Ordinary violence

Peacemaking is a crucial part of the Christian life—but it isn’t just about war.

The origin story of my pacifism will be familiar to many Americans my age. I was 23 years old on September 11, 2001. I had grown up firmly middle-class and had lived, up to that point, in relatively small, safe places in Louisiana and Arkansas. I had not imagined that violence was a part of my everyday existence until the door to my 8 a.m. seminary class opened and we were commanded to turn on the television. Suddenly the distance between my college town and the world shortened.

The question of how to be a Christian peacemaker entered my world in an international frame, bundled with terms like insurgents and terrorism and with concerns about how countries and political movements related to one another. As a seminarian, the only resource I had for responding to the claim of violence was the words of Jesus ringing in my ears: “Love your enemies.” After watching the towers fall, this teaching seemed ludicrous.

Those committed to Christian nonviolence have often worked within an international frame. Late 20th-century activists and theologians such as Glen Stassen and more recent Catholic movements such as Just Peace have offered answers; Christian Peacemaker Teams (now Community Peacemaker Teams) went into situations of open conflict to mediate warring parties. But by asking only what Christian peacemaking might say to international violence, I was missing something impor­tant. Violence is not a question of what happens “out there”; violence is a deeply intimate feature of all times and places.