One of the hard and fast rules in the junior high school I attended was that if you got caught watching a fight, you received the same punishment as the people involved in the fight. Of course, this was back in the days when principals were adept with a paddle, and most punishments for rule breaking involved a designated number of swats. Five was the number designated for fighting.
Breaking old habits is a hard thing to do. The first fight that occurred after the new rule went into effect still drew the almost instant gathering of dozens of students who formed a respectful circle around the fighters and cheered them on. The speculation about the rule had been that there was no way the principal would swat sixty kids. But he did. Five each. Actually, he solicited the assistance of the boys and girls P.E. coaches, and the girls got it, too. The next time a fight broke out, the attendance was reduced significantly, and by the middle of the school year, even the number of fights had dropped off. With no one to watch, and nothing to be gained, kids worked out their differences in other ways.
When I was in seminary, my wife and I lived in a small town outside Ft. Worth. Our next door neighbor was an older couple who went to a church of another denomination. We had a good relationship with them, but every now and then, the lady of the house couldn’t resist bringing her copy of the Star-Telegram or Dallas Morning News over under the pretense of asking questions about the latest Baptist battle that was reported in the paper. I would cringe when I would see something in the morning paper with a headline that, no matter how it was worded, proclaimed that the Baptists were at it again.
Matthew 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”
Being a peacemaker isn’t easy work, and it sure won’t make you popular. I know. Years after the days I spent on that junior high playground, I found myself in the position of being a junior high principal myself. The kinds of arguments and disagreements hadn’t changed all that much over the years. Even without a paddle, there is a level of power behind the principal that helps solve conflicts.
Recent events at Southern Baptist institutions and agencies have generated some new conflicts. This time, we’re not defending the integrity of our belief in the authority of scripture, or the nature of Christ. We’re arguing about individual interpretations of the scripture. We’re not playing well together. The nature of our cooperation, with the independent, autonomous church at the highest level, means that we have to mutually agree on a solution, come to a consensus, or walk away. Walking away is easy, dismissing the other view is also easy, working things out is hard. We need a few peacemakers, perhaps a couple of “principals with paddles” to keep watch
We have a common belief in Christ as our Lord and Savior, and the bottom line is that, long after these arguments are over, we’ll be sharing eternity together. Perhaps what we are fighting about is not that important.