Spirituality of a Department of Peace

By Steve Plenert, MCC Manitoba Peace Program Coordinator

Would Jesus say that supporting and working for a Federal Department of Peace is a good idea?  I leafed through my copy of the gospels looking for insight on this question.  In so doing, I found no specific passages where Jesus addressed Roman authorities on the subject.  However, as is so often the case, some of his statements and actions do bear on the subject.

One day Jesus disciples were hungry, so as they walked through a grain field, they picked some, crushed the grains and ate them.  It happened to be on the Sabbath and so the religious authorities got upset with Jesus for doing this.  Jesus pointed out how King David had done something parallel with his followers when they were hungry and the only bread available was that consecrated to God.  Jesus pointed to an alternative way to be in the world.

On another occasion as Jesus walked the beach on the Sea of Galilee he met a tax collector.  Presumably he had his fisherman friends with him.  Also, presumably, a tax collector on the beach wasn’t sun-tanning, but was collecting taxes from fishers.  Rather than merely scorning the taxman, Jesus invited him to join as one of his followers.  This would certainly have upset the established social order of the time.

Jesus also gave ideas for how to deal with Roman soldiers.   If one of them asked you to bear a burden for one mile, you carry it for two instead.  Under Roman law a soldier could demand one mile’s worth of carrying but more was not permitted.  By voluntarily carrying the load an extra mile you put the soldier into the position of either owing you a favour, being grateful or breaking the law.  It challenged the established order of power and relationships.

Similarly Jesus said to turn the other cheek if you got slapped.  If you were slapped by someone’s backhand, you were considered that persons inferior.  To offer the other cheek was to claim socially equality – even if in a potentially “two black eyes” kind of way.  Again, Jesus encourages his followers to challenge the established order of power.

The teachings and actions of Jesus are a series of alternative narratives.  Alternatives to the prevailing social order, the prevailing religious order and the prevailing order of power.  The idea of a Federal Department of Peace, as outlined in Bill C-373, is an alternative narrative for the political situation of our time.  This legislation suggests creating a Civilian Peace Service.  It suggests training peacemakers.  It dedicates serious resources to the use of non-violent crisis intervention techniques. And much more.

The legislation itself makes for an interesting read.  One particularly interesting section says that the agency will,

“include the intellectual and spiritual wealth of the people of Canada by involving private, public and non-governmental organizations in the administration of the Department and in its development of policy and programs.”

I like the sound of “spiritual wealth” being included in this legislation.  When it comes to resources, reflections and practitioners, the Mennonite constituency of our country certainly has an abundance of “spiritual wealth.”  Engaging politics in this way sounds like something that we can be a part of as a faith community.

Bill C-373 is still a long way from becoming legislation.  As we continue to reflect and act on the International Day of Peace, working toward making every day a “Peace Day,” perhaps it’s time to contact your federal MP and let them know that you support it and that you think they should too.  Engaging our faith and our convictions in this way can help us shake off some of our fear and shake out some of the salt of the earth we are called to be.

Would Jesus vote for a Department of Peace?  The gospels don’t say, but I think he certainly would be in favour of such a non-violent alternative to war-making.

By Steve Plenert, MCC Manitoba Peace Program Coordinator

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