<\body> Stories in America: Blessed Are the Peacemakers

Monday, May 23, 2005

Blessed Are the Peacemakers

We spent the past week sweating in Austin. I grew up in Northern California and am not used to this weather, which I'm told is still mild compared to how it feels when summer actually starts. We initially planned to stay for only a few days, but we keep finding reasons to extend our stay.

Austin is considered by most of Texas to be the most liberal city in the state. The central party of the city is full of bars, restaurants, tattoo parlors and an endless array of live music. The outlying areas are considered to be more conservative. Austin is in Travis County, where John Kerry won 56 percent of the vote. Despite its liberal leanings, Republicans have a great deal of influence in this town.

While in Austin, I met with members of the Texas Right to Life, Austin Republican Women, interviewed a Presbyterian minister who referenced The Daily Show in his sermon and had my first mega-church experience at the Shoreline Christian Center, a 47-acre facility with the capacity to seat 5,000 worshippers.

After finding a parking spot in Shoreline's packed lot, I immediately notice Shoreline bumper stickers on most of the cars. I walk into a packed auditorium with a 13-piece band and 32-person chorus on stage. I feel like I'm at a bad rock concert; the difference is, almost everyone in the audience raises their hands high in the air and has a Bible at their side. The people to my right jump up and down while screaming: "Jesus wants us to get to the summit!" After about 20 minutes of singing and dancing, Shoreline Pastor Rob Koke takes the stage and immediately begins preaching about the importance of valuing peace. "I want you to be a peacemaker. The world needs peacemakers," he says. Koke speaks about conflict at the global and local level, but never specifically mentions the Iraq war. During the second half of the service, I feel like I'm at a retreat for people who are working to improve their relationships and communication skills. After the service, I interview Pastor Rob Koke at a new worshiper reception in the church foyer complete with a Starbucks and a huge gift shop full of crosses and Christian books and CDs. Here are excerpts from that interview:

How did this church get started?

The church started in our home in 1987 and has progressed over the last 18 years to be this church. We have a 5,000-seat sanctuary here in town and somewhere between the neighborhood of 7-10,000 people call this church their home.

Tell me about the philosophy behind the church's teachings. How do you decide which topics to address?

I choose messages that will hopefully impact people's lives on Monday morning, and so it's not just about theology or pie in the sky type of information; it's practical because the Bible is a very practical book and helps people to live the Christian life productively and positively on Monday morning.

The word 'peace' came up many, many times, which is rare these days. Has your church taken a stand on the war?

We try to be as sensitive as we can on that issue. We're not a political organization, we're a spiritual focused organization. We have people from every walk of life that attend our church. If you look around, it's an incredibly diverse multicultural congregation, which is very unique. Whites are worshiping with African Americans and Hispanics. There are Republicans and Democrats and all different types of folks that worship together in this environment, so we don't strive to make a strong political statement; we strive to make a strong spiritual statement. Wherever that lands us on the political spectrum is not really important to us; what is important is that we're living with God in an intimate, beautiful way and loving our neighbors.

Have you been following the controversy over the churches that are getting involved in politics? Have you heard of the church in North Carolina that said if you don't support Bush, you're not welcome here?

We have many people that are very active in the political process, which we also encourage as a church. We want people to be active citizens and to say that we're not political doesn't mean to indicate that we don't encourage our congregation to be very, very active politically. We just draw the line. When people come to church, they're thinking about their marriages, their kids and how they can live a Christian life. That's where we want to apply the majority of our emphasis, but in the political season and spectrum of life, we want our church to be very, very active, so we encourage our congregation, which I would tend to think would be overwhelmingly Republican, to be active. I would never say, from our pulpit, anything related to that. I would be extremely uncomfortable doing that.

Why are so many Christian churches predominantly Republican? When I heard you today, you sounded like a liberal talking about peace and the poor.

What we preached here this morning is being reproduced in churches like ours all over the country, but that's not the story that's being told. The churches that are flourishing and growing are meeting the needs of people. Period. So the idea that there's some vast white, right wing conspiracy type mentality in the church world is just not right. We do stand for things. We are strongly pro-life on a spiritual basis, not a political basis. Of course, there's political ramifications to that, but in terms of what we believe theologically, we believe in the Bible, we believe that it's an inspired word of God and that has very real practical implications in terms of how we live our lives.

What denomination is this church?

It's an interdenominational church; it's not affiliated with any denomination.

Are you Republican?


How do you feel about the Iraq war?

You're going to talk to me personally versus pastorally. When you talk about war, there is a just defense. What I mean by that is if someone came into my home and wanted to rob my home, I'm going to put up a defense for my wife and children and that is biblically supported. You'd have to understand the motivation behind Iraq and Afghanistan. If you believe that the motivation was a lie and that there were no weapons of mass destruction and that it was all manipulated because of oil, then I think the net end result of that would be you would feel that it was wrong. But if you really sincerely believe that this is a defense of our nation and our values of nation, that we'll be safer as a nation after this process is over and we extend to the nations of the world a commitment to peace through strength and security, that's where that element comes in from our perspective. We think it's justified. We have a montage of military personnel that we pray for every single week. When people come back from Iraq and Afghanistan, they are treated as heroes in our congregation.

So you didn't support the war because of the weapons of mass destruction?

I think that's correct. The reality of it, personally for me, is do I believe that our world will be safer with Saddam gone. I say yes, wholeheartedly, and I think our congregation would agree with that.

Questions are often raised about the pro-life statement you made. Why doesn't war fall under the pro-life platform?

I'm pro-life, but if somebody wants to kill me, that's where it stops.

A memo recently came out that found intelligence was being fixed to support the war.

I haven't heard about that memo.

So basically, you're in favor of the war because Saddam was a dictator and we have to get rid of him.

Well, yeah.

Should we get rid of every dictator in the world?

When the dictator affects our national security.

Do you feel safer?

Yeah, absolutely.


At 5/24/2005 2:16 AM, Anonymous Derrick said...

G'Day from Sydney, Rose.

I'm a little surprised that only one person has commented so far...I hope that far more has read the blogs. As the other blogger has said, what you do is important. Living in Sydney we are lucky to have a half decent paper and a government funded TV station with good quality news, but even from those one could not have gained an insight into the minds of Bush's soldiers (voters) at ground level. Maybe you could write a book about your experiences (I certainly hope you will).

I just hope that you won't infuriate some nutter to the degree that he'll shoot you...and keep up the good work.

At 5/24/2005 8:59 AM, Anonymous Kevin Stoda said...

I am one of the many American ex-patriates who have emigrated from Texas and other States in the USA.

I, in particular, have seen working abroad as part of the way I can witness of an alternative America and as a christian peacemaker.

I am happy to have lived abroad a majority of the last 20-plus years and have not contributed nearly as much to america's war wasting machine as those who have stayed behind and played the "NATIONALISM-above-God-and-family" game of self dellusion.

I, as a Christian, believe God on judgement day will ask me and people anywhere who have lived and served in the US in whatever capacity: WHAT DID YOU DO WITH ALL THE WEALTH AND POWER I GAVE YOU? (YOUR POTENTIAL WAS FANTASTIC!)

I do not wish to say that we blew things up and neglected the poor to kill others in the name of a NATIONALIST religion.

I am a peacemaker. I am also evangelistic as a christian and would like to ask that more evangelical christians siding with my position speak up or take their wealth abroad as witness--NOT WITH OUR MONEY, NOT IN OUR NAME.

At 5/24/2005 8:07 PM, Anonymous Joanna said...

I am continually amazed at how people who call themselves Christian manage to justify whatever attitude they decide to adopt concerning social problems. Jesus clearly taught that we are to love our enemies, to care for the sick and for widows and orphans, to lift up the fallen and to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. How these teachings of love and kindness can be twisted into the belief that it is ok for us to invade another country and destroy the land and its inhabitants baffles the mind. I am 82 years old, a WWII widow who also lost a beloved brother in that war and both my sons served in the Vietnam war. Warfare is just another name for state-sanctioned murder and we are told very clearly in the ten commandments that Christians love to cite that we are not to kill others. Until we stop justifying our lust for power and our greed for material possessions, we have absolutely no right to call ourselves a "Christian" nation.

At 5/28/2005 10:46 AM, Blogger KT said...

Hi! You have an awesome blog thing going. You should definitely write a book about your experience, but don't write it with the amition of 'bashing' the red states because that would just start and 'us vs. them' mentality. I'm glad to see you are engaging in dialouge with people about the war.

At 10/22/2006 10:31 PM, Anonymous Grant said...

Well, I just came across this site after googling my pastor, Rob Koke, who was interviewed in this post. I read through the interview, and what Pastor Rob (as we call him at Shoreline) defended his position rather well. We are a diverse congregation. I am a die-hard Republican and support the war whole-heartedly, but I also know that we made some strategic blunders. I am very good friends with people who hold the opposite view points that still worship the same God and love Him more than life itself. Yes, my friends know I'm a political animal, but we engage in civil discourse about global events. Just because we're Republicans, doesn't mean we're evil. (and vice versa for the Democrats). You may disagree with the current administration's policies, but we're still Americans, and we're still human. We still live on this flawed sphere. God loves all of us. He even loves Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden and George W. Bush.

Now, for the record, I'm not your typical person from the Christian right. I don't think pastors should spew politics and a political agenda from the pulpit, and if a politician attends a church service to speak, he/she should deliver a spiritually minded sermon (instead of stumping for votes).

I know this comment was loaded with things. I just felt the need to say these things after reading the blog/interview

At 7/29/2007 8:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a great blog you have up here.I go to Shoreline christain Center and I think everything Pastor Rob said was true. Everybody is welcomed at the church and that the church is supposed to make a spiritual statement not a political statement.

At 1/15/2008 9:16 PM, Anonymous naturalminor said...

I also attend Shoreline, I am a Libertarian Not a Republican. I get so much from each message that Pastor Rob shares with us, and as a previous blogger shared, our Pastor did indeed defend himself well. We are about living the Christian life together and loving one another in spite of and because of our differences. I also play in the worship band and was probably worshipping on the platform when the writer attended and I take offense to the remark about a "bad rock concert". We have so many talented people on the team some of which are pro and studio musicians. I will also say we are not trying to look cool or feed egos, that is all left at the door I have never in my life been around a more humble group of people who love authentically serving GOD along side each other. I love my church and my pastor(s) and have never felt any message as being politically motivated but more about living life together, loving each other and Jesus.

At 4/05/2009 7:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also attend Shoreline. What I find interesting is that several times I see people referring to Pastor Rob as defending himself. Unfortuntely, that is how we tend to talk to each other these days. Right attacks left, left attacks right. The end result is that we are often reduced to having to defend our positions rather than really caring about what the other person is saying.

I am a solid conservative, who believes that "there is a time for every season, time war and a time for peace." Until the threat on our people and nation are degraded to the point that we, our children and posterity are safe from the plague of evil that struck us on Sept 11, 2001, we will be at war whether we engage in it or just sit back and allow the enemy to strike at us. They have vowed to continue to strike at us, to carry the war to us, so why are so many unwilling to defend our families?

I say this a father that has a child in Iraq serving right now. I am proud of my child and believe that it is through the courageous commitment of my child and the others serving our country that we enjoy the freedom to question anything we want to.

I know that many will disagree with what I have said and that is great...in fact that is what has made this nation so great that it is worth protecting, even at the cost of life. I hope that our discussions, no matter how passionate they are, are received with the thought to hear each other, not just angrily attack so that all we do is defend our position and ourselves. If defense is what we need then it should be against those who want us dead, instead of those who disagree with us.

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