Searching for Peace
By Pastor Kali Freels
In light of the events at Charlottesville, VA, I’ve heard so many people (mostly Southern white conservatives) say that what we need right now is peace. We see the violence erupting in the streets and around Confederate monuments, and they are call for peace, passivity in response to the violence. At the heart of it all, I think their cries for peace are well-intentioned: they don’t want to see any more people get hurt. But I think we have a skewed understanding of peace. When they say “peace,” they mean,”stop saying these things publicly.” When they say, “peace,” they mean, “don’t engage the hate.”
Peace doesn’t come from avoiding or ignoring conflicts; peace only comes after the conflict is resolved.
Jesus knew that fact, which is why he did not sugar coat anything when he told the disciples of all the pain they would endure as his disciples: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Matt 10:16-20). Later in that same passage, Jesus tells his disciples that he did not come to bring peace, but in fact came to bring a sword. That (as prophesied in Micah 7) the coming of this Kingdom would “turn men against their fathers, daughters against mothers.” In order for Jesus and his disciples to spread the gospel of hope throughout the land, they would have no choice but to confront the corruption in the synagogues, the corruption in the government, and the corruption within the hearts of the very people they spoke to (even the corruption within their own hearts). When purity meets corruption, conflict is inevitable because two things so different from each other clash. Nevertheless, that conflict has to be resolved before peace can descend.
Conflict resolution is hard and uncomfortable, and goes against everything I learned as a white woman growing up in the American South. I (along with so many other white Southerners) was taught that you don’t confront people that you have an issue with. You put on a fake smile, nod politely, and then try to figure out ways to avoid seeing that person in the future (while bad-mouthing them in our inner circles); we commonly called it “not stirring up trouble.” It was an outward appearance of politeness with an inward posture of disdain toward that person. That “lack of conflict” between you and the person you act polite toward is what we’ve labeled peace… and that’s the farthest thing from peace. The conflict is still there, bubbling underneath the surface until it erupts in a rolling boil of anger, envy, and malevolence. It’s a fake peace, and it’s just as bad (if not worse) that the initial conflict.
White conservatives in particular are uncomfortable with the current racial tensions because movements like Black Lives Matter are doing exactly the opposite of what we were taught: they’re facing the conflict head on. They’re demanding that their side of the story be heard. They’re acknowledging that they’ve been wronged and they want to create a space for equal footing in our society. They will keep demanding white people’s attention until we give them the common courtesy of a conversation--a shared opportunity to create space for reconciliation. And that’s on us. They’re calling for our attention--it’s long past time for us to engage the conversation and search for peace together.
Peace will never come until racial conflict--racism--is resolved. In order for us to resolve this conflict, white Christians have to engage this conflict head on. We have to be willing to place our prejudices aside and humbly listen to and learn from life experiences different from our own – lay down our privilege, and take up our cross.