Scan a newspaper or your Facebook feed for 30 seconds, and it’s obvious: There’s a lot of conflict in the world. As Christians, we know we are called to be peacemakers, but when the divisions seem so deep, where do we begin?
Jon Huckins and Jer Swigart, co-founders of the Global Immersion Project, believe the solution is to move toward conflict – not just to end wars or resolve tension, but to restore relationships, renovate broken systems, and replace unjust ones altogether. This approach, rooted in the Gospel and an understanding that restoration is the mission of God, lies at the center of the Global Immersion Project’s work. Through immersive experiences, eCourses, webinars, and other forms of training and instruction given to churches and Christian college campuses, Global Immersion seeks to activate the church as an instrument of peace in our world.
Huckins and Swigart have developed a four-part framework that equips people to become everyday peacemakers. They dive deeper into that framework, and the theology behind it, in their new book Mending the Divides: Creative Love in a Conflicted World. Morgan Feddes Satre, editor of Advance, interviewed Huckins and Swigart about their work. The interview has been edited and condensed for length.
Describe your four-part peacemaking process that you use in your work and describe in your book.
Jon Huckins: Core to our work is understanding that we have to make peacemaking a … central discipleship component of following Jesus. Undergirding these four practices is our understanding that restoration is the mission of God. … God came to restore what was broken, accomplished that in Jesus, and has commissioned us into that work.
Our four core practices are see, immerse, contend, and restore. … As it pertains to our first practice, see, we have to understand that we have been taught to see certain people and taught not to see others. When we talk about seeing, we have to see the humanity, the dignity, the image of God in everyone.
Our next practice is immerse. … Once we have seen the people and places we have been taught not to see, we actually have to move deep into relationships. We have to move … into uncommon friendships with people who look and think and believe differently than we do, [and we must be] equipped with tools to heal and transform rather than to win or destroy. … Immersion requires we move in the posture of learners rather than heroes.
The third practice is contend. To contend is to stand in front of any bulldozer that flattens people. Contending requires that we get creative in love. For Jesus to contend for our restoration, for our flourishing, it didn’t look like military overthrow on the white horse of the Roman empire; it looked like suffering and selfless sacrifice on a Roman cross. What does it mean for us in our daily conflicts, in our daily injustices, and in our relationships to contend not by getting even, but by getting creative in love to ultimately see God’s restoration?
Our fourth practice, restore, is less a practice that we do, and it’s more a celebration of what God is doing in and through us as we see, immerse, and contend. We begin to see those mustard seeds of the Kingdom that are sprinkling all over the place in the most unorthodox people and places; [those seeds] are reminding us that God has restored and is continuing to restore, and he is inviting us to join in that work.
Jer Swigart: We contrast our framework with what seems to be the normative practice of American Christians over the past 50 to 100 years, where rather than being a people who sees, immerses, contends, and restores, [we American Christians] have chosen instead to notice, diagnose, solve, and then walk away. These are two very different ways … of understanding who God is and what God is up to in the world, [and they are] two very different ways of understanding how we join God in what God is doing on the planet here and now.
Notice, diagnose, solve, and walk away keeps us in the posture of a hero; it keeps us in the place of power. Whereas see, immerse, contend, and restore actually requires that we embody the shape of the cross for the sake of others.
When you talk about the work of peacemaking in four steps, it can make it sound easy. But as we know, it is definitely not – to the point where it can feel like, “If what we are doing is this hard, then we have to be doing something wrong.” Why do you think that is, and how do we keep pushing through that?
Jon: It’s easy to equate being a follower of Jesus with being safe. It’s easy to allow our safety to trump our invitation to be faithful. … To be a peacemaker, to move towards conflict and expose ourselves to violence, requires a commitment to faithfulness over personal safety. This is a very counter-cultural invitation.
I want to turn some attention to the work of Christian colleges and universities. How have you been engaging with CCCU members and other college leaders in this work?
Jon: Our primary attention is given to Christian churches and universities in the United States. The CCCU network has been a dynamic space for our core content and theology in practice to make itself real. Jer is an alum of the University of Northwestern-St. Paul; he and I both went to Fuller Seminary. … [We] both have a huge heart for the academy and the church.
As we’ve worked with CCCU schools, we’ve been encouraged as we’ve heard more schools saying, “We not only need to help our students become smarter in the hallways of our institutions and in lecture halls; we actually need to create space for them to have practice-based formation in the context of our diverse world.” … Schools with this kind of ache are an incredible fit for partnership with us. In addition to our theological work, our focus is to help theology become real in the lives of students. Our concern is how the emerging generation of kingdom leaders is actually shaped into influencers who live a particular way of life in a particular place, in a particular community. …
CCCU schools are utilizing our resources as trainings for faculty and staff, as academic offerings in their course calendars, and as short-term missions trip alternatives. In this last offering, we’re really outspoken to say this isn’t just another short-term missions trip where you go and serve someone for five days and leave. We’re saying no, come with us on a journey that shapes and forms you for mission, that will influence the way you land back at [your home campus].
A large portion of our membership is based in either rural or suburban areas, where the campus community tends to look much like the larger community around them — that is to say, part of the majority. How do you train campus leaders and others to think about this four-part framework in their own context?
Jer: Currently, we’re accompanying CCCU schools as they seek to create environments and cultures where dominant-culture students are consistently growing aware of their privilege, how they’ve benefited from privilege, and how the ways in which they’ve benefited have come at the cost of their peers of color. Then, ultimately, our work is designed to help dominant-culture faculty and staff learn to leverage their privilege in collaborative ways with their peers of color. …
Having said that, the dominant-culture students’ learning can’t happen at the expense of students of color and faculty of color. There’s a particular way in which the environment needs to be designed such that students of color and faculty of color can sit shoulder-to-shoulder, side-by-side, in a collaborative learning environment with dominant-culture students and faculty.
From our perspective, the see and the immerse [steps] have to happen first on our campuses. We need to learn to see our own stories, our own narratives, our own institutional racism, our own privilege, as well as the humanity, dignity, and image of God in our peers, faculty, and neighbors. Dominant-culture students need to sit under the authority of leaders of color, of professors of color, and listen longer than feels comfortable. The immersion that happens in the academic classroom can be extraordinary. Then, as we see and immerse, we learn what it means to actually contend for and with one another.
Jon: As you can see, the peacemaking way of life doesn’t reserve itself only to the international experience or to the massive systemic issue – it also applies in [everyday] relationships. Even if you’re in a real context where you’re learning that you need to be associated with folks that look, think, and believe differently than you do, there are also people in our own home – like parents, siblings, and close friends – that if we aren’t moving into the conflicts on the interpersonal level, then we’re also missing what it means to be an everyday peacemaker.
This is stuff that Jesus was really clear about. We read in the Sermon on the Mount that when we have something against our sister or our brother, or if they have something against us, we need to deal with it before we can move deeper into communion with God [cf. Matthew 5:23-26]. … That might be some of the hardest work of peacemaking you can do.
Are there common stumbling blocks you see over and over again in this work, whether with institutions or with individuals?
Jer: The cross is the major stumbling block to this work. For so many of us, our theology has begun in the garden and is more informed by the blood-stained walls of Jericho than the blood-saturated cross of Christ. It’s only at the cross that we discover a more expansive theology and a God who is personally connected and 100 percent committed to the restoration of all things. The good news is that the cross is about something far bigger than my personal salvation. The cross reveals a God who restored and is restoring all things … and we’re invited to be a part of that. If we can begin to move people away from a sense of mission confusion that comes from the wrong theological starting point and into this big huge story that has been unfolding since God spoke existence into being, I think we can help to mobilize people into a way of life that’s really faithful, generous, co-creative, and restorative.
Jon: Here’s what I add to that: Christians in this country are more committed to independence than interdependence. That plays itself out in a lot of different ways. On an individual level, it’s unfamiliar for folks to consider that their flourishing is directly connected to their neighbor’s flourishing, especially their neighbor who looks or thinks or believes differently than they do, or is from a different country and happens to be in ours. To see that our flourishing is actually interdependent is a major obstacle. If we can begin to see that, we can go light-years ahead in this work together.
How that plays out on an institutional level is [that] a lot of times, churches and universities aren’t interested in collaboration; they’re more interested in autonomy. So if we’re saying we’re going to actually lean into this, what does it mean to sit at the same table with people who are committed to a similar place – whether it’s a physical space or an academic space – and throw our hands together and say, “We have to do this together”? We don’t need to start a bunch more programs with our name or our brand on it. Let’s actually be the best partners and volunteers imaginable. Again, it’s a counter-cultural thing.
Since you are white men doing this work, I wonder: for whites, how do we wrestle with the dichotomy of needing to be [in this work] while not being the “saviors”?
Jer: I think the time has passed where white males, in particular, are being asked or even looked to to lead the way. For the past decade, Jon and I have worked hard to not only find ourselves in relationships with colleagues of color … but to be mentored [by those individuals] and place ourselves under their authority. They are teaching us how to see the world. We so believe that this kind of immersion is essential in today’s world that we’re choosing to lead by example. From our perspective, if white men need to be leading anything right now, it’s a journey for white folk to find ourselves under and alongside the leadership and direction of women and men of color in our world.
Jon Huckins and Jer Swigart are co-founding directors of the Global Immersion Project.