I share with you an abridged version of a paper I presented at a seminar held at Ahmadiyya Muslim Mosque in Dhaka, Bangladesh last year. While we speak of the message and ministry of reconciliation amongst ourselves, we need to share this message and enact this ministry with persons of other faiths. Speaking to a diverse group of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians made me realized that we do not always act as we think we act. It is we who are broken, in need of healing and reconciliation with God. This is what God is doing. He is reconciling us to Himself, to each other, and others. -Rev. Jeffrey A. Bos
Religions do not do violence. People do violence. Violence is not first religious, political, or social. Violence is a problem that lies and lives at the root of being human. It is a matter of everyone’s heart and a decision we make. Hence, we need to open our hearts to the call of religion. Religions teach against violence and call for peace. The truth of a religion is known by the holy people it produces. The Christian religion is not true if it wins the debate and proves itself to be the superior religion. Its truth is revealed when Christians love others and work for peace on earth. However, as Christians, we must confess that we have not always showed the love and peace of Christ with others. And yet many Christians have chosen to work for peace. This essay will share two stories about Christians who chose peace, even when other Christians chose violence.
I. Locked in the Church
A Palestinian priest Elias Chacour recounts an incident in his congregation in Ibillin, Israel. He and his people suffered greatly in the midst of conflict. The village of Ibillin was also bitterly divided. Chacour began preaching about the importance of ecumenical and inter-church relations but without success. The only positive result was a note from one of his parishioners urging him “Begin first to reconcile brothers, sisters, families together.” Chacour was struck by these words. On the Sunday before Easter, he decided to do something. As he celebrated the Lord’s Supper, he “could see so many people who were at odds with each other.” In fact, he realized that every time he turned to bless the congregation, to give them Christ’s peace, he was reminded that in reality there was no peace among these people. Such peace had always been refused.
At the conclusion of the service, before any one could move, Chacour walked down the center aisle. At the back of the church, he locked the only two doors and took the key. He then marched back up the aisle, turned around, and told the people that he loved them but was saddened to find them so filled with hate for one another. In the midst of stunned silence, he went on to say: “So on Christ’s behalf, I say this to you: the doors of the church are locked. Either you kill each other here in your hatred and then I will celebrate your funerals, or you use the opportunity to be reconciled together…If that reconciliation happens, Christ will truly become your Lord, and I will know I am becoming your pastor and your priest. That decision is now yours.” Inside that locked church in Israel, ten minutes passed. No one said a word. Finally, one man stood up. He was a Palestinian serving as an Israeli policeman and was in his uniform. He stretched out his arms and said, “I ask forgiveness of everybody here and I forgive everybody. And I ask God to forgive me my sins.” This man and Chacour then embraced. Chacour then called for everybody in the church to embrace one another. Tears and laughter mingled as people who had said ugly words to each other or had not spoken to each other in years were now sharing the love and peace of Christ.
Chacour told the congregation: “This is our resurrection! We are a community that has risen from the dead, and we have new life. I propose that we don’t wait until next Sunday until Easter to celebrate the resurrection. I will unlock the doors and then let us go from home to home and sing the resurrection hymn to everyone!” After the people left the church, Chacour removed the locks from the church doors and threw them away. The story that Chacour tells makes this clear: We have met the enemy, and the enemy is us. The incident related by Chacour took place fifty years ago. Years later the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis continues, and Christians are still in the middle of it. However, this is where reconciliation must begin. In its history, the church has known hostility and conflict, but we also believe that God is working in our churches to bring reconciliation.
II. Instruments of Peace
Can a Christian show love to others? Most Christians decide to back away. In the West, the majority of Christians are caring, but they are confused and fearful. The media has left us with the impression that Muslims and persons of other religions are strangers and possibly dangerous. The problem is not new and neither is the danger of the violence. Christianity found itself in the same situation 800 years ago in Europe during the Middle Ages. Religion joined with political power. This grew into violence and initiated the Crusades.
What may be new to us is to find that the real answer was, and is, found in the life of a Christian saint. I am convinced that Christianity needs radicals today in the image of Saint Francis who will spurn violent attitudes and hostility and who do not stereotype Muslims and other religious persons as our enemy. One of the most successful ways to bring down walls of hostility is to meet with other persons. Francis went with the Crusades to war in Egypt, but he didn’t join their battle. The Crusaders lost their battle. Francis won his. Francis understood that God does not need an army but messengers of reconcilation. When we lay down warfare strategies and reach out in friendship, we discover that other religious persons are our fellow human beings, made like us in God’s image. We find friends not enemies.
St. Francis’s first words to Sultan al-Kamil of Egypt were “Peace to you.” This greeting, which Francis declared was given to him by God, was an innovation in Europe and not always appreciated. “Salaam alaikum” is the Arabic greeting still used today in Muslim countries. It is also the same greeting with which Jesus greeted people in Aramaic and Hebrew. Jesus greeted the disciples in the same way after the resurrection. Some Christians refuse to use “Salaam aliakum” because it is a term used by Muslims, and instead they say “good day.” But in all his sermons, Francis began with the blessing, “God give you peace.” The people were astonished by this greeting for they never heard any other religious leader greet them that way. Some challenged it. Francis said “Let them talk, they do not have a sense of the things of God.”
St. Francis instructed his brothers going to Muslim lands to not preach, but simply live the Christian life in such a way as to be a positive influence. “Wherever you go share the Gospel, sometimes with words…A man is a good preacher just in as much as he knows how to do goods works faithfully and humbly.” St. Francis shows a way to love the other person. Ironically, to love the enemy, we must destroy our enemy’s enemy. Our enemy’s enemy is ourselves. Christians must always be “dying to themselves.” In this way, they might be transformed into new selves and live in renewed friendship and reconciliation with God and others. Reconciliation with others would be all but impossible except for this – It is from God. God is doing it. God has reconciled us to himself, and he is reconciling us with others to establish peace among all people. This is why many Christians continue to pray the prayer of St. Francis.
Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi
Lord, make us instruments of you peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow peace;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that we may not seek so much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
Written by Rev. Jeff Bos, Associate Program Director at Al Amana Centre
Mallouhi, Christine. Waging peace on Islam. IVP Books, 2002.
Volf, Miroslav. “Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness and Reconciliation (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996). 13.” Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: 220.