What criteria are used in selecting people for leadership positions in our workplaces, government offices, and churches?
Leaders must be smart people who operate from a wide-ranging knowledge base and who reason well. They must also be tough people who will fight for what is right – for what we think is right, that is. Michigan’s current governor won office by promoting himself as both smart and tough. His campaign’s tagline was, “One tough nerd.”
We also want leaders who share our ideology. For decades, this has been the most significant criteria for the appointment of Supreme Court justices. The same is increasingly true in politics. I can remember a time when voters complained that the two-party system offered no meaningful alternatives: it made no difference who won. Now the parties themselves are fragmented by ideological divides.
It is not wrong to want leaders who are tough, smart, and aligned ideologically with us – it is right. But there is another important criterion that receives too little attention: our leaders should be people of peace. We need people of peace leading our police force, teaching our children, and setting legal precedent. We need people of peace speaking out on issues of justice and race and gender. Unfortunately, it is not their voices that are most often heard.
One needn’t be a pacifist to be a person of peace, but one cannot be a person of peace without faith and fortitude. People of peace know where they stand and will not back down. But neither will they attack.
Just because someone talks about peace does not mean he or she is a person of peace. The sixties proved that. In the name of peace, people burned down buildings, damaged property, and despised those with whom they disagreed. People of peace are not like that. They are not looking for a fight.
People of peace do not make a practice of using inflammatory language. They don’t call their adversaries names. They don’t try to shock people by their rhetoric. People of peace are not prone to using profanity, which betrays a lack of inner peace. People who are not at peace with themselves will not be at peace with others.
Since this is true, it might seem like the way to become a person of peace is to work on developing inner peace. Inner peace is important, and knowing how to nurture it is necessary, but it is not the first step. Meditation and mindfulness may help. Working with a therapist to understand the causes of anxiety and to take practical steps to deal with it can be very enriching. But inner peace will remain elusive until we have spiritual peace.
Because we as a nation do not understand this, we spend billions of dollars looking for inner peace without finding it. We install security systems at home, vacation on idyllic beaches abroad, take pills, drink too much, start relationships, and end relationships, all in an attempt to gain peace. Yet we will not gain it in a lasting way until we realize that peace with God precedes peace with oneself which, in turn, precedes peace with others.
This is so because of the way we are made and for whom we are made. Our primal relationship is not with mother, as important as that is, but with maker; with our heavenly parent, not our earthly ones. Historic Christianity claims this most important relationship has been broken. Because we are not at one with God, we are at odds with ourselves and with each other.
Christians believe that a state of peace is prior to, and necessary for, feelings of peace. We enter a state of peace with God through a faith-commitment to Jesus Christ. He not only made peace, he “is our peace,” as St. Paul put it. The person who is at peace with God is able to make peace with self and with others.
More than ever, we need to place people of peace in positions of leadership. Yet it is not enough to look for people of peace; we must become them. Peacemakers are not waiting, like diamonds in a mine, to be found. They are made – made by the Peacemaking God.
First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 9/22/2018