I left work at 12:30 today and spent most of the afternoon at a Hadassah meeting at a nearby retirement community. Hadassah is a Jewish women's educational and charitable organization. I was there as part of a panel discussion. The topic was "peace." I was on the panel with three other women from the interfaith group I work with (JAM & All): one Jewish, one Buddhist, and one Muslim. I had the job of explaining peace from a Christian perspective.
There's no question in my mind that the historical Jesus was a pacifist and that the risen savior wants nothing more than for us to love one another and live together in peace. My research indicates that the early Christian church was both communal and pacifist. Early Christians didn't own property and they didn't serve in the military. Once Constantine's conversion led to the creation of the Holy Roman Empire, and Christianity was changed from cult status to a state religion, everything changed. But, here's the thing: Jesus didn't change. So as a Christian, with a personal relationship with Jesus, I am only interested on a secondary level in theology and church teachings. My primary interest is in Jesus as revealed through the Bible and through prayer and meditation.
Jesus's message was "turn the other cheek," "love your neighbor," and "blessed are the peacemakers." There is no way to justify war or violence from his words alone. Paul's letter to the Ephesians tells them to "put on the whole armor of God"--it's a metaphor that makes the point that our struggle is spiritual, not physical.
When asked what the most important commandment was, Jesus said, "Love God." and then he said "...and the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself." So whenever a "Christian" comes up with a position, I test it like this: "Where's the love?"
You oppose gay marriage? Where's the love in that? You vote Republican? Show me how love motivated you there. You support the death penalty? Because you love...whom? You expect non-Christians to go to hell on judgment day? I'm sorry, I'm just not feeling the love there. This is how my walk with Jesus goes. The Bible says, God is love. And over and over the Bible says in so many words, if it doesn't come from love, it isn't of God. I'm not making this up.
I didn't give the "love" speech today; I stuck to "peace," and I kept it under four minutes.
It was interesting speaking to the Hadassah group--about 40 Jewish women, average age 75 or so. I had trouble picturing the audience in advance, and if anything I failed to connect with them because I didn't tailor the talk to them directly. But I think more than what any of us said, the power in our presentation was just the sight of the four of us, friends from four different faiths, sitting together, and celebrating our agreement on the issue of peace.