The Devil's Peace
The appearance of peace can be misleading. Here's how to identify - and reject - "counterfeit peace."
“Peace is not just about the absence of conflict; it’s also about the presence of justice. Martin Luther King Jr. even distinguished between “the devil’s peace” and God’s true peace. A counterfeit peace exists when people are pacified or distracted or so beat up and tired of fighting that all seems calm. But true peace does not exist until there is justice, restoration, forgiveness. Peacemaking doesn’t mean passivity. It is the act of interrupting injustice without mirroring injustice, the act of disarming evil without destroying the evildoer, the act of finding a third way that is neither fight nor flight but the careful, arduous pursuit of reconciliation and justice. It is about a revolution of love that is big enough to set both the oppressed and the oppressors free.”
― Shane Claiborne, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals
As Shane points out in the above quote, the appearance of peace can be misleading. A playground run by a bully may seem peaceful – at least, that is, until someone works up the gumption to cross him or her. A neighborhood in gang territory may seem peaceful, at least, until a rival gang decides it’s time for a drive-by. A tribal region may seem peaceful, as long as everyone kowtows to the warlord. The trains were famously on time in fascist Italy. To be honest, the “devil’s peace” Dr. King referred to exists all over the world in one form or another. And it is no peace at all.
What I find fascinating about human behavior is how easily the oppressor becomes accustomed to privilege; how entitled they become how quickly. And the moment one of the oppressed stands up for him or herself, or perhaps someone else steps in and says, “Not today; not on my watch,” how quickly the oppressor suddenly becomes the oppressed; how quick they are to cry foul when their privilege is revoked. The bully runs home crying when he is stood up to. The man who makes inappropriate advance to someone other than his wife at church is suddenly the innocent victim of false accusations when he is confronted by the minister. The fundamentalists who wish to deny basic human rights to members of the LGBTQ community are suddenly an oppressed religion when they are required to honor the civil rights of all citizens.
“What I find fascinating about human behavior is how quickly the oppressor becomes accustomed to privilege; how entitled they become how quickly.”
In America, we like to consider ourselves “The land of the free; the home of the brave,” but our history and our current state of affairs would beg to differ. Many of the settlers of early America were Puritans, who, according to Newsweek, were “were infinitely more influential in providing the pitch and tenor for the colonies than the Pilgrims: more numerous, more literate, more controlling. Intent on creating a City upon a Hill and a New Jerusalem in North America, [they] demanded strict conformity in religious belief and practice. That was just the beginning. [They] set the intellectual tone of the country for three centuries. They branded the land with the Protestant Ethic. They introduced New England to a lingering burden of guilt and existential angst. They overwhelmed the same Native Americans so helpful to Mayflower survivors. They established towns around Boston and forged a theocracy of magistrates and Congregational clergymen to control the growing population. They hanged dissenters. This ruling elite carried piety on their shoulders and paranoia tucked into their high stockings, distinctive for their pinched lips and the injustices they inflicted on others.”
Standing Up in the Face of Danger
One of my stepdaughters once remarked that “most of history could be summed up by saying, ‘Hey, that white guy looks dangerous’.” And so we were – dangerous to the Native Americans, dangerous to the Africans we captured, kidnapped, and enslaved in America, dangerous to the women among us (the number of American troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq between 2001 and 2012 was 6,488. The number of American women who were murdered by current or former male partners during that time was 11,766. That’s nearly double the amount of casualties lost during war.)
And our President and Bully-in-Chief has announced that it is “a very scary time for young men in America” - by which he means young, white, affluent men. Because thanks to our bully culture, it has never not been a scary time for young women (1 in 3 will be sexually assaulted), or young men of color (members of minorities are twice as likely as whites to be unarmed victims of police killings). So for all those “scared bullies”, we offer this lovely song.
Sometimes we get uncomfortable when the bullies around us get called out. We get scared: we don’t know what they are going to do, or if we’ll get caught up in the ensuing fight, or if maybe we will lose whatever “safety” we had managed to carve out in the pecking order by keeping our head down, or what will happen next. We have gotten used to “the devil’s peace”, and we’re afraid to trade it for God’s true peace. Friends, when my rabbi, Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9), he wasn’t talking about the people who hid in a closet, or who stood idly by when their friends and loved ones were being bullied or abused. He was talking about those people who did exactly what Shane describes: those who find “a third way that is neither fight nor flight but the careful, arduous pursuit of reconciliation and justice”. Sometimes it gets messy. Sometimes it feels like airing dirty laundry. But without those peacemakers, the bullies will always win, and that doesn’t feel like life in the Kingdom of Heaven to me.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.