Peace making 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
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. drew a delineation between passivity in the face of injustice and authentic harmony, which he labelled “the devil’s peace” and “God’s true peace.”
He was essentially saying that the subtle peace we wish for in our daily lives cannot become an impediment to real, honest peace. That, at times, the relative comfort of the unjust status quo, must be torn apart, in order to make room for a true peace built on justice and mutual respect.
Sometimes, true peace begins with disruption
South Africa has made great strides over the past year, by exposing and confronting corruption at the highest levels of government. Those who exposed the corruption, at great personal cost, did not “keep the peace” and are now revered for their courage to face up to a formidable corrupt system.
On a smaller scale, in the processes that we run as Reos Partners, we encourage this kind of “disruption” of what King called “the devil’s peace” in order to challenge each other’s thinking and therefore change actions.
For those who are conflict-avoidant and hold on to the cultural norms of politeness and respect, or in workshops where there are power imbalances that can silence some and give others more voice, our comfort with disruption needs fortifying.
Tear it Down, and Build Anew
So, what does it take to step into the challenge of striving for “God’s true peace”?
In a recent project I co-facilitated, I created “disruption” in the group by leaving the workshop for a few hours in a contained but abrupt way in order to shift the group thinking and default actions. It was at the stage in the Social Lab method where the team had spent a year together and it was time for them take ownership of the process to move themselves and the innovations forward. The team, however, were still being polite and “respectful” and not challenging each other’s lack of action and accountability. They were, also, still leaning heavily on the facilitation team for support. Despite various attempts to shift this before this disruption was the final effort. On telling the team that my co facilitator and I would be leaving for a few hours and stating clearly the reasons for this. The team was shocked and tried every tactic to keep us in the room including that it would be culturally disrespectful to miss lunch. We stood our ground. At the time it felt like I was falling off a cliff into the depths of the unknown, and without an encouraging co-facilitator I am not sure if I would have done it so elegantly.
This seemingly small but terrifying action did, thankfully, create the kind of movement that was required for people to get clearer and more honest with each other and to work more effectively on their shared concern. The team has now more momentum on their innovations and new leaders have emerged from within the team to steer and take ownership of the process.
Larger scale peace can seem like this insurmountable task but in reflecting on the difference between “the devil’s peace” and “God’s true peace” it might be more possible at a personal level or microcosm. The act of choosing to move from Devils peace, which for me is, that uncomfortable, unexpressed bottled up “peace “ to Gods peace; The authentic expression that cuts through the veil of the status quo and transform whatever it meets in the hope of regeneration.
Or in the words of Claiborne: It is our calling to choose not “fight or flight but the careful and arduous pursuit of reconciliation and justice” by staying, facing and walking through the disruption.