Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Holy Wars and Holy Peace, Is there Hope? by David Kreider

Holy wars
I grew up in Israel, in the aftermath of one of history’s most horrific tragedies. Traumatized and desperate after six million of their kin were annihilated in gas chambers and death camps across Eastern Europe, my first friends were Jews whose hopes for a sanctuary and a homeland converged in this place where their faith had been born. Sadly, their tragedy has given birth to yet another in that beleaguered land, causing a conflict that has infected the entire Middle East and three of the world’s great faiths - over half the world’s population.

As a Christian in that context I grew up aware of the histories and the differences that have put Jews, Christians and Muslims at odds. I felt the tensions that still linger, centuries-old, as a result of the Inquisitions, the Crusades and Conquests, and the prejudices that have given rise to such horrific bloodbaths as the holocaust that now poison our relationships. Growing up a member of a peace church tradition, as a Mennonite, with our own martyrs’ history of persecution for our faith, and the conviction that Jesus taught a message of love and of peacemaking even at the expense of his own life, I also felt a deep aversion to the violence I saw around me.

Over the years since leaving Israel in 1971 to pursue my education in Virginia, I’ve watched as the US has played fast and loose with its dominance and self-interest around the world, as it has taken sides at the expense of the disempowered and disenfranchised, and we have pursued our own economic and political interests at the expense of the impoverished and humiliated we have exploited or ignored in our wake. As we experienced our own tragedy on September 11, 2001, I watched in horror as our president led our country, the most powerful nation on earth, like a wounded bull elephant in a blind rage against the bees who had stung it, not recognizing our own culpability in the injustices we had fanned into flame, and went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq and talked of other “Axes of Evil” in Syria and Iran.

I have seen the power of competing religious ideologies in the Middle East and around the world. They contend for influence in the halls and think tanks of Washington and elsewhere to devastating effect, in Jerusalem, in Kabul, in Baghdad, in Islamabad, in Tehran, in Mumbai, in Beirut and Cairo, and the list goes on. Is this the vision for the world God had in mind?

Towards Holy Peace
Jesus, as one who taught from the Torah from which Judaism, Christianity and Islam take their roots, it seems to me, was about a different politics. His vision was for a social order that transcended all boundaries - a ‘kingdom’ whose transformative force and governing moral law was love - an all-inclusive love that encompassed God, our ‘neighbors,’ and even our enemies.

Jesus was deliberate and passionate about inclusively engaging others outside his tradition and he often affirmed their faith [Matthew 8:10-12]. His most animated act recorded in the Gospels [Mark 11:15-17] sees him so infuriated by the merchants’ disregard for those whose space they had exploited in the Temple’s Gentile Courtyard that he chases them and their animals out with a whip. The words that burned in his mind were from Isaiah 56:3,6-8:

“Do not let the foreigner say ‘The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.’ …The foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, [..] and hold fast my covenant – these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house; and their offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples..”

The author of the letter to the first century church in Ephesus later put it this way:

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near [..] uniting Jews and Gentiles into one family, [breaking] down the dividing wall of hostility [..] that he might create in himself one new humanity [..] thus making peace [..] So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but… members of the household of God.” [Ephesians 2:13-22].

A personal journey
One of the most meaningful experiences of my life has been my opportunity these past two years to get acquainted with Muslim and Jewish colleagues at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. As our friendships grew several of us formed a group we called Interfaith Search for Scriptural Common Ground for Peace to explore the teachings in our faiths that relate to peacemaking - compassion, love, nonviolence, forgiveness, mercy, etc. As we shared and discussed our scriptures we found a growing sense of kinship and awe in the realization that we were also finding our common humanity, a deepening sense of connection together in our common quest for God and God’s moral laws for humanity as revealed to us through our prophets.

Marc Gopin, in his book “Holy War, Holy Peace, How Religion Can Bring Peace to the Middle East” features a remarkable document drawn up by several rabbis and sheikhs called the Jerusalem Peace Agreement which I found profoundly moving:

“We as representatives of the two faiths, of Islam and Judaism, agree to the following: Both the Torah and the Qur’an are expressions of faith which speak of the divine revelation and oneness of G-d . Both [..] teach their faithful to honor every human being as the living image of G-d. The Holy Torah revealed to Moses, peace be upon him, the prophet of the Jewish people, calls for the respect and honor of every human being regardless of race or creed [and for] special respect and feeling of brotherhood to all believers in the one G-d. Thus Muslims, who worship the same G-d as the Jews, are primary recipients of these feelings of brotherhood.

The Holy Qur’an revealed to Mohammed, peace be upon him, the prophet of Islam, calls for the respect and honor of every human being regardless of race or creed [and for] special respect and feeling of brotherhood to all believers in the one G-d. Thus Jews, who worship the same G-d as the Muslims, are primary recipients of these feelings of brotherhood.

Based on these eternal truths of the Holy Torah and the Holy Qur’an, we declare that no human being shall be persecuted, physically or morally, because of their faith or the practice of their beliefs. We also express our wish for greater harmony and understanding between [us]. We the descendents of Ishmael and Isaac, the children of Abraham, are united to offer our prayers [..] for the end of all enmity and for the beginning of an era of peace, love and compassion.” (Excerpts 2002, 53-54)

The question that haunts and saddens me as I read this beautiful affirmation of common faith is where is Jesus in this, a Jew who also spoke of God as One, and of love and peace and faith beyond the framework of his own tradition? Where were Christians in this?

Reason for hope

There is a growing groundswell of passion for inter-religious peacemaking around the world. Universities and seminaries are building programs in interfaith studies. Closer to home, I am excited to see Eastern Mennonite University too developing a center for interfaith engagement and peacebuilding. Initiatives such as “A Common Word between Us and You,” from 300 Muslim clerics to Christian leaders in the West, and the Interfaith Youth Core movement of Eboo Patel are reflective of this hunger for mutual understanding and peace. At higher levels of US policy analysis, the Center for Strategic International Studies and the U.S. Institute of Peace have sponsored landmark studies whose findings point to inter-religious diplomacy as strategic to engaging the ideological underpinnings of terrorist groups whose networks have become global and their designs apocalyptic. World leaders like Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, and Barak Obama have increasingly engaged the language of faith in their work to bridge the political and ideological divides we face in today’s world. Today in Iran, the Green Movement has also brought together a deep spiritual hunger for peace, religious freedom of expression, justice, and good governance that is uniting people across the lines of our faiths in prayer, solidarity, political action, and support.

Those who recognize the transformative premises in the teachings of our prophets for peacemaking and compassion have an increasingly strategic role to play in transforming the twisted logics of holy war to those of peace and a new social order built on a moral law of love that bridges enmity. Those who have espoused the premises in our scriptures of peace through justice, and of nonviolence, and acted on a politics of compassionate service to the needs of the poor and disenfranchised and worked for development, dialogue and peacebuilding are garnering renewed respect across these lines of faith and politics. It is to this work that we have been called by God, and with this unprecedented convergence of interest in interfaith engagement, we have a remarkable opportunity to rediscover our Creator’s vision for the world in our conversations and collaborative efforts for peace. May our God draw us together as a global human family through our faith and our pursuit of the truth God has sought so diligently to reveal to us, and give us wisdom in the pursuit of peace and justice in our world.

David Kreider is a graduate of Eastern Mennonite Seminary and the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University where he is also involved on the Advisory Board of Abraham’s Tent, a Center for Interfaith Engagement. David is also involved with a local interfaith Scriptural Reasoning group among Jews, Muslims and Christians in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Prominent Israelis speaking out for peace and a two-state solution

A growing number of Israelis are coming to realize that their security does not lie in military power, but in a negotiated friendly coexistence with their neighbors. And they are coming to recognize that they need the help of the international community to do so. A fascinating set of perspectives from some key people..