Friday, December 11, 2009

We are celebrating the season recognizing the advent of one who subsequently became known, among other designations, as "The Prince of Peace." In the midst of all this, we find ourselves as a people who live in the tension of praying for peace, but paying for war. Jesus seemed to order his teachings toward exposing the cruelty of oppression and the horror of violence; any kind of violence. There are well-intentioned folk, with all kinds of opinions, who somehow try to explain this position of Jesus, even to the point of explaining it away.

Last week. I drove past a local high school. Gathered on the front steps of the school was the student ROTC group, assembling evidently for a group picture. This program trains students to prepare for service to their country and, if necessary, to eventually fight in war. They are conditioned to serve boldly and honorably, an achievement that many of them attain.

We are told of needing a "fair and balanced" approach to many discussions in our time, especially in the field of the news media. There is value in hearing all sides of an issue, debating, and then moving toward a sharpened point of truth. However, some folk want to be fair and balanced without considering other parts of the debate. If we are going to prepare our young men and women and put them in harms way to be war-makers, if necessary, then why not balance that with also equipping them to be peace-makers. I am convinced that peace has to be waged just like war does. Being a peace-wisher does not make one a peace-maker.

I have suggested in the past that peace study programs be incorporated into our school's curricula and that suggestion has usually been met with a blank stare or the subject is changed. The Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama has excellent materials called Teaching Tolerance which are provided to any school upon request at no charge. Those materials could at least be a start in teaching students simply how to get along with their peers.

Colman McCarthy, former columnist of the Washington Post, developed a curriculum for a Peace Studies class and taught the class in a Maryland high school for years. Such materials are still available and they are excellent. Students would study issues of war, including the "Just War Theory" and other necessary options such as diplomacy. But the materials do not just start with and stop on the issue of war. There is also consideration of peer violence, violence in the streets, family violence, and the need for conflict resolution.

All of which is to say, at the end of day when we live in the tension of "praying and paying," why not at least try to balance out the conversation. I don't think such would be a class where students slept for an hour and the class period would drag ever so slowly. I would envision spirited debate and disagreement, but perhaps the possibility of seeing another way.

What do we have to lose by having a Peace Studies Program in our schools?

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