and lead adversaries to negotiate agreements (and put them in writing!).
The same conflict is also used to outline different sources of disagreement, such as hurt feelings, character problems, growth, cultural diversity and differences in personality styles – all of which are normal parts of life that can cause friction.
Love offers tangible ways by which church staff and leadership boards can negotiate these challenges, such as developing memos of understanding and writing policy that creates channels for people in conflict situations to seek help without going behind a person’s back (what Love calls “recourse”).
The second reason Love’s book is timely is that he avoids the tired debates that have tended to distract Mennonite Brethren from peacemaking. Love does not insist on a linear approach that requires peace with God before one can engage in “real” peacemaking. Nor does Love uphold the notion that social justice can be achieved without spiritual transformation.
Instead, he takes a more holistic approach. “The kingdom of God comes on earth now through [Jesus’ followers],” Love writes. “When we share the good news of King Jesus, when we heal the sick or cast out demons and when we do works of righteousness, peacemaking, justice and mercy in Jesus’ name, the kingdom comes.”
Christians, Love notes, never fully experience peace within themselves or in the world this side of eternity. Nevertheless, Love explains that Christians let the peace of Christ rule in their hearts (an internal experience) and engage in peacemaking (an external experience) by embracing eight practices:
- Wage peace through prayer. Interestingly, by praying for peace we engage in the spiritual warfare of resisting evil.
- Pursue harmony. We not only resolve conflict or resist injustice, but pursue practices that enable healthy relationships to flourish.
- Take responsibility. Instead of waiting for others, we obey Jesus’ command to take the first step toward reconciliation.
- Lovingly reprove. (A three-page appendix provides a seven-step guide to doing this well.)
- Accept reproof. though it can be hard to listen to criticism, we admit wrongdoing.
- Ask for forgiveness. Having admitted our mistake(s), we ask for pardon and take pains to change.
- Forgive others. Cultivating forgiveness in ourselves and among others requires patience and persistence.
- Love your neighbour. Love your enemy.
Catalyzing peace across spheres
Finally, Loves demonstrates how the eight pillars of peacemaking lead people to catalyze peace in the personal sphere (between God, self and others, resulting in peace within oneself), interpersonal sphere (between individuals), social sphere (between groups), urban sphere (in cities), national sphere (within a country) and international sphere (between or involving the nations).
In short, peaceful breakthroughs in one sphere can be (and often are) the catalyst for deeper peace in other spheres.
Though Peace Catalysts does much to render peacemaking in easily accessible and appealing terms, one drawback is that the book is poorly organized. For example, the eight pillars of peacemaking are spread over three chapters. The lack of clearly numbered headings makes it easy to lose track of the developing argument – especially when Love pauses for an extended conversation on topics such as the nature of forgiveness, or an illuminating description of conflict styles. (Prophet types want to expose conflict, but they can polarize situations. Pastor types want to deal with conflict wisely, but they can move too slowly. Mercy show-ers want to treat people kindly, but they can avoid facing up to problems.)
A second flaw is that while Love’s “how to” manual is intended to inspire readers to want to be peacemakers, Love implies at numerous points in Chapter 1 that peacemaking is an unfortunate distraction from something more important. “I did not choose to be a peacemaker; it chose me,” Love writes. “I was busy minding my own business, trying to follow Jesus and change the world.”
The reluctant tone with which Love begins undermines the compelling vision he sets forth: that being a peace catalyst in the spirit of the Prince of Peace is the way to life at its fullest.
Even so, church leadership teams, pastors and business people among others will want to have this helpful resource on their shelves next to books such as Caring Enough to Confront, Crucial Confrontations and Crucial Conversations, Making Peace with Conflict and The Journey toward Reconciliation. With its various case studies, user-friendly appendices and thought-provoking personal stories, teachers and Sunday school facilitators will find this book to be an excellent discussion starter.
In a pluralistic society in which the church experiences tension with other groups – homeless people, Muslims, the LGBT community, to name a few – Peace Catalysts sparks one’s imagination to consider how God might be inviting Mennonite Brethren into a deeper experience of the Prince of Peace.
J Janzen serves as pastoral elder at Highland Community Church, Abbotsford, B.C., and wrote a master’s thesis on Mennonite Brethren and peacemaking.