The power to build peace
Ecumenical Advocacy Days speakers emphasize importance of religious leaders in process
Many factors go into building peace — among them are justice, reconciliation and participation, two speakers told Ecumenical Advocacy Days (EAD) today (March 22).
Maryann Cusimano Love and the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson spoke about the ways people of faith can and must work to build peace and resist violence, the theme of this year’s EAD. The annual event mobilizes participants around a central issue through worship, education and lobbying.
Love, professor of international relations at The Catholic University of America and member of the State Department’s Working Group of Religion and Foreign Policy, outlined the common themes she’s observed in peace-building processes around the world:
- Right relationships
- Restoration of humanity
In areas of conflict, women and religious leaders have the most power to help build peace, Love said. She highlighted several women who have demonstrated each of the themes. In Liberia, Vaiba Flomo began her peace work at age 7, when she stopped a neighbor from beating his wife and then organized her village to stand up against other instances of domestic violence. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, rape is used as a weapon of war and victims are often shunned by their families and communities. Churches respond by offering medical and psychological care, education and job training and by embracing the children who were conceived in rape.
But although women are disproportionately victims of violence, they are often excluded from peace talks, Love said, adding that no women are at the table in ongoing peace talks in Colombia and Congo. Women and children also make up 80 percent of refugees and internally displaced people.
Peacebuilding must start with the people who have been most affected by violence, Love said.
Churches have the valuable tools of institutions, ideas and imagination to bring to the peace-building process, she said. Imagination is an especially rich tool and allows people to envision disarmament of not only weapons but of the mind and spirit.
Nelson, director of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Office of Public Witness, spoke about the need for justice when working for peace.
The United States is struggling with mercy and compassion, and many people question, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ meaning ‘Who can I trust?’ he said. This attitude creates fear, boundaries and oppression, making it hard to find love.
In situations like this, we reveal our frustration in violence, conflict and blaming each other. Nelson said he is proud to live in the United States and wants to see it be the best country it can be. But there are problems in the United States — many children here don’t have enough food or school supplies while the government spends money to drop bombs on other countries.
“There’s something wrong with that equation,” Nelson said. “It is a moral travesty and it is a disgrace. We can do better than this.”
But doing better means getting out of our comfort zones, joining marches and dealing with possible backlash from our jobs or churches, he said.
“When we live in bondage and fear, we are not free anyway,” Nelson said.