Blessed Are the Peacemakers

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My heart sank when I saw the image of Jonathan Price.  I’ll admit, while the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Jacob Blake do matter, it is hard for me to identify with those who turn them into blameless victims and saints.

But this was different. Price, according to reports, was a “pillar in the community” and had been intervening in a domestic incident when Tazed, then fatally wounded, by a responding officer.

The officer has been charged with murder and it will be up to the justice system to decide his guilt or innocence. There is no reason for me to demonize him nor to defend his actions. There are always multiple sides to every story, the bodycam footage is likely to tell us more about the circumstances that led to the shooting, and the officer deserves his day in court.

However, the reason I’m writing this is that there some who are now mocking Price for his taking to social media, back in June, to encourage peace with law enforcement officers.  They would have you believe that this is some sort of lesson to him or those who would follow in his footsteps.

This is his post:

The glee that this man learned the hard way and that “they will still want to kill yo’ ass” is wrong on so many levels.  No, the death of Price does not disprove his advice nor help to prove the narrative that black men are being gunned down for being black.  It certainly does not justify the hatred of the police or make anything he said wrong.

1) There is no proof (yet) that the officer acted with malicious intentions.  Police officers are human.  Humans make mistakes.  It could be very possible that the officer who shot Price horribly misinterpreted the situation or that Price himself did something unintentionally that made him appear to be a threat.  If he was simply out to kill black men there would be many far easier ways he could satiate those aims without being as clearly identified as the killer.

2) With rare exceptions, it is still far better to cooperate with law enforcement and not see them as our enemies.  Most deadly encounters with police involve some kind of criminal behavior and resistance to lawful commands.  That is why I can’t see many of those killed by police (or who died in police custody) as being hapless victims as they are often presented.  If people did not fight with officers or run there would be very few deaths.

Price, despite his own tragic end, was right.  Yes, he was a black man killed by a police officer.  But the officer was promptly charged and, more importantly, this case is the rare exception.  The fact remains, no matter your skin color, a person who does not engage in criminal behavior or resist the lawful commands of a police officer is at a much lower risk than a person who does those things.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Those trying to make a positive difference in the world are taking a risky posture.  The sardonic quip, “no good deed goes unpunished” pays homage to this reality that being a Good Samaritan is often not safe.  Doing the right thing, getting involved, can cost a person their life.  A Google search for “Good Samaritan killed” shows many times where those intervening were harmed and that’s why many keep their heads low rather than get involved.

Chris and Taya Kyle

Chris Kyle, the ‘American Sniper’ was one of those go-getter types.  He took an active role in the lives of others and with this trying to help made himself more vulnerable.  He took a man under his wing who had some serious mental health issues and ultimately paid with his life.

The reason the sick man murdered them?

I was just riding in the back seat of the truck, and nobody would talk to me. They were just taking me to the range, so I shot them.

That, above, is precisely why many run the opposite direction from a crazy person.  It is a self-preservation instinct.  We know when something is off and we run.  This man couldn’t even appreciate the fact that the only reason that he was included at all is that the men he murdered cared about him.  They took the risk, they were doing something good that very few are willing to do and paid the ultimate price for their courage.

Price too, by getting involved in a domestic dispute, put himself in a position that was very risky to himself and certainly could’ve just been a bystander.  He would very likely still be alive today had he not gotten involved.  And yet his bravery took him into a confusing circumstance, led to a police officer mistaking him for the offending party and ended up with him being shot.

Price, like Kyle, had their lives together.  They very well could’ve avoided dangerous people and risky situations.  They could’ve taken the safe position that many people do.  But quite obviously they were willing to stand apart from others.  Price by humanizing law enforcement and refusing to go along with the easy tribal narrative.  Kyle in his willingness to lay aside his privileged life, as a successful warrior and publicly known personality, to spend time with a troubled man that most would avoid.

These stories could be used as a cautionary tale against this sort of faithfulness.  The tribal cynics and true cowards now ridicule Price.  They will have you believe that being like him will lead to you being shot.  And these same people would probably have stood by, as bystanders, laughed, and made a video for YouTube rather than attempt to intervene on behalf of another.  Kyle and Price should be commended for not being content to steer clear of danger as many do.  They were being peacemakers.

For They Will Be Called Sons of God

The Beatitudes are a regular part of the liturgy and a wonderful reminder to think beyond our present circumstances.  It is basically a list of what true righteousness looks like and the rewards of righteousness:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for your reward is great in heaven.

Matthew 5:3-12

All of those things listed come at a short-term cost.  Humility as opposed to arrogance; sobriety as opposed to mindless merriment; taking a submissive rather than aggressive posture; leaving our comfort zone rather than being complacent, all of these things require one to sacrifice something in the present tense.  But the promise, in relation to all, is a later and greater reward.

This is completely at odds with the “get mine” attitude and pursuit of instant gratification of this age.

The idea of a “peacemaker” is not to be in denial of the personal risks of involvement.  Entering into the conflict-zone is always a risky affair.  Those on either side of a divide could easily mistake you for an enemy combatant.  In the fog of war, friendly fire or getting caught in the crossfire are very real possibilities and those entering the fray usually are not unaware of this.

It is courage, not ignorance, that drives a peacemaker into danger.  A Christian is supposed to “count the cost” (Luke 14:28) of following after Jesus, the ultimate peacemaker, and consider the price of His obedience.  Jesus, the son of God, came into the fray, knowing full well of the pain and suffering He would endure, as a means to make a path of peace between us and God.

It is by the God-man Jesus, the word of God made flesh, that we can become the sons of God through adoption.  To be a peacemaker at personal cost is to live beyond ourselves, to live by faith rather than fear, and put on the divine. For those of faith, doing what is right will be rewarded in the end and even if it costs us everything in this life.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.

Commitment Issues: Why Do We Baptize Younger, but Marry Older?

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There was a Baptism service at my church this past weekend and not the usual indoctrinated from birth teenager either.  This was a married couple in their thirties come in from outside the Mennonite religious tradition.

We had Communion that night and the devotional was about how Jesus asked “take this cup from me” when considering the suffering he would soon endure.  The cup we drink at Communion is a voluntary commitment to “take up the cross” and suffer with Jesus.

Baptism is a serious commitment.  Jesus urged to “count the cost” before making a commitment to follow after him and his converts were adults.  This seems in stark contrast to the evangelical emotional appeals for a decision and child conversion of the current conservative Mennonite culture.

Mennonites, or rather our Anabaptist ancestors, suffered persecution because they (among other things) rejected infant Baptism in defiance of the established religious order of their day and tied the ritual back to profession of faith.  This is called “Believer’s Baptism” and a commitment made with keen awareness that it could come at a tremendous cost.

Baptism Age: Then Compared To Now…

We, as Mennonites, especially conservative Mennonites, take pride in our Anabaptist identity, we like to use it as something that makes us unique, special or separated and, put plainly, better than other Christian denominations.

But are we?

Are we much like early Anabaptists and Mennonites who came before us?

In my own church experience, as noted, the ‘conversion’ to Christianity often comes at a very young age and most are Baptized as teenagers.  This is probably a reflection of a departure from our Anabaptist roots and embrace of more recent Evangelical innovations.  We, unlike our predecessors, have pulpits to pound on, Sunday school hours aimed at children and Revival meetings with strong emotional appeals.

So, what about our Anabaptist heritage, how does *their* normal for conversion compare to our own?

When did *they* get Baptized?

According to a GAMEO article on age of Baptism this is the answer:

“The estimated average age of baptism for 10 representative Anabaptist men and women, 1525-1536, was 36.4, with none under the age of 20, two between the ages of 20 and 29, four between 30 and 39, and four between 40 and 49.”

Early Anabaptist converts were often adults who could likely more fully understand the commitment that they made and knew it could be a death sentence.  Mennonite converts today, by contrast, are often children, products of a careful indoctrination from a young age, taught to please parents and through ‘conversion’ gain access to the perks of cultural acceptance rather than lose it.

Which leaves a question of whether or not our child converts actually able to count the cost of being a disciple of Jesus or are they simply doing what is culturally expedient and trying to keep up with their religious peers?

Sure, we could say that our children (because of our great teaching and example) are more ready for a serious commitment than say, for example, a 16th century German peasant facing death, a safe assumption, right?

However, then we get to the topic of marriage commitment…

Marriage Age: Then Compared To Now…

As far as I can tell our Amish and Old Order cousins are doing just fine in regards to courtship and marriage—It seems to be business as usual for them.  However, in the conservative Mennonite subset I am a part of there also seems to have been a shift away from marriage commitment.

When compared to prior generations we are waiting longer and longer to tie the knot.  My great grandma, not uncommon in her day, married as a teenager, and my grandparents married just into their twenties like my parents did.  But in my own church today there’s nearly two pews of those twenty-five or older who never married and hardly even dated.

The subset of Mennonite I belong to came under the influence of fundamentalist voices, men like Bill Gothard (who remains single) and others, that taught a courtship model.  They have embraced an idea that basically turns a first date into an engagement.  Friendship, let alone development of a romance, has become nearly impossible and it is because there’s this fear instilled in both genders to prevent even healthy interaction.

These fundamentalist Mennonites have also come under the influence of worldly entertainment.  Despite our traditional dress and slightly more cloistered communities, we are exposed (through internet and other media) to secular millennial generation values.  Mennonite fundamentalists, like their worldly counterparts, are postponing a marriage commitment longer and more never do tie the knot.

Could it be possible that we value freedom from responsibility over commitment and our temporal pleasures (like freedom to travel or other self-satisfactory personal projects both religiously or otherwise justified) over the risk of a long-term relationship?

But, more importantly, what does this reluctance to show romantic love say about our faith?  Can we claim to be committed to God when we can’t even make a serious commitment to loving each other?

Why Do We Baptize Younger, but Marry Older?

I believe our practices betray our inconsistency of thought and departure from the identity we claim as our own.  It is cognitive dissonance, hypocrisy, etc.  We urge our children to commitment before they are able to count the cost as an adult, but then continue to mistrust that decision after they do so as if we do secretly know better. 

First we often urge them to wait to be Baptized.  We save that public confirmation for teenagers who went through a young believers class, which is nothing like the Baptism immediately upon profession of faith as was the case in the early church. 

But then, even after that, we continue to mistrust the commitment when it comes to courtship practice.  Mennonite suitors are not treated as an actual brother in Christ when it comes time to ask.  No, instead they are treated as if a hostile invader who must prove himself worthy by running a gauntlet and can be instantly disqualified if he dare be too honest about his own imperfection.

We might ridicule Catholics and Lutherans for doing the opposite of us (for Baptizing their infants and then confirming them as believers later on) but should probably be careful not to throw stones from our glass houses.  We should instead consider the beam in our own eye and ask why we are urging commitments that we don’t fully recognize or completely respect later on.

We tell tales of Constantine marching his troops through a river and calling them Baptized.  Yet could it be that we are really only manufacturing pre-programmed religious robots?  Sure, we produce children who recite back memory verses, spout out our dogmas on cue, and give all the right sounding answers with a smile on their face, but are as evil as the world at heart?

Adult Commitment Rather Than Premature Birth and Underdeveloped Faith

In Christian commitment (as in marriage) we should probably be encouraging our adults to commitment and telling our children to wait until ready.  If a person is too young to commit to marriage then they are also likely too young to comprehend the true cost of discipleship and make a commitment to God.

As one who was physically born early (my mother’s labor induced rather than natural) there is clear danger in going ahead of schedule like this.  I spent weeks in the hospital, in plastic box seperated from my mom because of a collapsed lung, and seemed to have developmental issues since as a result.

Likewise, encouraging premature spiritual birth could be to our detriment and leading our converts to struggles down the road.  Perhaps we have become like Abraham who tried to create a fulfilment of God’s plan through his own efforts?  Ultimately our children are not saved by our good parenting, frequent altar calls or courtship standards.

We need to return to a radical faith that emphasizes the cost of discipleship and encourages adult decision rather than urge premature commitments.  Perhaps the our young adults would be less fearful of lessor commitments and more ready to sacrifice all for love than cling forever to their childish fears?

Whatever the case, there is something very special about an adult Baptism and a decision made by one more fully aware of the cost of commitment.  May God bless Dan and Dina for their testimony of faith and their public commitment yesterday.