“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9; ESV).
It’s very hard to be a peacemaker if one is not a peaceful person. It’s also very hard to be a peacemaker if one is not able to see clearly one’s own part in a conflict, as well as others’ roles. Moreover, it’s very hard to make peace if one is simply nice, or simply trying to keep the peace.
David is a friend of mine from Uganda. He’s a peaceful person. He calms you down just by visiting with him—I should visit with him more often. David often has a keen awareness of various parties’ roles in a conflict, including his own. According to David, one of his problems as a Ugandan is that he’s too nice. He maintains that he and many of his fellow Ugandans want to get along and keep the peace. Keeping the peace, though, is not the same thing as making peace. Matthew 5:9 does not state that peacekeepers are blessed, but rather peacemakers. People can keep an unjust peace, a point that Dr. King brought home in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Making peace is a different matter altogether, especially in the case of the Sermon on the Mount, which entails Jesus’ envisioned kingdom shalom.
Still, one can appreciate the desire simply to get along and keep the peace, especially if one was raised in a war-torn region like Uganda. David barely escaped being killed on several occasions as a youth in the aftermath following Idi Amin’s reign of terror. Now a seasoned and mature Christian leader who is highly regarded by Christian missionaries and Ugandan nationals, he finds himself at a crossroads in a very different kind of conflict.
David has observed how often it’s the case that the missionaries and Ugandans get along quite well until the Ugandan Christians rise to a certain level of maturity and desire to take on more leadership responsibilities. David loves both groups deeply, and is indebted to both as a home-grown leader, who was raised by the Ugandan people and mentored by missionaries. David feels a deep sense of “Ubuntu” (a profound, abiding interconnection) with both parties in the conflict. And so, it pains him to share that from his perspective the missionaries have often operated in a paternalistic manner and the Ugandans, himself included, have not been forthright until matters get out of hand. They have been too nice much of the time and the missionaries have been controlling much of the time.
I expect that no matter how peaceful and peaceable David is, he is going to experience pushback the more he proceeds down the path of trying to make peace with his fellow Christian brothers and sisters from the West and from Uganda. He has already experienced some level of pushback when he raises these matters. While it’s not persecution as such, he can take comfort from the fact that the very next (and last) beatitude that follows 5:9 is 5:10: Jesus blesses those who are persecuted for righteousness sake (5:10). Dr. King did not fare too well with White moderates, Aryan Supremacists, or Black Nationalists, and yet his whole aim was to pursue a just peace that would build beloved community involving people of all backgrounds.
David is realizing that while it’s never good to be pugnacious, it’s always very good to be tenacious in the pursuit of peace. It won’t be easy. After all, the tensions go way back in history. The West carved up most of Africa with Uganda falling to Britain. Faced with internal tensions brewing, Britain sought to quell the turmoil by giving nominal rule over the whole of Uganda to one tribal leader only to increase strife in other regions. Those who don’t understand history tend to repeat it, and the history of the conflict is very long with various streams or tributaries, like the river Nile.
As with these global conflicts, our own personal conflicts have long and complex histories. While not all cats are gray, and some parties are more guilty than others, we need to come to terms with our own roles in conflicts—whether as aggressors, reactors, or pacifiers. As David has realized, we all need to be tenacious, not pugnacious or submissive in the pursuit of Jesus’ just kingdom peace. It’s worth the effort, for God calls righteous peacemakers his children and those to whom his kingdom belongs (Matthew 5:9-10).
Readers are also encouraged to read the biblical meditation titled “‘Blessed are the peacemakers,’ not the cheesemakers.”