In the early 1900’s, Europe found itself unravelling towards war on a scale it had never seen before. The governments and old alliances that had maintained a relative peace for nearly a century seemed powerless to stop its approach. In response, a major peace movement began that was advanced by writers and preachers and activists and politicians. It was funded by churches and unions, the most vocal of socialists and the wealthiest of capitalists. It led to two major international conventions planned and attended by world leaders to establish a court for the peaceful settlement of international disputes. It was picked up and advanced by the Second International, an organization of socialist and labour parties that represented the millions of workers on all sides whose manpower would be necessary to make war possible. It seemed like war had never met such strong opposition as the peace movement was prepared to throw at it. And then? It failed. For all the time and money and rhetoric that was spent, the movement appears to have made no discernible impact. The war still came with the same speed and the same ferocity.
So why did it fail?
In her book, The War that Ended Peace, Canadian historian Margret MacMillan asks a similar question and then offers an answer that is best summed up as national self-interest. When push came to shove and hard decisions and sacrifices had to be made in the name of peace, each person on every side found themselves unable to make them. Each person found themselves choosing what was in their best interests and in the best interests of their families and neighbours and cultural group. Each person wanted peace, but only on the terms that they and those on their side of the border thought best. In the end, each person uttered noble sentiments in the cause of peace. But the movement as a whole failed because no one was willing to pay what it cost.
Now, you might be thinking, this is very interesting, but why would I spend my time or yours talking about something that happened over 100 years ago?
The answer is because we face the same pushes and pulls of self-interest and it is just as deadly to the cause of Christ that we are united in. We each carry around the biggest and noblest of all desires for peace – that those around us might find peace with God and, through Him, with each other. We talk often about welcoming the stranger and inviting people into community and sharing this life of faith in Christ and love for one another. And what is the biggest obstacle that can stand in our way to achieving this? Ourselves and our own self-interests. It is our wanting to experience this life in Christ together but on my terms and with my interests, preferences, history and culture in view. Instead, the Gospel calls us in a different direction. The Gospel calls us in a direction that helps us see what we now have together in Christ as far greater than whatever we have on our own. It calls us in a direction that says, if there is a cost that must be paid either in money or pride or surrender of personal preference, then let me pay it so that those who are far from Christ might feel welcome to come near. And it calls us in a direction that makes peace, real peace, between us and each other and God himself possible.