Blessed are the Peacemakers

In light of some of the recent national conversation about Muslims, their books and their buildings, I was interested to read about Francis of Assisi’s meeting with the Sultan of Egypt during the Crusades.  This is an excerpt from a longer article in Leadership journal called “What Would St. Francis Say Today?” by Gordon McDonald.  If nothing else, this story gives us a “St. Francis way” to engage our Muslim neighbors.


Though it might offend the politics of some, I can hear Francis raising the topic of peacemaking and wondering why many modern Christians have so little to say about it. “Ought this not be an essential piece of your faith?” he might ask me.

Francis’s hatred of conflict had an origin. In his younger years he had gone merrily off to war expecting honor and booty and ended up a POW in a hell-hole. There he came face to face with cruelty and disease and discovered that combat was not a game. From that point forward he repudiated war and embraced peacemaking.

Thus, it was not surprising that, when the “Christian movement” of his time (the Crusaders) marched off to the Middle East in hopes of annihilating Muslims, Francis traveled there himself, passed through enemy lines and introduced himself to Malik-al-Kamil, the Muslim sultan of Egypt. While there, the two men spoke extensively of matters of faith and peace and became friends.

Francis’s host listened carefully to the Christian message Francis shared with him. And, not surprisingly, Francis returned the favor by listening to the Sultan’s Muslim convictions, something I don’t ever remember being taught to do when I was younger.

Francis was not successful in his effort to make peace, and he did not convert the Sultan, and, as a result, the Crusaders got their war. But that he tried to avert bloodshed says something significant. At least Francis was known as a peacemaker, the kind of person Jesus praised in the Sermon on the Mount.

Gordon MacDonald is editor at large of Leadership and lives in New Hampshire.

4 thoughts on “Blessed are the Peacemakers

  1. The following is a story I have saved that relates to your post:
    A Jew, named Nathan, living in Jerusalem during the Crusades of the 12th century, is asked by the Muslim sultan which of the three religions-Judaism, Christianity, and Islam- is the best. Too wise to answer directly, Nathan replies with a story about a beautiful ring that made its wearer “agreeable to God and human beings.” For years, the ring remained in one family and was passed to each generation’s favorite son. But then an heir appeared who loved his three sons equally. At various times he promised the ring to each of his sons, so as he neared his death he was in a bind. As a solution, he ordered a jeweler to make two exact copies of the ring, and he distributed the three indistinguishable rings to his sons.
    After the father died, the sons quarreled about whose ring was the original. When they appealed to a judge, the judge reminded the sons of their father’s equal love for them and that the father wouldn’t treat two of them unfairly for the pleasure of the third. Remembering that the ring should make its wearer “agreeable to God and human beings,” the judge ruled, “Let each of you strive to show the power of his ring’s stone. Come to the aid of this power in gentleness, with heartfelt tolerance, in charity, with sincerest submission to God. And should the powers of the stone express themselves in your children’s children’s children, then let them come again before this bench. At that time, a wiser man than I will sit before them and rule.”

  2. Although I go by my middle name, my first name is Ernest, after my late father. Anyway, that in mind, I was surprised to learn, yesterday, that, back in the early 1100s, there was a “Saint Ernest” who was originally from Germany. He was said to have preached the Christian Gospel extensively around Arabia. Sadly, his efforts were not appreciated and he ended up, um, “gone on to see the Lord” shall we say. Even so, I have to wonder if perhaps his efforts, and those of St. Francis and others might have somehow laid the foundation for the eventual conversion of Muslims. I remember reading, back in the early Gulf War, about many American soldiers and sailors coming to faith and being baptized there in that area where the roots of our Christian faith started. I wonder if, someday, somehow, they too will engage the Muslims in discussions which might continue to build on what St. Ernest and St. Francis started. We can only leave it in God’s hands, however, I have known of Christian faith getting started among people in a number of unique ways such as, for example, back in the 1980s when one year, there were a number of fraternity members at the University of Richmond who had an “out break of Christian faith” and established a fraternity Christian fellowship at UR that year. When I became aware of that, I felt that, indeed, the Lord can do miracles with anyone!

  3. I enjoyed this post very much, and think I’d now like to read the rest of this article on St. Francis. Thank you for sharing such quality thoughts and insights. 🙂

  4. P.S. Peacemaking is something with which I always strongly identify, and appreciate similar ideas and actions of peace.

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