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Photo: BBC

 

by Martin Brooks

Back before ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) seized the headlines, do you remember those 276 girls who were kidnapped in Nigeria? You can bet their families have not forgotten.

What if you had a chance to sit down with one of the Boko Haram guys, before they kidnapped the girls. If you knew of his plan, would you try to talk him out of hurting them? I mean, even if you were not successful, wouldn’t you want to try? Unfortunately, if you did that, you would be in violation of U.S. law. When you returned to the United States, our government could prosecute you for giving “material assistance” to terrorists. Your assets could be seized, and you could be imprisoned.

The intent of the law was good; I mean, who wants to give “material assistance” to terrorists? The problem is that the law does not provide space for negotiations and peaceful conflict resolution.

Kay Guinane works with Charity and Security Network. In an article, “U.S. Law Limits options for Non-Violent End to Nigerian Girls Nightmare,” Kay writes,

It is clear from press reports that intermediaries are in touch with Boko Haram. Could these or other intermediaries establish dialog with Boko Haram that could end with the girls’ return? Given the practical limitations of rescue by force and the political dangers of involving foreign militaries, this looks like the best hope. And given how ineffective the Nigerian government and armed forces response has been to date, there is little to lose.

Non-governmental actors are best placed to carry out any dialog or negotiations with Boko Haram. They are free of political agendas and have the credibility to go back and forth between contacts on both sides. They can be focused solely on the goal of freeing the girls, and not driven by foreign policy, electoral or military objectives.

But contact with Boko Haram is not legal, even for the purpose of freeing the girls or ending Boko Haram’s campaign of terror. That is because the U.S. put Boko Haram on the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) in November 2013. That means any form of support, including expert advice or assistance, to a group on the list is considered material support of terrorism and is illegal.

This prohibition reflects a strategy of isolation. The theory is that bad actors will wither away over time from lack of resources. But experience shows that this does not work well. Other FTOs, like the FARC in Colombia, the PKK in Turkey and Hamas in Gaza are still operating after years of being on U.S. terrorist lists. In fact, experts say FTO designation can enhance the status of an armed group among its supporters, and Boko Haram is likely to view it as a badge of honor.

A bill pending in Congress – the Humanitarian Assistance Facilitation Act – would permit speech and communications aimed at “reducing the frequency and severity of armed conflict…and its impact on the civilian population.” This is not likely to pass in time to help the schoolgirls in Nigeria but under current law the administration could issue an exemption for talks aimed at freeing them. It should do so immediately.

Kay’s article goes on to talk about the history of Boko Haram and the grievances that made them increasingly violent. I encourage you to read the entire article and support the Humanitarian Assistance Facilitation Act. You can even follow links to “Contact Your Member of Congress” with suggested text provided by the Charity and Security Network.

Not talking to terrorists might save face for politicians who do not want to appear to be “soft on terror,” but unless people talk, issues cannot be addressed and resolved. I suppose there is still the military option, but if the conflict is ideological or based on some grievance, people must talk. If the government diplomats are concerned that “talking to terrorists” will “send the wrong message,” at least allow non-government peacemakers to quietly work in the background without the fear of prosecution. These who “seek peace and pursue it” may very well help our country avoid another costly war.

Click here if you’d like to support the Humanitarian Assistance Facilitation Act.

 

 

Mario in Turkestan w- logo

Website: matteivisuals.com

Recommended blog post: Dance the Past into the Future

Peacemaking is needed (and can be done) in all arenas of life, and today we highlight Mario Mattei, an artist working for peace through film, photography, and storytelling.

In our world filled with polarizing news media, stereotypes, and widespread conflict, Mario has founded Visual Peace Media and the International Guild of Visual Peacemakers in order to start a movement of artists reducing social distance and bringing people closer together through visual media.

Negative images of Muslims clutter the news. But it’s hard to refute these images through facts and argumentation alone. Why? Because logic and ideas appeal to the cognitive domain, whereas images appeal to the affective domain.

So we need both. We need to refute false views of Muslims, and we need to counter negative images with positive images, which is why Mario’s work is so important.

A passionate advocate for peacemaking and reconciliation and also a dynamic visionary, Mario is a leading voice in what we call “visual peacemaking.”

Mario currently works in Turkey, and in his latest film project, Dance the Past into the Future, he tells the story of a nation at a crossroads between its traditional past and a modern future.

Watch the film trailer and find out more about Mario’s work here.

by Rick Love

“Is freedom of religion a liberal political agenda or is it a biblical mandate?” The middle-aged man sitting across from me asked this question intently in response to my comments on the role of religious freedom in peacemaking. I smiled and said, “Good question.”

I appreciate his question because the most famous human rights document – the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - is written in purely secular terms. Here’s how freedom of religion is described in Article 18:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

blogAs I will argue in a series of blogs, I think Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has a robust biblical foundation. I also believe that freedom of religion is a massively important global peacemaking issue.

I have to admit that there are no commands about freedom of religion in the Bible. But we are called to imitate God and obey His commands (Ephesians 5:1; 1 John 5:3).

So here are four reasons why I believe freedom of religion is a biblical mandate.

    1. God gave Adam and Eve freedom to either obey or not obey His commands (Genesis 1-3). Because God wanted them to choose to love and obey Him, He gave them freedom of choice. True relationship demands freedom to choose. We need to imitate God by giving people freedom to choose.
      So freedom of religion is based on the creation story.

    2. Jesus repeatedly called people to follow him. But he gave people freedom to choose. Some followed him and others didn’t. In one of the most poignant moments in the gospels, it says that Jesus felt love for the rich young ruler who decided he would not follow Jesus (Mark 10:21ff). Jesus demonstrated a love that gave people freedom to accept or reject him. We need to imitate Jesus by giving people freedom to choose
      So freedom of religion is based on the life of Christ.

    3. Jesus said, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). Surely everyone wants freedom to follow their conscience without coercion. I sure do! We must grant to everyone the same thing that we desire. We need to obey this command summarizing the ethical demands of the Law and the Prophets.
      So freedom of religion is based on the golden rule.

    4. Jesus said one of the greatest commands is to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). The standard for love in this command is the phrase, “as yourself.” In other words, love means that I treat my neighbors just how I want to be treated. I want the freedom to worship and the protection to worship. This then is what I would want for my neighbor.
      So freedom of religion is based on the love command.

In light of these four reasons, do you think advocating for freedom of religion is a priority for a follower of Christ? I would love to hear your comments and concerns.

This blog is part one of a series on freedom of religion. If you’re interested in learning more, see this post on Muslims, human rights, and human wrongs.

by Rick Love

I recently attended a conference at the Naval War College in Rhode Island on “Religion and Security in World Affairs” (May 7-8, 2014). I loved the lectures and the lively interaction. Yet something deeper was being stirred in me. I couldn’t pinpoint what it was until I recalled Martin Luther King Jr.’s statement, “Those who love peace must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war.”

Oh how I wish followers of Jesus were as organized for the sake of peace as the U.S. military is for the sake of war! Klyne Snodgrass, in his commentary on Ephesians, suggests a practical way Jesus’ followers can organize for peace:

The church is a peace institute… . Numerous schools for war exist, and both amateurs and scholars study wars. Few people study peace. The church should be a place where people study and practice peace. (Ephesians, NIV Application Commentary [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996], pp. 153-54).

I don’t know how many pastors and Christian leaders think the church should be a peace institute, but most believe that peacemaking should play some significant role in the church.

My friend Steve Norman did a survey about peacemaking for his doctoral studies.

He notes, “I recently conducted a research project that collected data from 15 pastors in personal interviews and 297 pastors through an online survey. Their feedback on this issue was almost unanimous: “Yes, I affirm the theory of peacemaking as a biblical value. No, it’s not something our church is currently doing. Honestly, we’d have no idea where to start if we wanted to” (see Pastors and the Peacemaking Paradox).

There seems to be a peace-gap between what pastors say they believe and the practice of peacemaking in most churches. So where does a pastor or Christian leader start? Here are five fundamental peacemaking practices that outline a Bible-sized view of peace:

1. We are called to peacemaking without borders. Biblical peacemaking is comprehensive in scope. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom 12:18; see also Heb 12:14). That’s right, everyone: Democrats, Republicans, Muslims, gays and atheists.

2. We are called to start with the heart. We begin conflict resolution by dealing with our own issues. “First take the log out of your own eye” (Mt 7:5). Peacemaking conversations start with confession and humility.

3. We are called to make every effort. Conflict resolution is hard work. We lose heart and want to give up. But God commands us to proactively and persistently pursue peace. “Make every effort to do what leads to peace” (Rom 14:19; see also Eph 4:3; Heb 12:14).

4. We are called to share the gospel of peace. The good news is an announcement. The God of peace sent the prince of peace to bring about a world of peace through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus (Acts 10:34-43; Eph 2:13-17). And the scope of this gospel of peace is breathtaking—the reconciliation of all things (Col 1:20)!

5. We are called to seek the peace of the city. “Seek the peace of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its peace you will have peace” (Jer 29:7). The word translated as “peace” in this passage is the Hebrew term shalom, which refers to human flourishing in all dimensions of life. Shalom-makers seek the common good of their communities, pursue racial reconciliation and harmony between different religious communities, and work to alleviate poverty.

Do you have a Bible-sized view of peace? Do you want to fill the “peace gap” in your church or organization?

To learn more about how you can organize for peace, check out Peace Catalysts: Resolving Conflict in Our Families, Organizations and Communities.

For more in video format on Jesus’s comprehensive peace plan, click to watch.

 

by Thomas Davis

The fruit of Jesus-centered peacemaking is real, authentic friendship. This is much more than a politely-tolerate-one-another level of “friendship,” because Jesus calls us to actively love others, even those with whom we have real differences.

Here in Raleigh, our Peace Catalyst community is working to foster these kinds of friendships between Muslims and Christians—friendships in which we laugh and cry together, talk openly about our deepest convictions, and work together for the common good.

Here are a few recent highlights from our friendship-building efforts:

 

LOVING OTHERS in the Way of Jesus

LOVING OTHERS in the Way of Jesus is a curriculum we developed to help Christians follow Jesus into authentic friendship with those outside their own faith communities.

A few weeks ago we had Samar Shawa as a guest speaker. Samar and her husband, Iyad, are dear friends of my family. They are Arab Muslims of Palestinian descent who are now American citizens, having lived and worked and raised their children in the Raleigh area for 24 years.

 Before the evening was over, we all laughed together and cried together and even prayed together–with class members praying powerful prayers of blessing over our dear Muslim guest. As Samar was leaving, she told me that she will brag to all of her Muslim friends about this church that is showering her with love and respect!!

 

Turkish Muslims Invade an Evangelical Church Facility

With Fellowship of Christ’s support, we lead what we call the Blessing Our Community group, a group of Jesus-followers who purpose together to share the love and blessings of God with others in our community. On the first Saturday evening in May, we did this by inviting one of the local Turkish communities to join us for an evening of food, fellowship, and friendship-building.

The Christians learned the ins and outs of halal (permissible) food, and prepared a feast for our guests. The Turks were visibly moved by this act of hospitality and love, and one of the leaders noted that he had never been in an Evangelical church building and that they had never before had Christians prepare halal food for them.

After dinner, we had a human raffle. The Christians wrote their names and phone numbers on slips of paper, and then the Muslims drew out names randomly. The prize was a coffee date to be scheduled in the month of May, so that each Muslim woman would meet for coffee with a Christian woman and each Muslim man with a Christian man.

Afterward, our Turkish guests kept telling me that they were overwhelmed by the love and kindness of the Christians, and the Christians raved about the evening as well! I can’t wait to hear the stories that come from all the coffee meetings.

 

Church-Synagogue Gardening Project

Christ Baptist and Beth Meyer Synagogue, faith communities whose facilities are next door to one another in North Raleigh, have broken ground on a joint community gardening project. Christ Baptist is a very large Southern Baptist Church, and Beth Meyer is a very large fellowship in United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. The two communities have started simply with one raised-bed plot, and the Jewish and Christian youth groups will work together to manage and maintain the garden.

 

My Challenge To You!

With our Muslim friends here in the Raleigh area, we garden, we have family play dates, we celebrate birthdays, we share meals in one another’s homes and coffee dates out, and we even pray together. We try to find every possible reason to get together, and we prioritize these friendships in our schedules and with our finances.

Will you join us in following Jesus into authentic friendships?