Monday, November 3, 2014

Transformative Peacemaking

At our church, we allowed Rachel to sleep on our front porch, because she was homeless and working two jobs and just needed a hand up for a while.  I was walking around the property, and I heard a hoarse scream.  I walked over to the front porch and saw a man bending over Rachel, choking her in her sleep. 

It was Mark, her ex-boyfriend who has an abusive streak.  I yelled at him to get away from her, and he backed away.  Rachel began crying, but she wasn't seriously hurt.  I called 911, and Mark approached me.  "You don't know what she's done to me!  You are allowing her to prostitute herself and sell drugs on your property!"  He approached me, threateningly.  "What are you going to do, huh?  Call the police?"

"Mark, just leave."

"Why, are you afraid of me? You can't do anything to me."  He bumped my chest and started to push me, trying to knock me down so he can hit me.

Just then, a fellow pastor came around the corner, but he stood, stunned, not knowing what to do.  
"Yes, Mark, I'm calling the police.  You are not allowed to abuse."  Mark pushes me again.

Then my janitor, also staying on the property, came out with a baseball bat, ready to use it.  I said to him, "Trevor, put that down.  We don't need a baseball bat."

At the sight of Trevor, twice his size and ready to defend me, Mark backs away, gets on his bike and begins to leave.  I follow him so I can see where he's going.

He stops and yells back, "You never accept me the way you do other people.  You aren't fair to me."

I say, "Mark, I won't accept violence or abuse or threats here.  If you come to abuse, then you will not be welcome.  But if you come in peace, we will give you peace. But for now, you have to go."

He rides away, saying, "You think I need you?  I don't need you."

In the next month, my fellow pastor declared to our denomination that our ministries were "incompatible" because they were trying to provide a place of security and that incident proved to him that our church just wasn't safe. "If they would threaten Steve like that, then what would they do to me?" We are considering dissolving our partnership, not because he is afraid of Mark, but because the incident with Mark put in his heart fear of all of my homeless congregation.

But last week I saw Mark, sleeping on our couch.  I gave him a roll of toilet paper,  He thanked me.  He was at peace, and he wasn't interested in threatening anyone.

Peace is not only about safety for the good people in our lives, but also creating peace in the people who are violent or abusive.  Jesus doesn't call us just to be at peace, but to make peace.  Making peace involves serious risk.  It means stepping in the lives of those who are violent, of those who are haters, of those who want to abuse us and finding inroads of transformation.  If we meet violence with violence, then we will be haters.  But if we meet hatred with acts of kindness and mercy, then we will be peacemakers, transformers toward community.

Here are some ways to take the angry and violent and to begin the process of transformation:

1. Listen to them
Give them a chance to speak their perspective.  Don't interrupt or disagree with them, no matter how wrong headed they are.  They need a chance to speak their perspective.

2. Agree with them
Find something that you can agree with, even if most of what they say you can't.  Let them hear that you've really listened to them and can see how they are right about some of what they are saying.

3. Meet their needs
Everyone has needs, and if you are able to meet that need, then you are seen to be on their side, creating a bond.  The violent need connection, to feel that someone actually cares about them. If they are cared for, then they are less likely to lash out.

4. Explain the broader perspective
Let them see how their behavior is hurting others. Try to explain what it would be like if they were receiving the treatment that they are giving, and how they would naturally react. Explain to them how important it is to have a place of peace for all involved.

5. Give them respect
Don't yell or lash out against them.  Speak gently, but firmly.  Be as friendly as possible. 

6. Don't compromise on the safety of all
If a person refuses to give peace, then they must leave.  We don't have to punish them, or hurt them, but we cannot have them around if they are going to be violent or threatening.  A group of people forcing them to separate from their target works to do that. 

7. Pray for them
God is the main transformative agent, so we need to get him involved.  Pray for the violent, asking God to give them new hearts, and to protect the vulnerable. 

If you are abused or threatened, don't try to handle your abuser yourself.  The abuser is not objective about you.  Sometimes we need to realize that as much as we want an abuser to be transformed, there are times that we cannot be involved in the process.  Separate from the abuser until he or she is willing to get help stopping their abuse.  

As churches, we should all get training to learn how to deal with the violent.  We should be places that create peace in the midst of violence.  We will need some training to do that.  I highly recommend the training provided by Lombard Peace Center.

All the names in the story have been changed.

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