Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
“Turn away from evil and do good: seek peace and pursue it.”
The Presbyterian Church of Colombia made its voice heard in the midst of a bitter and divisive presidential campaign where the future of a fragile peace agreement that seeks to end six decades of armed conflict was at stake. Responding to an “invitation” by evangelical church leaders to all Christian churches to “vote responsibly” by supporting the candidate who has promised to roll back the peace agreement, Rev. Milciades Pua, a member of the WCRC Executive Committee, wrote an open letter lifting up Reformed values rooted in the gospel in a prophetic act of public witness, concluding, “one of the principles of my tradition says that lies cannot be placed on a par with truth.”
A church small is moved by the convictions of the Reformed tradition to risk calling evil by its name and calling lies by their name. Supported by the wider family against growing public opinion or indifference they challenge the trend and bring Scripture values to a debate where “Christians” are using religion to justify injustice and violence. Turning from evil, they not only yearn for peace, they actively pursue it.
In the United States the horror of children separated from their parents and caged up in inhumane conditions is justified by the Trump Administration by citing scripture. Violence, racism and injustice reach the turning point. Indifference and silence put the very integrity of faith in the God of Life at stake. Turn from evil. The churches of the Reformed and Uniting traditions in the USA face this turning point. Our search for peace and faith-based commitment to do good now must show its face publicly—in the whole theatre of history and creation, to paraphrase John Calvin.
At both the recent meetings of the WCRC Executive Committee and at the World Council of Churches Central Committee church leaders from Cameroon spoke about the violence, persecution and injustice faced by Anglophones in Cameroon in what is a virtually unreported civil conflict. Church voices are among the few calling international attention to a deadly conflict which raises the fearful spectre of mass killings of the same character as Rwanda. Turn from evil. More than that: do good, seek peace, do not be silent, says the Psalmist. Not passively but robustly, publicly, actively. Pursue peace—put your heart into it.
Boat loads of rescued migrants, many of them asylum seekers, are turned away from European ports. Leaders debate how to stop people coming to Europe while continuing economic, trade, military and political actions and policies that fuel conflict and deepen poverty, destroy the environment and perpetuate systemic injustice in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. The courageous church voices in Italy, Greece, Germany and other countries echo the Psalmist: Don’t turn boats away…turn away yourself from evil…beyond defending borders…seek peace…pursue it.
In the Korean Peninsula churches in South and North have been among those who have sought and pursued peace for 70 years, and now there has been a radical if erratic, almost miraculous turning from evil. Led by North and South Korean leaders the Panmunjom Declaration emerged from a history-making summit and said “no more war.” This has set the tone for an important and hope-filled summit in Singapore that has staked the claim for peace and denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula and all of North East Asia.
The Psalmist reminds us that our commitment is based on active, ongoing movement, most importantly in the sustained effort to seek and to pursue. If the turning away from evil is to be enduring it requires the whole of the WCRC family among all others to embrace the peace possibility of the Panmunjom Declaration and support the churches in the North and South to pursue it; to not be distracted by setbacks, to not fail to seize each new opportunity to do good.
In concluding this reflection, I will put all this another way: In our recent history evil has flourished and peace has been far from us, and yet churches in our family have been seized with the Living Word of God clearly resounding in Psalm 34 and have called all to turn away from that evil—to see that all is not lost that through God’s grace good can proposer, that peace is possible and that we are required to pursue it. Thanks be to God that is exactly what we are doing, knowing that Jesus is the Prince of Peace.
Soli deo Gloria!