Making Peace like Jesus, not Germany

Screen Shot 2016-06-05 at 3.11.49 PMThe diplomatic tiff this week between Germany and Turkey is the same thorn bush that often entangles Western missionaries.

The German Parliament adopted a symbolic resolution declaring the killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915 a “genocide.” The Ottomans killed over 1 million Armenians, fearing they as Christians would side with Russians.  

The government of Turkey has long resisted the “G” word, claiming the death count is exaggerated and was a normal part the war. But the response of the Turkish Prime Minister uncovers the real reason they resist the label “genocide”—shame.

“There is no shameful incident in our past that would make us bow our heads.”

The Western applause of Germany’s resolution reveals contrasting cultural values—they did “the right thing” by confronting Turkey with the historical truths (even despite Turkey’s threat of damaged relationships).

The Missionary Dilemma

The Germany-Turkey incident mirrors a dilemma you have likely faced at a personal level—how do I confront sin in a shame-based culture? How can I address some wrong doing without damaging face and breaking relationship? The options typically get presented as:

  • confront them with the truth, or
  • ignore the issue and act as if nothing happened.

Westerners generally go with the first option—confront. They usually have a strong sense of personal conviction to speak “the truth.” But then comes the problem—that very action severs the relationship.

The German resolution does little to repair relationships between Turkey and Armenia. Some analysts say Germany’s action will only compound the brokenness. The resolution could backfire as ultranationalist Turks like President Erdogan “will use the resolution as proof of a further attack by the West on Turkey. Reasonable, considered voices will be isolated…”

Westerners may feel a strong inner conviction to confront, but what good is it if relationships end up worse than before because the other party is so disgraced?

Another Way Forward—Restoration

I believe there a third alternative besides “confront” or “ignore”—the option of “restoration.” The Bible also calls this “peacemaking” and “reconciliation.” There is a significant difference in Christian ethics between exposing the problem and fixing the problem, or between “doing the right thing” and “making things right.” Germany’s proposal allows the Armenians to feel vindicated for historic atrocities, but that does not restore the situation back to what is right.

The practice of “restorative justice” addresses problems in a manner that honors and reconciles. For more, here are 3 ways to apply restorative justice and a short video of a concrete example

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7 Comments on “Making Peace like Jesus, not Germany

  1. :), you missed one point, indeed one big political motivation behind the resolution—to shame Turkeys badly is for the sake of exposing the bad that is happening towards the Kurds currently. Knowing that there are good political forces in Turkey that Need Support and a voice. Validation (!!!) as a means to support and strengthen and give a voice to today’s victims and STOP the bad of the here and now. They, the Kurds of today, feel heard and have long waited to be. During WW1 there was reasoning like yours made – and time was lost and murder was going on. IT IS ABOUT THROWING YOURSELF INTO THE WHEEL as Bonhoeffer would have expressed it! My second home is in Turkey by the way. I speak Turkish, know both countrys. My grandparents are German. Just as a hint: What about you try to think a little more Bonhoeffer when it is about situation ethics…?

    • Yes, Turkey’s current “Hidden War” is a definite factor. A similar thing is going on now, as reported in the NYT Magazine–
      But does Germany’s resolution help that situation, or make the Turkish military digs in deeper?

      • <Whether it helps the situation? yes- it strengthens the Kurdish morale. And: it prepares the German population for action of any kind – or for the next refugee wave, from East Turkey. – Very much a message to the German population, raising awareness and readyness.

  2. I’m a faithful & thankful reader of your blogs, and mostly I do agree. On this item maybe you might consider also the aspect of the Armenian people and their suffering (until today). My question is: isn’t your view on shame solutions – comparing with Jesus’s one step to far? Shame solutions are very, very important, but it’s not the only way. Also they must be combined with other aspects of culture (truth – fear). Same story about the Papua people in Indonesia. It is obviously they are discriminated (to say the least) by government policy. Already hundereds of victims. And, no,the government can not be put to shame because of bad governmence. How long must Papua people (& the world countries) wait to confront the Indonesian government with the truth? Again, I do appreciate your views on shame and I work on it and teach on it, but there must be balance. That’s also the missional and ecumenical challenge for the togetherness of worldwide christian churches. God bless you.

    • Kees, good question–how does truth fit into restoration and reconciliation?

      Well first of all, I am not a foreign policy guru, so I purposefully shied away from answering what Germany should have done. International relations is well beyond my paygrade! However, I just wanted to use the situation to point to a common inter-personal dilemma many Westerners face. So, my ideas are much more on the small scale of personal relationships.

      Yes truth must obviously be a part of bringing about reconciliation. But the actions of Germany (to pass a legal resolution) illustrate a common Western concept–justice is served when the truth is exposed, confronting with naked facts becomes the goal. However, I would put the emphasis slightly different—the aim is restoration, and thus historical truth along with shame and honor are instruments towards that end. Reconciliation does not mean ignoring truth, but situating in relational realties for God’s purposes.

  3. You wrote:
    “I believe there a third alternative besides “confront” or “ignore”—the option of “restoration.” The Bible also calls this “peacemaking” and “reconciliation.” There is a significant difference in Christian ethics between exposing the problem and fixing the problem, or between “doing the right thing” and “making things right.” Germany’s proposal allows the Armenians to feel vindicated for historic atrocities, but that does not restore the situation back to what is right.”

    I personally try to always pursue the restorative peacemaking aspect of situations as the optimal outcome. I have found, however, that there is often a party who is absolutely resistant: they place retention of their own honor above all else, and refuse to allow anyone else’s honor. Their attitude is very much like the statement of the Turkish representative. This means there is no way forward for reconciliation.

    I believe the terms of the gospel goal of relationship restoration addresses this, and teaches that there is a point at which willful resistance to truth requires direct confrontation and an imposed consequence. I believe we see this modeled by Jesus when he directly confronted those who opposed him and his teaching (primarily the scribes and Pharisees). He refused to let them avoid the facts, and the damage to themselves and to others. His confrontation did not seem (from the Gospel record) to change the position or behavior of hardly any of those people, even though we know Jesus’ intention was restoration. And, even though his intention was restoration, we know that he also knew that some people harden their hearts and will not be reconciled. They insist on having things their way, and lock themselves into hell (to apply C.S. Lewis’s metaphor). I think we also see this principle applied to conflicts between Believers in Matthew 18:17 “if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

    On the foreign policy side of the Turkey/Armenian matter, I think many people (and countries) feel the current Turkish government is in a similar situation and requires repeated direct confrontation by other governments.

    (And it is certainly more than only Shame that Turkey faces; financial reparations come along with any admission. I read that when the State of California gave official recognition to the incidents as genocide a few years ago it resulted in 10s of millions of dollars of reparations being paid to descendants…by global insurance agencies.)

    So, a nation’s actions ‘might’ be the same regardless of the Western/Eastern cultural difference; they might be following Jesus’ own practice that confrontation is sometimes the right thing to do, because it comes closest to making things right in this world?

  4. Thank you for this article. I much appreciate the topics about honor and shame and the implications on theology.
    I’d like to suggest a slightly different angle on the article “making peace like Jesus not Germany”, that suggests that the main issue about the genocide resolution is confrontational truth versus saving face and suggesting that saving a relationship is always most important.
    I am writing with the bias of being a German with a worldview that values truth and confrontation and I am very well aware that I am in great need to learn many things from my Eastern brothers and sisters concerning honor and shame and preserving face in relationships.
    Saving face in a relationship and honoring the other party is important. But the question is whose face needs to be saved? And does face need to be saved even when the motives of saving face are selfish and harmful to others? Does the face of those with whom the power lies, yet acting contrary to truth and freedom need to be saved? Or does face need to be kept with those who stand for truth and mercy?
    During 1.WW my country did not want to break relationship/face with the Ottoman power, wanting to keep an ally at their side solely for their own political, economical and power gain, and by doing so violating the right to live of another people. The German government at that time was well informed about the atrocities that were happening against the Armenians, at times even helping with the execution and implementation of the genocide, and therefore became an accessory to the crime and bearer of the shame. (The acting Imperial Chancellor at that time stated: “Unser einziges Ziel ist, die Türkei bis zum Ende des Krieges an unserer Seite zu halten, gleichgültig ob darob Armenier zugrunde gehen oder nicht” “Our sole aim is to keep Turkey as an ally at our side until the end of the war, regardless whether Armenians perish therefore or not.”)*
    Some of the German military officials involved in the happenings at the time, became later leading figures in the Nazi regime, because face lost in the face of evil leads to more loss of face and more evil. Germany lost face by keeping silent and participating in the genocide, which later gave way to an even worse crime, the attempted annihilation of the Jews. Hitler, a week before the German invasion of Poland, in his Obersalzberg speech to Wehrmacht commanders on 22 August 1939, was defending the German invasion of Poland and planned extermination of Poles by saying: “Who after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”
    Now a century later, my Government finally acknowledges our complicity in the atrocities and says: ‘The German Parliament bows before the victims of the forced migration and massacre of the Armenians… and regrets the inglorious role of the German Reich, who as main military ally of the Ottoman empire, despite obvious information… did nothing to stop the crimes against humanity.’
    In order again to save face with an important political partner and saving a relationship by suppressing the truth would be very shameful. Love rejoices with the truth!
    In this incident I am proud of my government for saving face with those who stand for truth. In his speech before the parliament, June 2016, the speaker for domestic politics of his faction, a Turkish background MP said:
    Dear colleagues, that we were accomplice of an awful crime, must not mean that we today become accomplice of those who deny it….. The accounting for Shoah is the foundation of our democratic government…. It is time also for the accounting of other crimes done by the forerunner of today’s government of Germany….. Therefore I also want to explicitly mention the genocide of the Herero and Nama people. This genocide too, is waiting to be accounted for.
    When the governor of Kütahya in 1915 received the order to abduct the Armenian population of his district, he publicly announced that he would not follow the order. The governor of Konya, a follower of the Mevlana-dervish-order, did the same. They listened to their heart. Their human compass did not fail them…… . Before them and all the courageous heroes, who also were in Turkey, who did not implement the order, we bow in deep respect…”

    *Bethmann-Hollweg vom 17.12.1915 auf einem Bericht des Sonderbotschafters Wolff-Metternich aus Konstantinopel vom 7.12.1915]

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