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This page last updated 29 May 2005
Anglicans Online last updated 16 November 2014

an essay for Anglicans Online

Peacemaker or partisan?
Thomas Bushnell, BSG

I'm a better partisan that I am a peacemaker. This is the sad truth, and it's one that I have long struggled with. I cannot rest with that, as if my vocation were to be a partisan, and let the peacemaking be done by others. No, peacemaking is the vocation of every Christian, and I've been letting Jesus down.

It's very easy to talk about peacemaking: I can do that just as well as the next fellow. Indeed, I can pull out all the skills that make me such a good partisan and deploy them for the partisan cause of peacemaking. But that's a deception: the result is not peace, but one more partisan advocacy.

What makes peacemaking so difficult is this. It's not opposed to partisanship; being a peacemaker does not mean abandoning your commitments to truth, to justice, to righteousness. But it must trascend partisanship, reach above it, if you will, to grasp something bigger than any partisan goal could--even the partisan goals that sometimes go under the label "peacemaking."

A partisan seeks victory for a party. It's a commonplace to note that yesterday's partisan issues are today's irrelevancies, or else today's commonplaces. Anglicans no longer seem to get agitated about candles or crosses on the altar, though this was once a fighting issue. Some churches use chasubles and some shudder at the thought, but nobody is much trying to ban their use where people want them. There are other sometime party issues where everyone agrees. Slavery, for example, was once a party issue, dividing not merely the Episcopal Church, but bringing the United States to its bloodiest war. No longer is it a party issue; it is a commonplace that slavery is a horrific thing.

But a Christian is supposed to have his eye on eternity. From an eternal perspective, the peace we make today is of transcendent significance, and the party for which we fight is a fleeting irrelevancy. This does not mean we should stop fighting for justice, but it does mean that partisanship is not made better just because one has justice as the goal. And if I rest content that my partisanship skills are better than my peacemaker skills, then I have mistaken a means for the end; I have confused what is but one step along the way with the goal itself; I have fallen into serious danger of idolatry.

I was caught up short when my bishop, the Right Reverend J. Jon Bruno, Bishop of Los Angeles, spoke briefly at a party recently. He said that he was confident there would be no schism in the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Communion, that the departure of a few would not be the end of the rest of us, and that we are called to be a place where all are included. The "all" of which he spoke included those who agree with him, and those who do not, about whatever issue.

I have said before that he has modeled this in his own work as a bishop, but something about his words last week cut me to the quick. I am so ready, so happy, so disturbingly good at partisanship. But I am convinced now that what I am called to do is not partisanship. I must figure out a way to be a peacemaker. I'm an expert at partisanship, but I'm quite a novice at this new task. I'll need help and good examples; I'll need to be a follower and not a leader.

If what I believe is really true, that the Episcopal Church's vocation at this time and place is to be a clear and forthright voice for inclusion and freedom and welcome, then it rather behooves me to take this to heart, not just when it comes to the inclusion of those with whom I agree, but those with whom I disagree as well. We live in interesting times, indeed, but to call this a curse is wrong. For it is in interesting times like these that we are tested to see whether we are truly followers of Jesus, and for the faithful this is no curse, but a blessing in every way. I haven't done as good a job as I should have, but my good bishop's words have spurred me on to do a better one.

Thomas Bushnell, BSG


THOMAS BUSHNELL is a member of the Brotherhood of Saint Gregory and a graduate student in philosophy at the University of California at Irvine.