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Preaching Peace in a Timid Church


September 30, 2013

Preaching Peace in a Timid Church

Brett Younger is the Associate Professor of Preaching at the McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University in Atlanta. He teaches introductory and advanced courses in preaching as well as classes in worship and writing.

by Brett Younger

Brian McLaren spoke powerfully: We preach the peace of one who was crucified, so we cannot preach power that crucifies. We preach a way of love and service, so we cannot preach conquest and domination. At the 2012 William Self Preaching Lectures at the McAfee School of Theology, “Preaching Peace in a Crumbling Empire,” McLaren argued that the Bible is a call to speak God’s word of peace to an empire built on power.

McLaren’s words in the chapel were challenging and inspiring. The words in the hall—not so much. Popular opinion seems to be that peace belongs in lectures, but not in sermons: 

“That peace stuff wouldn’t fly at my church.”

“Now we know why McLaren isn’t a pastor anymore.”

“His last church must have been in Switzerland.”

“If I preach on peace, war will break out in the next deacons’ meeting.”

“I’ll preach against the war when McLaren agrees to pay my kid’s college tuition.”

In Jesus’ day prophets were run out of town, thrown off a cliff, or stoned in the middle of the village. Now we dismiss prophets in the conversations between lectures. When did peace become a peripheral issue? How can ministers read the Gospels and think peace is an optional topic? When Jesus preached, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” he included preachers. Would the one who commanded us to “love our enemies” think we do enough to stop killing our enemies?

The church has become reticent to preach on war and peace. During the Vietnam War preachers like Martin Luther King, Jr. and William Sloane Coffin were well-known for speaking prophetically against the war. Why weren’t there similarly well-known prophetic voices during the war in Iraq? If Christians never hear a sermon on peacemaking will they assume that faith has nothing to do with the most important issues of our day? Will they get the impression that God has no concern about the war in Afghanistan?

Ministers are not exempt from preaching peace because it will be uncomfortable, the finance committee will not be happy, or the inbox will fill up on Monday morning. The United States has amassed the most formidable weapons systems the world has seen. Our military spending is equal to that of the rest of the world put together. The combined military budget of Iran, North Korea, Cuba, and Syria is less than 4% of our budget. The United States’ planned military spending in 2012 is $671 billion while China’s budget is $106 billion (Newsweek, March 19, 2012, 14).

Courageous preachers speak to the cost of war, the present wars, the next war, the shedding of blood, the wasting of innocent life, the demeaning of people, the destruction of property, the poverty that results, and the hatred that poisons. When war is portrayed by politicians as the less painful option, ministers need to persistently speak the hope of peace. Killing terrorists does not defeat terrorism. Pre-emptive wars do not make us safer. Crushing a few despots perpetuates hatred. War on Islamic countries ultimately increases the number of Islamic terrorists.

If the United States supported a policy based more on human rights, international law, and sustainable development for poor countries, and less on arms transfers and military attacks, we would be safer. Our national security must be based on more than military power. We should preach in support of diplomacy, economic development, and the protection of human rights. We should recognize that poverty and national humiliation are as dangerous to our security as any weapon. We need to return to the most effective ways America has influenced nations throughout the world, by offering a helping hand and abiding by our deepest principles.

When ministers are afraid to speak prophetically about peace they fail to be a voice for the Prince of Peace. They have ceased to be ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Christian preachers proclaim Christ’s different, better way—even when it is hard.

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