one-sided peacemaking and postures of peace

“First Church” has many strained or broken relationships. After trying his best in a messy situation, one ministry leader reached out to another in an attempt to bring some sort of peace between them. The answer was, “I don’t want to talk about the past, and I’ve done nothing wrong.” The leader eventually left, disappointed by the response of the other.

“Second Church” also has significant challenges. One pastor continued to reach out to the other to try to build a healthy working relationship, but with no success. Eventually he moved on to another ministry position. But a few months later, the remaining pastor contacted the one who left, saying “I’m now seeing things more clearly, and I’d love an opportunity to apologise.”

What’s the common theme? In each story, one person reached out in an attempt to make peace, only to find a non-responsive party. Sadly, ‘one-sided peacemaking’ can be a common experience. People regularly ask questions about this in the Everyday Peacemaking course, as they map a gospel-shaped approach to peacemaking onto their personal relationships. How do I deal with a difficult person who just won’t engage with me on this level? What do I do when I’ve even apologised well, and the next day the other person repeats the same behaviour again (and will continue to do so), and has no intention of changing? I’m really encouraged to see that there is a way forward, but the person I am in conflict with is not on the same page at all!

So what do we do when despite our best efforts, attempts at peace are ‘one-sided’? A big part of the answer is found in Romans 12:17-18:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

A key phrase here is “as far as it depends on you”. God in His word clearly tells us that not every broken relationship will be healed in this life. But at the same time, this does not turn off Jesus’ basic call to be a peacemaker (e.g. Matt 5:9). Instead, we are called to do everything in our power, in Christ’s strength, to pursue peace even if the other party does not wish to do so. Instead of seeing their non-responsiveness as a ‘get out of jail free card’ or a way to escape the hard work of peacemaking, we can be led to other approaches.

We can continue to pray for the other person and for future opportunities to speak about these matters (Matt 5:44). We can choose to speak well of them and not use the unhealed conflict as a source of gossip or attack (Eph 4:29-32). We can ask God to continue to show us the depths of our own heart in relation to the conflict (Psa 139:23-24), and repent when necessary. We can seek God’s peace-loving wisdom (James 1:5; 3:17-18). 

Basically, we can remain in a posture of peace towards that person, being willing to re-engage if God opens an opportunity. 

At the same time, we realise that we can never change another person’s heart, and that there are limits to our efforts in this broken world. So we continue to trust in God’s sovereign care and wisdom as the ultimate Peacemaker, who has shown us the depths of his heart of restoration in the gospel of his Son.

The people from First Church have not yet reached a place of deeper healing – that leader still does not want to own his contribution. But the person who left remains in a posture of peace. And by God’s grace (and to his glory), the parties from Second Church have begun to restore their relationship – a window of opportunity eventually opened, and one pastor could move towards the other from that same posture.

As far as it depends on us, in the Lord’s strength, even in these messy situations, let’s do everything in our power to live at peace with everyone.

One great way you can grow in your peacemaking posture is to come to one of our regular online or in person hubs which are free and open to all, whether you’ve done any of our training or not.   Click here for details of upcoming hub events.

This article was written by Bern Merchant. Bern is a minister who currently works as an Associate Superintendent at Ministry & Mission, Presbyterian Church NSW. He assists churches and their leaders in the areas of peacemaking and welfare, runs PeaceWise training in Presbyterian churches, and is seeking to help grow a culture of peace in his denomination. He enjoys hot chillies, Terry Pratchett novels, guitars and ukuleles.

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