A Peacemaking Kingdom

“We are called not to be a peaceable kingdom but a peacemaking kingdom”- Moltmann (in response to what he thinks of Stanley Hauerwas)

For the past few years I’ve been thinking through the relationship between church and nation/state/political powers. It’s a tricky affair. Truthfully, I haven’t figured out how to navigate those worlds together without feeling I’m rejecting one or the other. One trend that bothers me is what I think Moltmann meant by the peaceable kingdom. It is peaceable, but it is also removed. All of us agree it would be easier to pull away from society and live in our own little communities of justice. But then we would cease to be a peacemaking kingdom where it’s needed most. So the question is- without leaving our very complicated ties to political realities in favor of an isolated community, how do we live as people who seek God’s reconciliation?

If there’s one conviction I have, it’s that much of our action has more to do with our presence than anything else. I don’t mean just showing up- I mean the WAY in which we show up, the way we interact with others, the way we speak our words. Part of my frustration I shared yesterday is that we’ve seemingly lost the ability to be present in ways that aren’t selfish, egotistical and even violent toward others. As God’s people, we need to be incredibly thoughtful and intentional about how we seek change. They will know we are Christians by our love, no?

While “peaceable” describes a state of being, “peacemaking” implies movement and action. It’s the far more complicated of the two- but it also happens to be the one that God commands of us. Anybody have good examples or stories of how we can do this? Any tips?


  1. Thanks for helping to clarify this for me. He mentioned it a number of times, but I wasn’t clear to me what the difference was.

    The first thing that comes to my mind is of course the Amish community of Nickle Mines that came under fire a few years ago. They could have chosen to simply withdraw, but instead they actively sought ways to extend grace and peace to the family of the man who murdered their school children.

  2. That’s funny, I posted on this quote this afternoon too. :)

    and peace-making is far more complicated, anything that calls us to get beyond ourselves and serve others is by nature harder.

  3. Danielle- I’ve mentioned Henri Nouwen’s book “Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life” before. It’s been one of the most helpful resources for me in regards to learning how to temper my reactions to evil without isolating myself.

    The first movement is from “lonliness” to “solitude.” Lonliness being that suffocating sense that I am isolated, that everyone else is against me and I must defend myself. Solitude being that internal confidence that my identity cannot be shaken by external forces, that I am not the center of my own world, that people don’t “owe” me anything.

    The second movement is from “hostility” to “hospitality.” Hostility is the violent reaction I have toward those who offend me, toward the panic that sets in when confronted by the unknown or unfamiliar. Hospitality is the posture of my heart toward others, a welcoming and friendly orientation toward those who perpetrate evil against me, no matter the extent to which I feel that I cannot identify with them. It is the offering of reconciliation, not the threat of revenge.

    The third movement is from illusion to prayer. “Illusion” refers to the false ideas I have about God, the images I project upon him that are born out of the center of my selfishness or fear. “Prayer” is the union I strive to acheive with God, a union that puts the reality of God so close to the core of my being that I have a clear understanding of who He is.

    Imagine the peace that would exist if two competing sides each worked their way through these movements- if selfishness were set aside, if hospitality were extended to all, and if God’s reality permeated us all…

    The real beauty of it is that it would be both peaceable and peacemaking.

  4. Great thoughts, all. Julie, I just read your blog! Great minds think alike! Matt, I really need to read that book. Sounds wonderful.

  5. Hi, I found your blog from a shared item on Google Reader. Hope to check out some more of your posts later on…

    My brief response would be this: being (in it’s deepest sense) is an action. One cannot forget that Hauerwas embraces virtue ethics. What you *are* is what you *do*. So being a Peaceable Kingdom is necessarily to be a peace-making kingdom. I don’t buy the idea that Hauerwas is a sectarian, but that’s another issue (and it’s probably because I myself favor the explanatory power of virtue ethics that I think that…).

    I agree though, that too often we settle for the veneer without the content, the slogans without the action. I was very proud of my congregation several months ago because I thought they truly exemplified what it means to be a welcoming community–a community turned toward reconciliation.

    I had been working with a man in the area for over a year, he’s bi-polar, isn’t always on his meds and bounces from place to place (being homeless most of the time). I’ve helped him travel to see his mother, get his disability check in order etc… During the time I’ve worked with him he’s said again and again that he wanted to come to our Sunday service. I’ve always encouraged him, offered to pic him up etc… but he never took me up on the offer. And then, one Sunday several months ago he showed up to our service. He walked in a little late, and I noticed him from the front during one of our opening prayers. For a moment he looked as though he might leave, but then one of our congregants saw him and quietly offered him a seat with their family. He worshiped with us and received communion and even remained for our coffee hour after the service, mingling and talking with folks and later getting help from several members. I admit to being proud of my people while at the same time chastising myself for feeling as though I should be proud–shouldn’t all churches be accepting of those who are different, whether because of ethnicity, age or socio-economic status, or whether someone is down on their luck or not? While I know this should be the case, I also know it is not–but I was thankful to see that some of what we’d been studying in Bible study and some of what I’d been emphasizing in sermons, had actually born fruit.

    While it was a small thing, it was a *necessary thing* if we are who we claim to be and I’m glad for it, especially given the youth and small size of our mission–this is the right sort of thing to have in your makeup.

  6. Hi Jody! Thanks for the story. I think it’s always a good idea to celebrate when we actually live faithfully, whether it’s expected or not. The kingdom breaking into our lives, even if for a moment, is worth a hoot and holler. We don’t want to veer toward the self-congratulatory, but cheering for the Spirit of life moving us on Sundays is praiseworthy. Best of luck to you as you continue to seek relationship with your new friend!

    One of my Hauerwasian friends made your point to me yesterday about the two being inseparable, and I think that’s true. We can’t be peacemakers without being peacable in the core of our being, and we can’t be peaceable in any authentic way without the action of peacemaking. I just worry that there seems to be a trend to isolate in tiny separate communities, and I want to push against that a little.

  7. I’m also a Hauerwasian, and I’ll admit that I see being-peaceable as the harder of the two. I can lobby and protest and make myself a nuisance in the name of “peacemaking” in terms that the nation-state would call “engaged” without ever doing the hard work and sacrificing myself in ways that being-peaceable requires. I think other folks have been right that the two don’t make much sense apart from one another, but to denigrate being-peaceable as some kind of Quietism strikes me wrong.

    To drop a Hauerwasian catch-phrase, the most charitable thing that the Church can do for the World is to let the World know it’s the World. To give that divine mission up in the name of “filling needs” is selfless in a way but isn’t inherently more faithful to the Gospel of Jesus the Messiah.

  8. Hauerwas, drawing on John Howard Yoder, has probably been the most well-known pacifist theologian in the United States the last 30 years so he probably does not need anyone to defend his “peace-making” credentials. Still Moltmann names the most frequent caricature of his work–usually traced to Jeffrey Stout. (Moltmann is similarly casually dismissed around Duke for superficial reasons I’m sad to say). As Moltmann does here, Hauerwas is often accused of what Nate rightly calls “Quietism–withdrawing or disengaging from the world.

    Hauerwas often responds to these accusations:
    “Nothing about my position prevents Christians from being engaged in politics as long as they are Christians. ”

    “Jeff [Stout] doesn’t get how influential Yoder’s influence has been on me, in the sense that John Yoder never thought that Christians withdrew from society, even Christians committed to nonviolence as he was and as I am, but we think that the kind of truthfulness that nonviolence requires should be of service to any political order anywhere.”

    But beyond the academic jabbing back and forth, Danielle is trying to explore a good and difficult question. How do we as Christians avoid the crass lobbying and violent viciousness of power politics while still being “peace-makers” in and for the world? Glenn Stassen at Fuller Seminary has tried to name some of ways of “Just Peacemaking” while Hauerwas has emphasized the kind of virtues we will need to do this work: hope, forgiveness, suffering, gentleness, obedience, endurance, patience, gentleness. Meanwhile, we also have the responsibility of being parts of the body of Christ who interact with one another peaceably in such a way that outsiders say “There really is something different about how you all love one another.” Hauerwas worries that much of how Christians participate in politics is pretty vice-like, that is, ugly. Christianity is for many just a veneer that masks brutal “I’m right and I will force this on you.” Therefore much of his work encourages local churches and communities like L’Arche to attempt to model peaceableness in the midst of the world for the sake of the world. But he is pessimistic that “if we just try hard enough, the world will see how we Christians are right and good.” Some will see the beauty and goodness of our way of life, but we also may end up getting killed.

  9. Nate, I wonder if this is an issue of personality? For some, being peaceable is more difficult, while for others doing the peacemaking is. (As a random observation, every Hauerwasian I know feels they have a hard time being peaceable. Perhaps this is why Hauerwas speaks to them. Have you noticed this?) When I say peacemaking, I don’t mean protesting or lobbying per se as that doesn’t always require much in the way of presence. I mean the art of showing another way by standing in the middle of quarrelling factions and bringing about peace through example. I agree this has to flow from a deep place of being.

  10. Danielle, what you just wrote is a better summary of Hauerwas’s ecclesiology than I could have written. Honestly, I think his work in theological ethics during the seventies and eighties set the stage for much of what I love most about Emerging/Emergent/whaddyacallit, an unflinchingly Christological critique of how “at-home” Christians in liberal and right-wing Protestantism have become with the established orders of things.

    I suppose that’s why I don’t understand the sudden pile-on-Hauerwas. (I realize that one efficient cause is Moltmann’s remark, but I don’t get why he made that either.)

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