Belfast, Northern Ireland was one of the most dangerous cities in the world from the late 1960s through the 1970s. The fighting between Protestants and Catholics—including terrorist bombings and open gun battles on busy city streets—indiscriminately killed old and young on both sides. It was only when groups of fed-up mothers formed coalitions of Catholics and Protestants together to wage peace that tensions began to lessen. It was not, however, without its own dangers.
“There was a big risk in doing cross-community work,” reflects community organizer May Blood. “You were threatened but when you get a group of very strong women together who have a real aim in life, there’s very little that stops them, even a threat.”
“I blame the Provisional IRA,” said the children’s aunt and Peace People organizer Mairead Corrigan Maguire. “I blame all men of violence. People who say they’re Christians yet they can’t practice what God said, love one another and forgive and forget.”
The Peace People movement organized peace protests that drew thousands from both sides, marching through the most violent neighborhoods. Corrigan and co-founder Betty Williams received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977, and Peace People is still active today, continuing their work of waging peace in Northern Ireland and other violent hotspots such as the Gaza strip.
Waging peace takes audacious activism. It’s not enough just to want peace, or even to preach peace. These women took to the streets, sometimes marching right through the midst of armed combatants to demand an end to the carnage. Their courageous stand turned back the tide of violence.
Living the Christian lifestyle often means more than just believing the gospel message—sometimes it calls us to take a daring stand for that belief. When Paul described the Christian life in Ephesians 6:10-20, he chose the imagery of a warrior. He spoke of our struggle against the powers of evil in this world, standing our ground, and fitting our feet to carry our message forward.
The paradox of Paul’s imagery is that we put on the warrior’s armor and carry the warrior’s weapon, the sword, to advance the gospel of peace. Waging peace is not a passive way of life, but an active, intentional striving to bring harmony and reconciliation to a turbulent world. The gospel of Christ not only provides salvation for the future, but also the power to wage peace today amongst a violent society.
Connecting: Who are some of your favorite Bible heroes? Are they people of peace? What struggles did they endure to achieve the goals God set for them?
Sharing: How far should we take Paul’s military metaphors in Ephesians to advance our beliefs?
- Not far at all—these passages are only illustrations
- Only as far as needed to protect ourselves—the armor is mainly for self-preservation
- God raised up armies in Israel to violently oust evil empires, and we may need to take up arms to overthrow wickedness today
- Violence such as bombing abortion clinics may, unfortunately, cause injury or death, but the countless lives saved justifies the attack
- Non-violent confrontation is more effective in the long run than bloodshed
Applying: It seems as though society is becoming more polarized and people are more willing to take up violence to advance their causes. How can we, as a denomination, wage peace in meaningful ways amid such turmoil? Discuss with your small group.
Valuing: If a bloody conflict broke out in your community, what steps would you personally take to wage peace? Are you willing to risk your life to save the lives of others?
~ Chuck Burkeen