Telling the stories of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, NZ and Polynesia

What does it mean to be a peacemaker?

Hurting and killing people is not a good way to make peace. Neither is destroying their infrastructure, their systems of government, or their economic viability.

Judith Reinken  |  23 Mar 2010  |  1 Comment  

Dr Judith Reinken preached this sermon at St Phillip's Church, Waimamaku, on March 14:

Paul says "So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us."

Perhaps you noticed that I wasn't here last week. I asked to be off last Sunday because I had to go to Wellington. It was last Monday that Sam Land, Adi Leason and Peter Murnane came to the District Court in Wellington for trial. Several movements combined to mark the event. The people who have been campaigning against foreign military activities here, Cafca, was one. Peace movement Aotearoa was another. And a third was the supporters of Ploughshares.

From Saturday evening, when many of the supporters were welcomed into the Wellington park that overlooks the US embassy, onwards people have gathered to pray and sing at various places. Sunday afternoon about a hundred people walked from one end of Wellington to the other treating various monuments in the capital as if they were stations of the Cross. We prayed at the tomb of the unknown soldier and at the sit where Eddie Abbott was murdered by a bomb at the Trades Hall. We went to the memorial marking Parihaka, to the statue of Ghandi at the railway station and, along the way, the several plaques along to wharf remembering sailors and soldiers. Of course we visited the Cenotaph and Parliament.

On the wharves the younger among us had jumped off the wharf in to the sea to cool off, clothes and all, it was that sort of day. After all that we plodded up to the park and had a cuppa tea and some refreshments, especially water, it was very hot. In the park we gathered up close (no electricity for amplification) to hear several people speak about the day and leave questions for people to think about. Very modern we were, breaking up for small group discussions and then coming back as a single group.
Over one issue -- the role of our defence forces -- there was no consensus, surprising in that group. It gave me a lot to think about. While we waited around outside the courtroom, and then waited around inside too, as the court procedure crept slowly along, I thought about the korero from the evening before.

Generally I feel comfortable describing myself as a pacifist. Hurting and killing people is not a good way to make peace. Neither is destroying their infrastructure, their systems of government, or their economic viability. I thought often as I travelled down to Wellington about Jesus' saying, "Blessed are you peacemakers for you shall be called the sons of God", or "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you."

Most of the people gathered in the park last Sunday evening regretted the deployment of the SAS to Afghanistan. Some spoke as if they thought New Zealand shouldn't have soldiers at all. And maybe that is a true pacifist position. I spoke, and perhaps was misunderstood, in support of our defence forces and of the truly peacemaking work they have done in many trouble spots. Shooting at people is wrong, I think, but going into places where war has been tearing peoples' lives to shred and plastering up the pieces is not.

And, as I said, I found myself turning over in my mind my own stance. I tell you of this, first, because it is an example of repentance -- that's what repentance is, turning yourself around. But I tell you of it because an idea came to me out of that.
Next month we will, as we do each year, meet together in various places all over Aotearoa. We'll get up early, maybe at dawn. We'll go to one or other of the many memorials that are sprinkled over our country. And we'll remember our dead. Mostly now just our dead. There are very few left alive of those who have served in the armed forces in the wars we have made memorials for.

Are those services part of what I do as a peacemaker? Or are they glorifying war, perpetrating the most violent means we have devised for dealing with conflict? If they are the second thing, a propaganda campaign that makes war acceptable, should any Christians be there? Should any ministers be conducting prayer services to that end? I think not.
But perhaps our ANZAC day events are part of making peace. We remember our dead, we mourn their passing. We honour the sacrifice they were willing to make. All that recognising that maybe they thought they were just off for a bit of a lark. Recognising too the hard realities that we can see lay behind their battles -- trying to preserve the dominance of one nation in its imperial pretensions against the like ambition of its enemy.

I can get the point that the war was bad, was wrong, was unjustifiable -- but that the warriors were men and women of great virtue -- of courage, of self-sacrifice, of humility. Worthy people engaged in a cause that was, nay is, ultimately unworthy.
I would like to see every minister who prays this coming ANZAC day make that distinction. Yes, I would. But, and it's a big but, it means I have to rethink my own position. I must repent.

I was a little child during World War II but I remember it very well. At age five I told one of my aunties, "I love everybody in the world except Hitler." She was shocked that I hadn't mentioned Hirohito. But I loved the guns and tanks and bombers that we played with as toys. I loved spotting the war planes as they flew overhead. I was rapt at the weekly news clips we saw at the movies. And each evening my family sat round the radio, maps outspread, and followed the war.

After the war, as I became a teenager and an adult, I learned about the popular distinction between a "just" war and some other kind, an unjust war. I never met a Jew who didn't think the war against Hitler was justified, and I was not one myself. Perhaps a third of my iwi were eliminated and not by accident. Had the axis 'won' I and all my kin would have perished, there being nowhere we could have gone. So of course, to me, anyone was justified for trying to defeat Hitler.

Now I must rethink my position. Jesus' sayings do not fit well with it. If my enemy smites me on one cheek I am to turn the other one, not to hit back. Not to hit back? Not even in self-defence? "Blessed are you when people revile you." I'm not even supposed to return the insult? Boy, am I glad Jesus didn't have any words about not laughing in his face.

If I am to be a peacemaker I must renounce violence. Jesus says that the one who loses everything is the one who inherits the kingdom. If my country, Aotearoa New Zealand, is truly to make peace it must renounce violence. If we renounce violence we may lose everything -- and I believe that is a real threat. Jesus renounced violence and ended his life hanging on the Cross. I am called and all of us are called to walk in those footsteps. Only so are we fit to be called by the name of Jesus, to be among the children of God.


Sande Ramage

Brilliant Judith - thanks. You state the situation so well, especially the hard truth about renouncing violence. It just might cost us more than we're willing to give.