Marianne Williamson is not wrong, she’s just not quite rightSeptember 3, 2019
Democratic candidate for President, Marianne Williamson, has an op ed in today’s edition of The Washington Post. The headline reads, “The U.S. needs a Department of Peace.” Now, if you’ve ever thought about reorganizing the government, you’ve thought about the Cabinet level departments (Defense, Agriculture, Education, Energy, Justice, Labor, Health & Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, State, Transportation, Treasury, the Interior, and the V.A.). If you were President, which departments would you keep, eliminate or transform?
Williamson argues that we need a Department of Peace because we are culture of violence – even death. She’s not wrong. But when she sets out her plan for what a Department of Peace would do, we hear echoes of the responsibility of the Church in the world. Christians are, after all, disciples of the Prince of Peace. Christians are possessed of the very Spirit of Peace sent to sow peace and be peacemakers. There’s even language that sounds distinctly political when Christians are described in the New Testament as agents of grace, ministers of reconciliation and Ambassadors of the Kingdom of the Heaven.
Marianne Williamson is not wrong, she’s just not quite right because she imagines “we” can achieve peace apart from Christ. She makes references to “root causes” but she never calls it out for what it is: sin. Here’s her plan:
We will not break free of dysfunctional realities until we are willing to embrace more functional ones. I propose a U.S. Department of Peace to coordinate and harness the powers of conflict resolution; restorative justice; violence prevention; trauma-informed education; mindfulness in the schools; child and family wrap-around services; social and emotional learning; and a world-class peace academy to train and to deploy thousands of peace-builders, plus national conferences and a presidential task force for peace creation. We will make every effort to promote a culture of peace both at home and abroad. We will address the root causes, not just the symptoms of violence in America. And in time, we will transform our culture from one of conflict to one of peace.
I break it down further here:
Williamson’s idea for Department of Peace isn’t actually new. In the mid eights, the sitting Governor of Colorado, Richard Lamm, authored a novel entitled 1988. In it a third-party presidential candidate (D) proposes a cabinet-level Agency for U.S. Peace and Conflict Resolution headed by a secretary of peace who could challenge the secretary of defense when so inclined. Where did Lamm get that idea? Well, if you look back, there have been numerous grassroots movements and legislative efforts focusing national attention on the desire for peace, not war. In fact, in 1793, one of the nation’s founding father’s and signatore of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Rush, penned an essay entitled “A plan of a Peace-Office for the United States”. [Rush, Benjamin, M.D. (1806). “A plan of a Peace-Office for the United States”. Essays, Literary, Moral and Philosophical (2nd ed.). Thomas and William Bradford, Philadelphia. pp. 183–188.]
Rush viewed the lack of such a department a great oversight in the Constitution. He wanted to see the Department of Peace stand on equal footing with the Department of War in the new nation. The plan reads in part:
1. Let a Secretary of Peace be appointed to preside in this office; . . . let him be a genuine republican and a sincere Christian. . . .
2. Let a power be given to the Secretary to establish and maintain free schools in every city, village and township in the United States; . . . Let the youth of our country be instructed in reading, writing, and arithmetic, and in the doctrines of a religion of some kind; the Christian religion should be preferred to all others; for it belongs to this religion exclusively to teach us not only to cultivate peace with all men, but to forgive—nay more, to love our very enemies. . . .
3. Let every family be furnished at public expense, by the Secretary of this office, with an American edition of the Bible. . . .
4. Let the following sentence be inscribed in letters of gold over the door of every home in the United States: The Son of Man Came into the World, Not To Destroy Men’s Lives, But To Save Them.
5. To inspire a veneration for human life, and a horror at the shedding of human blood, let all those laws be repealed which authorize juries, judges, sheriffs, or hangmen to assume the resentments of individuals, and to commit murder in cold blood in any case whatever. . . .
6. To subdue that passion for war . . . militia laws should everywhere be repealed, and military dresses and military titles should be laid aside. . . .
Rush’s proposal was not acted upon but the idea has never gone away. We, as a nation, have cultivated over time a culture of violence and death. Marianne Williamson isn’t wrong to cast a vision in the direction of peace. She’s just not quite right that we can do it on our own, without the Prince of Peace who grants us true peace and makes of us sowers of peace.