The third principle in the JustPeace Way is Honoring Relationships. In the same way that the previous just peace principles (Engaging Conflict & Welcoming Conversations) have double meanings, “honoring relationships” also has double meaning in the JustPeace Way.
‘Honoring’ is both a verb and an adjective. Honoring is a verb in the sense that preserving relationship is the central principle of all our work. Giving priority to relationships reflects the reality of a triune God that operates in deep relationship as Creator, Christ, and Continuing presence. Honoring is also an adjective in the sense that the kind of relationships JustPeace encourages and seeks to establish and affirm are those that invite authentic self expression and attend to the dignity of all participants.
The practices of JustPeace also center on relationships. Each of the lenses that JustPeace encourages are relationally-centered:
- Restorative justice: repair the harm, restore the quality of relatedness;
- Appreciative inquiry: notices the successful aspects of relationship history and building on them for the future
- Systems-focused congregational accompaniment: seeking to establish or restore the I-Thou quality of relationships as the foundation for envisioning a future;
- Dialogue: all dialogue practices seek to increase understanding and empathy as the way forward in difficult times;
- and so on.
The relational centrality of the JustPeace Way reinforces our commitment to maintaining fellowship. As one of his last prayers for the people Jesus prayed for a unity among believers that would reflect the relationship that he had with God.
20 ‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us,* so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me
John 17: 20-23 NRSV
This is a unity that would allow those both inside and outside the church to witness the manifest love of God in the relationships of the people. Sometimes it is possible that the impulse to be ‘right’ overwhelms the impulse to be in relationship. JustPeace’s intention and urging is to stay together in fellowship and communion long enough to erase the seeming division between rightness and relatedness. Relationships are right. And so we ask: “how can we go on together in ways that honor God, edify the people of God, and bear witness to others?” The answer is in honoring relationships, both as an action – honoring relationships; and as a quality – honoring relationships.
During difficult times, when divisiveness is pervasive, attention to the quality of relationships often suffers. In order to find a way forward, relationships must be honoring. A relationship is honoring when it provides space for authentic self-expression and seeks to not do violence to the Other because of the differences. A relationship is honoring, when it has as its highest priority the dignity of all.
What are practical approaches to creating environments that honor relationships and prioritize relationships that are honoring? We follow the approach of Martin Buber who encouraged I-Thou relationships. I-Thou relationships are relationships of mutuality and reciprocity, where we are aware of each Other as having a unity of being as opposed to a set of qualities that can be used to our specific advantage. Ultimately, in I-Thou relationships, we honor the Other as a human being of equal value with whom we can share, learn, and grow. One skill that we can improve to increase the likelihood that our relationships will be mutual, reciprocal, and honoring is the capacity to ask questions. Two recent publications that are excellent resources for improving our question asking skills are:
- Edgar H Schein (2013) Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling
- Michael James Knight (2015) Better Conversations: Coaching Ourselves and Each Other to Be More Credible, Caring, and Connected
We pray that you live in relationships that honor, that you hold relationships as the highest priority, and that all of your relationships honor and reflect the honoring love of our most gracious Triune God.