“Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus taught his followers (Matthew 5:9). “Ubiquitous are the division-makers,” we might justly add.
If peacemakers build bridges between divided people-groups, division-makers thwart bridge building in order to preserve, accentuate, or even create division.
The most obvious breed of division-makers are motivated by devious intent. They are the sort who order genocidal armies to invade weaker nations. Among their lot are those who target ethnic minorities, murder rival gang members, slander politicians from the opposing party, and abuse their mates. Exacerbating existing divisions serves to justify and perpetuate the hatred and rage on which their souls feed.
A different genus of division-makers is driven by nobler intentions. Chief among those intentions is the desire to expose the victimization of one party or entity at the hands of another. Calling attention to such divisions is necessary to the task of correcting them.
On the other hand, some approaches to denunciating these divisions seems to rely on there never being a bridge to span the divide. Perpetually decrying the divide effectively becomes an end in itself. Any would be bridge builder is resisted, if not vilified.
In this vein racial divides are not merely exposed to view, they are spotlighted with a militancy that judges any would be bridge builder as a denier of the divide. Economic disparities are susceptible to this same misconfiguration.
It is certainly virtuous to denounce perceived disparities that trouble the wellbeing of a society. It is not virtuous to perpetuate those disparities by icing out bridge builders.
Peacemakers see the divide. They also set about bridging it. For them, working to span the divide is not a denial that it exists, but a denial that it should.
Politically calibrated views of racial and economic disparities are susceptible to relying on the perpetuation of the divisions they address. Peacemakers, seek to bridge the divide by fostering relational understanding, repentance of wrongdoing, and the hard work of reconciling divided parties. In most cases, this requires face-to-face communication.
Enter at this juncture social media. Social media is uniquely calibrated to perpetuate division by providing a platform conducive to venting animosity toward opponents. Cyberspace streamlines division-making by creating a world where opponents seem more like virtual concepts than living, breathing, human beings with faces. It’s always easier to despise people you never actually talk to.
The opposite is also true. When divided people talk to one another with a modicum of civility, bridge building often gains an opening.
After countless hours of counseling divided parties over the years, two realities have left a lasting impression on me. First, is the pain and difficulty associated with facing a person with whom one is divided. It’s not an easy undertaking. Second, is the gravitational pull such meetings invariably have toward securing at least a few inches of common ground. Unless one party’s utterly determined intent is to perpetuate war, it is amazing how divided people can find some measure of relational peace when they talk face to face. I cannot explain this as much as I can attest to it.
This means, of course, that the blessedness of peacemaking requires us to take the risk of speaking with someone whose beliefs or practices we do not appreciate or even find offensive. This is hard work, but the risk is often rewarded.
Try it. Identify someone with an exasperatingly different political, religious, ethnic, or economic position from yours, and talk to that person face to face. It’s unlikely you leave that meeting more divided than when you arrived. You may even experience a measure of the peacemakers satisfaction.
Peacemaking not only bridges relational divides by talking to someone, but also by talking about that person. To pray for an enemy is to calibrate your soul to peacemaking. The effects on your inner being can prove reformational. It’s a lot harder to hate someone you are praying for — praying not that they will die, but that they will prosper. Depending on the nature of the divide, there is no harm in praying they will change; but even that prayer can be peacemaking, not division-making in its spirit.
The one who called his people to peacemaking in Matthew 5:9 practiced what he preached, leaving us the ultimate example to follow. A reading of the four gospel writers in the New Testament provides ample evidence that, during his earthly ministry, Jesus built relational bridges to men and women, young and old, rich and poor, Jews and Gentiles, outcasts and elitists, avowed sinners and the self-righteous.
Then, in the ultimate bridge-building act of peacemaking grace, Jesus died for his enemies in order to provide a path to their reconciliation with God. This costly mission continues to provide peace between a holy God and repentant sinners (Romans 5:1, 10-11). No one is better equipped for peacemaking missions than those who have experienced this peacemaking grace.