Thursday, October 9, 2014

Christians as Peacemakers: My speech and contribution to the 9th edition of the Romanian National Prayer Breakfast

On the 25th of September, the Romanian National Prayer Breakfast took place in the monastry of Putna. The theme of the Breakfast and the debate that followed was: "State and Church: a common mission for peace and reconciliation. The participants were parliamentarians and other politicians, business leaders, professors, clergy from different church denominations and representatives of NGOs.

During the Prayer Breakfast I read two Biblical passages: 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 (reconciliation man with God) and Psalm 85:9-14 (reconciliation brings peace and righteousness). I finished with the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi (Make me an instrument of your Peace).

During the debate that followed the Prayer Breakfast, I discussed deeper about the theme where talked first about the role of the church and then the role of the state to promote peace and reconciliation also reflecting the Biblical passage I read during the breakfast. On request of some participants,you can find the text of my message here

Your Excellencies, Your Eminencies, distinguished participants, dear friends,

It is for me an honor and a pleasure to speak on such an important topic - “State and Church: a common mission for peace and reconciliation”. I first of all would like to bring warm greetings on behalf of the European Christian Political Movement (ECPM). The main goal of our movement is to promote and develop Christian values and their social expression on different political levels; politics inspired by the Holy Scriptures. Therefore I am privileged to speak in such an important spiritual and cultural place, where the light of the Gospel has been reflecting in the liturgies for more than 500 years. The topic of reconciliation is one of the key pillars of the ECPM. 

The chosen topic is about the State and Church - a common mission for peace and reconciliation. I believe that the roles of the two institutions are complementary, touching different aspects. Let us first of all look at the role of the Church in promoting peace and reconciliation. If we read the letters in the New Testament, we will find the greeting of Peace 16 times and often combined with the word “Grace”. You will find several times the greeting: “Grace and peace to you from our God, our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”. Peace is more than just a greeting. 

Grace precedes peace
In all instances, Grace is written first. God’s grace always precedes peace, as we can also conclude from the Scripture reading this morning. God’s grace always precedes peace, because true peace begins only when we accept the unmerited favour of God. Understanding God’s grace is the only way to receive peace. This peace is based on our reconciliation with God through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. 

Our making peace with God and the restoration of our relationship with God is what gives us vision and direction in our lives, but gives also us responsibilities. Because our sins are forgiven, God asks us to also forgive others: not 7 times, but 7 times 7: all the time. As the Lord’s prayer clearly tells us: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sinned against us”. According to Jesus’ words in the sermon on the mount, we are called not only to forgive others but also to become peacemakers: “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God”. 

I believe that this is also the main role of the Church. To spread the love of God, to call for reconciliation and salvation and to be peacemakers. The church therefore has as big responsibility to spread the Gospel of Salvation so that people can find real Peace. We can truly receive peace only when we are reconciled with God, because it’s only through His power that we can really forgive others.

Peacemakers in politics 
Secondly, we can talk about the role of the State in promoting the aforementioned virtues. The ECPM vision document states the following: “Reconciliation is a task for individuals, social and economic groups, and also for those engaged in politics. We must work towards reconciliation and healing at local, national and international levels. Humility, repentance, patience and forgiveness are political as personal values. They are essential in the process of replacing conflict by common understanding. These principles require that we renounce all armaments that are incompatible with the pursuit of peace. Therefore peace and reconciliation is also a political value. We are living now (although not perfect) in a democracy. Winston Churchill famously expressed quite pragmatically: “Democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”. 

It may not be perfect, but in an imperfect world it is the best option available. Christian politicians like Konrad Adenauer, Alcide de Gasperi and Robert Schuman played an important role in the peace and reconciliation process after the Second World War. Before they signed the Treaty of Rome, they went together on a prayer retreat. This led to the start of the European Project. The very foundations of the EU therefore were based on Christian principles such as peace, reconciliation, equality (as all being created in the image and likeness of God) and human dignity. Unfortunately, the EU went astray from the thoughts of their Christian founding fathers and the Christian roots and secularists and humanists try to interpret these values differently. However, they reached out to each other in trying to establish an economic community that should end rivalry and bloody conflicts. 

Democracies should be a system for managing conflicts without recourse to violence. Differences (of opinion, belief, ideology, culture etc.) are a natural part of every society. And conflicts arise from these differences. Rather than eradicating or removing differences or excluding some groups who differ within the society, democracy functions as a process through which differences are brought out, acknowledged and dealt with in a way that permits them to exist without threatening the whole system.

It means respecting, listening and taking care also of the minority groups and respect the diversity in society. However, there is another extreme, when minorities can try to dominate their will to the whole majority, such as the LGBT movements that try to impose their values and vision on partnership, marriage and family, as universal and approved by all. On the other hand, the discrimination and intolerance against Christians is growing in Europe; not only in terms of vandalism in churches or graveyards, but also in relation to escalating discrimination of Christians in the work place (like Dutch registrars who will be obliged to marry same-sex couples or the midwife in Poland who was fired because she did not want to do an abortion) and the interdiction of wearing religious symbols in public spaces or during working hours.

Democracy should actually act as a system of managing conflicts. The process of conflict management involves debate, argument, disagreement, compromise and cooperation, all within a system that permits opposing points of view to coexist fairly without recourse of violence but listening to each other’s arguments, trying to understand also the other side and to strive for solutions. We should avoid to frame our opposition, but to try to listen to them, even when we do not agree their points of view. Democracy should not be a win-lose situation between opposition and government. Democracy should be seen as a zero-sum game, but become the practical manifestation of win-win solutions based on cooperation for the common good of your country.

A functioning democracy, then, is built on a dual foundation: a set of fair procedures for peacefully handling the issues that divide a society (the political and social structures of governance) and a set of working relationships between the groups involved. A society will not develop those working relationships if the structures are not fair and, conversely, the structures will not function properly however fair and just they are, if there is not the minimum degree of cooperation in interrelationships of those involved.

In this respect I believe that Romanian politics is also in need of reconciliation and steps need to be taken for a better system based on collaboration amongst different parties that respect human dignity and the common good for the people. I think that the church and Christians (and also the Ecumenical Prayer Group) can have an important role in bringing the parties together. Reconciliation is namely both a goal (something to achieve) and a process (a means to achieve that goal). 

The goal of reconciliation could be a future aspiration, but the process is very much a present-tense way of dealing with how things are - building a reconciliation process is the means to work effectively and practically, towards that final goal.  I believe that if we are true peacemakers, then we are seen as the children of God. I remember how a few years ago we organized a conference in collaboration with the Ecumenical prayer group, on “Democracy: between Theory and Practice”, in the heat of the political battles between power and opposition. The topics were discussed with respect, as it usually happens also during the Tuesday prayer group meetings I attended. Despite the differences, discussions took place based on respect for each others, as followers of Jesus. To such an extent that our Dutch Ambassador told me that the meetings we organized were special.

That is why I think that the Ecumenical Prayer Group chose a theme that very much fits with what the Prayer Group wants to do. Let us not forget that we have to be peacemakers. God reconciled with us through Jesus Christ. We also need to reconcile with others and be peacemakers, because Jesus said “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi

Make me a channel of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me bring Your love,
Where there is injury, Your pardon Lord,
And where there's doubt, true faith in You

Make me a channel of your peace,
Where there's despair in life let me bring hope,
Where there is darkness - only light,
And where there's sadness, ever joy

Oh Master, grant that I may never seek,
So much to be consoled as to console,
To be understood, as to understand,
To be loved, as to love with all my soul

Make me a channel of your peace,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
In giving to all men that we receive,
And in dying that we're born to eternal life


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