Pax Romana and Pax Christi: Christmas reflections in a world at war

Ruth Padilla DeBorst

ruth post image2014 is closing with a world at war. While bombs explode in one corner of the globe, police brutality takes lives in another, revealing the twisted logic of violence and racism. While drought castigates some areas, floods threaten the livelihood of people and entire eco-systems in another, revealing the deadly consequence of unbridled consumption and exploitation of creation. While women and children are bought and sold in oh, so many places, a government riddled with corruption hands a couple dozen young people over to be murdered by gangs. While a tiny minority takes off in private jets to luxurious vacation spots, millions wander the earth as homeless refugees and unwanted immigrants. These are dark, unjust days.

So were the days during which the women and men portrayed in the New Testament lived. Greeks, Persians, Romans and Jews, all with their own diverse cultural, linguistic, socio-economic and religious expressions, were forced to mix and clash as a result of Roman conquest, colonization, and emigration. Traditions were being challenged, identities were shifting, and many felt uprooted, at a loss –especially the people at the bottom of the totem pole. Of course, according to the official story, peace ruled. Borders were secured by the emperor’s legions. Surely taxes and tributes were burdensome –especially when the benefit was mostly seen in far-off centers of power–, but then again, they did guarantee security, stronger armies and taller walls. The slightest disturbance was swiftly repressed; torture was a common practice, and served as a deterrent. Temples were places of worship where the conquering forces imposed their gods on the people forcibly incorporated into Rome’s domain. Honor and unquestionable allegiance, naturally, were due the emperor, the self-titled “Lord and Savior”, who so effectively imposed peace and kept unity among such a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious array of people. Those were the days of the Pax Romana.

Pax Romanawas fragile, pounded precariously together with cross nails and oppressive taxation. But one night, angels shattered the repressed silence with joyful songs of “Peace on Earth!” They announced a different kind of peace to a weary people: the long-awaited Prince of Peace had broken into history in the shape of a poor working class baby in an insignificant corner, far from the seats of Roman and Temple power. The gospels show a King whose rule was not marked by military or economic might but instead by peace-making, and compassionate justice. Jesus gave himself away, granting sight to the blind, feeding the hungry, liberating the oppressed, affirming the dignity of women, children and others who were marginalized in Jewish society. He put down the self-righteous religious leader and praised the socially despised tax collector. He healed leapers, the HIV/AIDS victims of his day, and restored them to the community. Rather than imposing security through repression and death, Jesus took on the scornful cross in loving sacrifice. In so doing, he unveiled as deceitful the powers of death that held people estranged. Christ, our peace, effected salvation, giving new life to the dead: reconciled relations with God, healing from enmity to a broken humanity and restoration to the entire created order. This is surely Good News of true peace, Pax Christi.

As followers of the Prince of Peace, we are called to extend that peace, Pax Christi. Thanks to Christ’s peace-making life, death, and on-going ministry through the Spirit, we can work for peace in loving, creative and hopeful ways, even in the midst of a world at war. So as we celebrate Jesus’ birth during this season, let’s pray for all who suffer the ravages of violence and ecological degradation. Let’s turn away from false facades of peace. And let’s work for peace, together, each according to our gifts, callings and opportunities, fully trusting that it is not by might, nor by power but by the Spirit that just peace can be sown!

2014 Stott-Bediako Forum on the Gospel and the World Today

Group at TTGUStott-Bediako Forum is an annual event jointly organized by the International Fellowship for Mission as Transformation (INFEMIT) and Oxford Centre for Mission Studies (OCMS), United Kingdom. The 2014 Forum took place from the 15th to the 17th of October, 2014 in Anyang and Seoul, Korea, under the theme, ‘New Horizons in Mission Studies, II’. Hosted by Anyang First Presbyterian Church (Senior Pastor: Rev Dr Sung-wook Hong), and Torch-Trinity Graduate University (President: Dr David Sangbok Kim), this is the first meeting outside of Oxford.

The opening ceremony held at Anyang First Presbyterian Church featured Dr Las Newman as the plenary speaker. He provided the conference with context and located it within a specific history by recounting the legacies of conference namesakes John Stott and Kwame Bediako. Dr. Newman expounded upon these legacies in light of 2 Corinthians 12:6-10, teaching on the themes of biblical truth, the need for humility, and a plea for evangelical unity.

The second day began with a welcome and a devotion by Dr Jung-sook Lee, Vice President of TTGU. The first major paper was on contextualizing the gospel in the Philippine context by Dr Melba Maggay, President of Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture in Manila, Philippines. She noted many strengths and challenges that can be examined in the history of introducing Christianity to the Philippines. Dr. Maqsood Kamil (Pakistan) and Dr Eiko Takamizawa (Japan) both expounded on Dr. Maggay’s work by applying it to the histories of Christianity in Pakistan and Japan respectively.

The afternoon session at TTGU featured Dr. Al Tizon giving a picture of the current situation of Asian-American immigrant churches engaging in mission while also navigating cultural shifts within their own congregations. Dr. Tizon highlighted the many forces at work within Asian-American churches that can be barriers to a shared understanding of mission, and also offered bridges of communication between differing missional perspectives within the Asian-American church. BJ Jun (Korea) offered his insights from his experiences growing up in an Asian-American church in the United States, and Teddy Agbemenu (Ghana) reflected on African disaspora churches facing similar situations in South Korea.

During the second day of the conference, Wonsuk Ma (OCMS) was given the opportunity to bring the chapel message to the more than 350 students, faculty, and staff members of TTGU. Based on Christ’s highly priestly prayer (John 17), he pleaded for the restoration of a healthy view of the world in Christian life, mission and theology.

The third and final day of the Forum returned to Anyang City and was hosted by Anyang First Presbyterian Church. Bishop Joshua Banda (Zambia) presented his paper on his experiences as an advocate for HIV/AIDS policies in the international sphere. He expanded on the importance of allowing local leaders determine the policies to be enacted rather than having outside voices set the agenda. Dan Brewster of Compassion International added his voice to Bishop Banda’s call for an end to the current “sexual colonialism” currently taking place in Africa by certain Western governments.

The Forum was concluded with a banquet hosted by Dr Hong, also participated by Dr Younghoon Lee (Senior Pastor of Yoido Full Gospel Church) and Dr Chungsuk Kim (Senior Pastor of Kwanglim Methodist Church). In total, around 50 people participated in the paper presentation sessions of the Forum.

The full presentations of the 2014 Stott-Bediako Forum are available here. The Forum studies from 2013 and 2014 will be published by Regnum Books of Oxford. Forum organizers from INFEMIT and OCMS are currently in the process of planning the 2015 Stott-Bediako Forum. Bethlehem is being considered for the 2015 Forum with religious extremism as a major mission agenda.

The annual Stott-Bediako Forums have been organised by Dr. Corneliu Constantineanu of INFEMIT and Dr. Wonsuk Ma of OCMS.