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Justice and Peace – Which Comes First?

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There is a great passage in Psalm 85:10 that states:   “Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.”  The mediator John Paul Lederach has often played with these four images asking, “Which comes first?”  Can we order these?  The Psalmist of course doesn’t provide us with an order.  He simply gives us all four and declares a vision of all four in relationship with one another.  But what about in real life?  What comes first, righteousness – often translated as justice – or peace?  Faithfulness or love?

Some Christian denominations put peace first, others justice, others love, others faithfulness, others humility, others prayer…. This is part of the reason of course that we need each other so much – to ensure that like the Psalmist we keep these great values alive and in relationship with one another.  But I wonder… are there consequences to putting one first over another?  Is there an ordering?  Or perhaps more accurately, are there consequences to focusing on one to the exclusion of the other?

Wilma Derksen of Winnipeg is a mother of three whose oldest daughter was murdered in 1984, at the age of 13.  In her Tedx Talk Wilma explores this very dynamic.  In her case, she wrestles with the polarity between justice and forgiveness.  Which comes first?  Between these two, which most honours her daughter’s life?  And how does the one she puts first impact her journey of healing?

No denomination, no congregation, no individual can be excellent at everything.  We need each other precisely because we are limited.  This is true also for our tendency to focus on one core value more heavily than another.  We need our relationships with one another precisely so that we learn, like the Psalmist, to keep these four important values together.

In your own congregation or denomination, which values do you focus on?  Which do you underemphasize or ignore?  What are the implications for your congregation and for you personally as a result of this ordering?  These are not trivial questions.  Our values influence everything, from our personal behavior, to our experience of conflict to our congregational health.  Because, to paraphrase the Psalmist, for our places of faith to be healthy, “Steadfast love and faithfulness [must] meet; righteousness and peace [must] kiss each other.”  Let it be so.

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Betty Pries has more than 20 years of experience coaching, mediating, training and consulting in the areas of conflict resolution and change.   Betty's work with churches and church organizations is guided by her desire to enhance their spiritual and organizational health, and strengthen the capacities of leadership to discern a way forward.

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