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A Paradigm for Peace: Peacemaking in Disability Theology, Scripture, and Culture

In this digital space, I’ve written a good deal about how people with and without disabilities can embody equity in the church, in terms of inclusive and accessible activities and facilities, inclusive language, employment, housing, and still other topics. I felt as though it was necessary, recently, to write about war and peace. I want to write about that because war disrupts access to resources and creates disability and mental illness, while peace—a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians (5:22-23, NRSV)—allows people of diverse abilities to flourish and gives us entry-points to what we need. Thus, after I briefly make the case for the intersection of peace-making with disability theology, I’d like to talk about how Scripture can point believers towards a peaceable perspective, how some notable people and organizations embody lives of peace and non-violence, and how we who love Jesus might work with the peace movement in this divided world.

Peacemaking is a significant element of theologies of disability. Most of the resources I’ve read in disability theology—notably gentle, pastoral texts like those written by John Swinton and Brett Webb-Mitchell—demand that believers of able body exercise patience and creativity with worshippers with disabilities in various contexts. They make these claims because we are spiritual siblings and neighbours, not despite but because of the acuteness of our physical, intellectual, and emotional needs. If we are neighbours—and if, as Peruvian pioneer of liberation theology Gustavo Gutierrez claims, the neighbor is a sacrament—then violence and war-making, which demonstrate not just impatience but cruelty and selfishness, are fundamentally at odds with a Christian ethic of peaceableness.

Exercise patience and creativity with worshippers with disabilities in various contexts.

Let’s look to the Old and New Testaments for evidence of peacemaking and of a commitment to end war. In the Old Testament, we can read that God made everything that is, and (at least seven times!) called everything made good, including human beings (Genesis 1:4-31, NRSV). Every human being, of every ability, is made in God’s image. Therefore, war, which disrupts and destroys life, is wrong. Moreover, although books such as Joshua and Judges are replete with conflict, and although God’s servant David was a skilled warrior (e.g., 1 Samuel 18:13-25), David wrote at length of the peace that God offers, a peace like that of a contented child (Psalm 131:2), or of a sheep in a pasture (Psalm 23:2, Psalm 100:3-4). Significantly, as Israel matured as a people, God also sent prophets that looked forward to the “Day of the Lord,” a time of all-encompassing peace and justice where God will right every material wrong. In particular, Isaiah and Micah both attest to a vision of the “mountain of the Lord” where people will “beat their swords into plowshares / and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4; Micah 4:3). In 4:4, Micah adds to Isaiah’s prophecy that, in the future, everyone will sit without fear under their own vines and fig trees. Thus, we can infer that true peace includes prosperity and physical security for all of God’s children.

Similarly, the New Testament offers significant evidence of peacemaking rather than war-making. In the Beatitudes, Jesus says explicitly, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9, NRSV). Furthermore, Jesus carried no weapon with him in his itinerant ministry, and asked that his friends “turn the other cheek” to those who would do them violence (Matthew 5:39, NRSV), to expose the shame of using violence to overpower others. Jesus even refused to do violence to those who would arrest him, rebuking his friends for injuring the high priest’s servant (Luke 22:49-51), and praying on the Cross that God would forgive his persecutors (Luke 23:34). 

So, we can see [in various sources] that violence, especially the violence of domination, is inherently shameful.

In the same vein as Jesus, who appeared dramatically to stop him from doing violence to Jewish Christians (Acts 9:1-6), Saint Paul asks that his colleagues in the Roman church bless those who seek to do them wrong: “So far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. …  ‘If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink, for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:17-21, NRSV). In Galatians, Paul even calls peace a “fruit of the Spirit,” in contrast to the sinful desires in which we human beings are often engaged (5:22-23, NRSV). So, we can see that various sources in the Old and New Testaments promote peacemaking and harmony, with an eye towards demonstrating that violence, especially the violence of domination, is inherently shameful.

In our own time, there are many examples of people who followed these scriptural principles of peacemaking in opposition to structural violence. Martin Luther King Jr., eloquent preacher and revered civil rights activist, is a preeminent model of contemporary peacemaking, in the face of the violent and racist power structures that have oppressed African Americans. Daniel Berrigan and his brother Philip, both American Catholic priests, opposed the Vietnam War and remained active after it in the movement for nuclear disarmament. Lastly, helpful groups like Community Peacemaker Teams perform direct actions, and advocate through letter-writing and other campaigns, to resist powers of violence and colonialism in places such as the West Bank, northern Ontario and Manitoba, and Iraqi Kurdistan. All of these diffuse people and movements oppose the harm done by war to people of varied abilities in North America, as well as places as diffuse as Myanmar, Sudan, and the Middle East. They all illustrate how God’s just reign includes peace.

Since we’ve surveyed theologies of disability, Scripture, and the contemporary movement towards non-violence for a Christian model of peace-making, how can we help? What can we do in our churches to promote this peaceful paradigm oriented to human flourishing? Besides donating to Community Peacemaker Teams, Amnesty International, or other grassroots organizations, we can pray for, write to, and financially support organizations like the Humanitarian Coalition; we can listen to speakers who advocate for diverse perspectives in Canada and elsewhere; and we can befriend people who are lonely, distressed, and oppressed in our own contexts, by making sure that they’re fed and housed. These activities will display the radical love of a God whose Advent promises include peace with humanity and creation, a God who wants all creatures to live at peace with each other.

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