Can Christians bring any hope to a conflict-weary world?

The world is burdened by conflict everywhere

As the war in the Ukraine raged on and Russia’s acts of aggression continued to appall us, at the Oscars Will Smith’s shocking act of violence caused international outrage.   
Here in Australia, Brian Houston apologised for the incidents that caused him to resign as global leader of Hillsong Church – or did he? 
Across our world, we are groaning under the weight of conflict in every form. 
And the church is not free from this. 
So, when it all boils down, do we really have anything to offer to a world so desperately in need of help?

The short answer: yes, yes, yes, a thousand times yes

I have invested my life in the answer being yes. PeaceWise as a ministry exists because the answer is yes. Jesus came to the world to ensure that the answer was yes. So, allow me now to go on a bit of a circuitous journey exploring the question and context more broadly before explaining why the answer is a definite, resounding, “yes”.

The rage and the sadness of the Ukraine conflict

When I went onto the internet to see whether there was any prevailing narrative on whether the world was becoming more or less violent and more or less inclined to peace, I was struck by the number of articles suggesting that the world was in fact becoming more peaceful. As recently as 2 November last year, an article in Science Focus by Professor Alexander Bellamy argued this case, stating for example that “Western Europe has experienced unprecedented peace since 1945”. Less than three months later, all of Europe was on red alert for the possibility of the eruption of World War III.

As I talk to people about this situation, there are two overwhelming emotions I hear. The first is of rage at the aggression of the invasion, so unjustified and causing so much suffering to so many, whilst putting the stability of the whole region (and beyond?) at threat. The second emotion might be better described as a sadness, a despondency, a sense of helplessness that such an evil thing could occur and that personally we can do so little about it. And perhaps also a sense of loss on a broader scale of any sense that in fact world peace might ever be possible.

Will Smith at the Oscars: If you hurt my family I will hurt you

As millions around the world now know, Will Smith reacted to Chris Rock’s joke about Jada Pinkett Smith appearing in the next GI Jane movie (because the lead character has a shaved head) by walking up on stage and hitting Chris Rock, hard. The backstory is that Jada has a medical condition called alopecia which causes hair loss. You can listen hear to the 5 minute interview I did with Ben McEachen of 103.2 on this incident, including how there are lessons here for all of us to consider – particularly because each of us has had times when we have “lost it” like Will Smith. How we react next says so much about who we are and what we stand for.

In Will Smith’s case, whilst initially laughing at Chris Rock’s joke, when he sees his wife’s reaction, he sees red and loses control. It’s a classic “eye for an eye” type reaction, where we react to being hurt by hurting the other person back. This is how conflict escalates, and how relationships can be broken, often beyond repair. Although Will Smith has since issued an apology (on Instagram), there is no evidence yet of any personally delivered apology from Will Smith to Chris Rock, any acceptance of that apology by Chris Rock, or any restoration of that relationship.

It’s good that Will Smith apologised, it really is. However, doing it by Instagram feels perhaps a little too staged. And, by the way, this one contained a nice slice of justification of Will’s actions, by saying in effect that Chris Rock had pushed him too far… “Jokes at my expense are a part of the job, but a joke about Jada’s medical condition was too much for me to bear and I reacted emotionally.”

Helping the world learn what a good apology looks like

There are things which Will could helpfully learn about what a good apology really is. One element is that it is from the heart – and this is where the jury is still out, as it feels perhaps a little too media-staged at the moment in the absence of a personal conversation actually taking place.

On Tuesday, I will be being interviewed by Rev Dominic Steele for his programme The Pastor’s Heart to talk about this incident (and Brian Houston) – but particularly to talk on what makes a good apology. This is an area where we can help the world. Because a good apology is key to restoring a broken relationship.

If we are truly repentant, the 7A’s of Confession developed by Ken Sande in The Peacemaker help us communicate an apology well and completely to those we have wronged.

They are:

  • A ddress everyone involved (all those affected)
  • A void if, but and maybe (don’t try to excuse or explain away what happened!)
  • A dmit specifically (both attitudes and actions)
  • A cknowledge the hurt (express sorrow for the hurt caused)
  • A ccept the consequences (make restitution, accept sanctions, accept that there will likely be a loss of trust for some time)
  • A lter your behaviour (commit to changing your attitudes and actions)
  • A sk for forgiveness (and allow time for them to consider their response)

Perhaps as we look at Will Smith’s apology, the element which is most glaringly missing is any request for forgiveness. Because in asking for forgiveness, there can be no hiding from the fact that wrong actually has been done – it can’t be couched, and the power balance shifts to the other person – because forgiveness can only ever be requested and not demanded.

Helping the church learn what a good apology looks like

Moving then on to the sad situation involving Brian Houston, at this stage the emphasis from Brian has been on apologising to the people of Hillsong and to his wife, Bobby. These are valid and appropriate apologies, for these people have been deeply hurt. At the same time, within the apology, Brian says multiple times that “the best is yet to come” and the heavy emphasis on God’s plans for their future rather than concern for the women impacted just strikes a discordant note with the reader. In this case, the area that is strangely silent is any apology to the women involved – the people against whom he has done the conduct which has been considered serious enough to cause him to resign. Looking at the framework above, there is a huge gap in the “Admit specifically” element – and again, no request for forgiveness from the women against whom the wrong was done.

As with the world, so within the church, we all find it hard to admit when we are wrong. And at the same time, God’s word has so much richness not only here but across all forms of social interaction. Sometimes, the clarity of the biblical verse is nothing short of compelling:

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 

1 John 1: 8-9

Helping the world live at peace

In this article, we’ve looked at just one area of interpersonal relationship, focusing on some principles that help give better apologies. And yet there is soooo much more we can share. Principles of forgiveness, how to gently raise issues with others when they hurt us, how to negotiate issues in a relational way, even to know when to overlook, when not to overlook and how to tell the difference between the two.

Jesus called us to a life vocation of being peacemakers: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Matthew 5:9.

At the same time, he links our ability to be people who collectively show true love and unity amongst ourselves to being able to be a valid and compelling witness that Jesus was himself sent by God, and that the unity we have comes in and through him and the unity he experiences within the Godhead (see John 17: 20-23). Otherwise put, if we are able to show peace and unity to the world (shalom), then we witness Jesus.

PeaceWise is committed to helping as many people as we can live as peacemakers. So that more and more people can be ones who “breathe grace” into conflict situations. Into their families, their workplaces, their churches, their ministries, the communities to which they belong.

We invite you to come and join us or learn with us how to do this more by coming to:

  • our numerous training events throughout the year (which now also include live online trainings)
  • our hubs which now include both East and West coast online hub meetings which all can come to
  • our special one-off events – like the 2nd Annual Peacemaker Gathering happening next Thursday at 7pm (AEDT) at Parramatta Baptist Church. You can register to come in person here and live online here.

The world does need more hope, more peace and more peacemakers.

And just because the church experiences conflict like the rest of the world does not mean we have nothing to offer, no hope to bring in this space. In fact, it is only as we look with humility on our own failings, and as we look with hope and encouragement on the beauty of Jesus and the wisdom of his Word, that we realise just how much we do in fact have to give.

Jesus has issued the calling – it’s up to us how we respond.

Please come and join with us. We would love to have you. And together, we can help bring hope and peace to the world.

1 April 2022

Bruce Burgess is the National Director of PeaceWise. He is joyfully married to Helen and has two adult children, Lachlan and Ariel. On 1 June 2022, he will pass the baton of leadership of PeaceWise to Wayne Forward, who will become our first ever full time CEO. Bruce will remain within the ministry working within his many areas of passion including PeaceWiseKids and PeaceWiseYouth (and taking it internationally), PeaceWiseVoice (“bringing hope and peace into the public conversation”), strategic relationships and communicating the message of biblical peacemaking through writing and media.

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