2 Timothy 2:23-25: Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.
When I was back in Pittsburgh after Easter, I spent some time in silence for prayer, writing, and scripture reading. It was a needed time for reflection. In the midst of my reading I came upon this passage from II Timothy. It struck me that day and has stuck with me since. Now I'll say, I've extricated myself from a good amount of "foolish and stupid arguments" over the past few years, but I've participated in many more and even instigated a few. I've been involved in "quarrels" that masqueraded as "debate". It's often hard to tell the difference. Debate is something i"m fairly skilled in, so why not jump in when a point needs decided, even if that point is of a trivial nature? But it is difficult to keep a debate from turning into a quarrel. Few people are disciplined enough to toe that line.
The alternative to being quarrelsome provided by this passage is to be a teacher, a gentle instructor. The objective of the teacher is far different from that of the debater. The object of debate is victory. The object of instruction is edification. One tears down, one builds up. To be in the place where I can be a teacher would be far superior to being in a place where I am the better debater.
Of course, that's assuming that I have something to teach. The unspoken alternative in this passage, seeing as how quarrels have two sides, is to be a teachable student. There's the real conflict! This requires humility and the ability to acknowledge that you may, in fact, be wrong. If this passage is any indication, it would then require that you have to repent. Ugh!
I'm writing this in very general terms because I don't think this notion can be limited to any one sphere of life. Sure, I'd love to see this line of thought followed through in politics and in church life, but I don't think that's why this passage was written. I think it was about the interpersonal relationships, the crucible for our highest ideals. The pastoral letters of Paul introduce us to the idea that the ways we comport ourselves in the public sphere are virtually irrelevant if we don't literally and figuratively have our own house in order. I can be humble and teachable in the my work and public dealings and then be unteachable and quarrelsome in my home or with my friends. It's one thing to stay out of the foolish debates that poison the public discourse, but another thing to avoid the stupid arguments that destroy a friendship or a marriage.
To engage in quarrels is to engage in a system of winners and losers. I think that is the opposite of what the Kingdom of God is about. Winner/loser dynamics hinder the ability to build and maintain relationship. I can't see someone who I always beat down as an equal nor can I be at peace with someone who constantly deflates me. 2 party systems are bound for infinite conflict.
If these things are true (and I'm open to being proven wrong. That whole teachability thing) then what does it look like to make peace? Does it mean jettisoning your highest ideals and values for the sake of making nice? Does it mean choosing to be the victim of violence (in any form) over being the aggressor? Maybe to both, but I think it means valuing relationship over victory, and that includes relationship with your opposition. I think it means seeing your opponent as a child of God instead of as... well... an opponent. It means having the internal knowledge of when I am trying to build up and when I am trying to vanquish a foe. A peacemaker values the conflict required to maintain a relationship over the conflicts that inevitably lead to broken communion. When Jesus says "blessed are the peacemakers" he's not speaking of those who would use violence to stop violence. That would go against all the other kinds of struggle that we find in the beatitudes. I think he's saying blessed are those who will turn the other cheek for the sake of relationship.
"... in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth"
That phrase says more than anything else about the life of faith. We resist the urge to do our sister or brother violence in hopes that God's effort, not ours, will lead those who have gone astray back to where they need to be. The hope is always that God will use us in that process, but I think that is simply so we have something about which to brag. Our willingness to step back from conflict happens in light of the fact that we can't change people's hearts and minds, but God can and that often times the most courageous and faithful thing we can do is to not engage in battle.
All of this sounds too passive for the activist in me, but peacemaking is no spectator sport. It requires that we stick to our convictions without feeling the need to inflict them upon others. It requires that we do that work that proves that non-violent means can achieve great ends. It requires the discipline to disengage from quarrelsome conversation. And it requires that we sacrifice the right to be right for the sake of relationships and reconciliation.