by Rick Love

This is part three is a series on freedom of religion. See here for part 1 and part 2.

Over fifty years ago, President John F. Kennedy gave a compelling commencement address on world peace. In one of his famous quotes, Kennedy declared, “If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can make the world safe for diversity.”

What a profoundly practical definition of peace.

So how do you feel about making the world safe for diversity?

Coca Cola ran an ad for the 2014 Super Bowl celebrating America’s diversity by featuring a beautiful rendition of “America the Beautiful” sung in English, Tagalog, Spanish, Hebrew, Hindi, Keres, and Senegalese-French. I personally was deeply touched, but many Americans reacted negatively.

I understand that everyone struggles with diversity at some level. We don’t like certain beliefs or lifestyles. But diversity is a fact of life in the 21st century, and America is one of the most religiously and ethnically diverse nations on earth.

rick blogI once sat next to an Ayatollah from Iran during a meeting about freedom of religion and at one point in the discussion, he declared, “Everyone has the right to be wrong!” I laughed.

He turned to me and growled, “Why are you laughing?”

I said, “I agree with what you are saying; it just sounds funny when you put it that way.”

It sounds funny, but this pithy saying, “Everyone has the right to be wrong,” describes one of the keys to making the world safe for diversity. It describes a key tenet to promoting and protecting freedom of religion.

Those who hold to exclusive truth claims, like Christians and Muslims, must allow for other viewpoints, no matter how heretical in our eyes.

I attended a conference in the Philippines on Christian-Muslim relations a few years ago. I was one of the speakers, so I eagerly greeted people as they walked in, and a Mormon missionary shook my hand and told me stories of his missionary outreach. “This is a conference for Christians and Muslims. What is he doing here?” I mused silently. I didn’t like the idea of Mormons sharing their “wrong version” of Christianity with Muslims or anybody else.

Followers of Jesus who affirm Christian orthodoxy will never agree with Mormons or Muslims, Atheists or Hindus. But should we protect the rights of those who hold different views than we do?

Jesus said that he was the way, the truth, and the life – the only way to God (John 14:6). Jesus was also known as the friend of sinners who taught that we are to love our neighbors and even our enemies (Matthew 11:19; Luke 15:1-2; Mark 12: 31 Matthew 5:44). In other words, Jesus taught and modelled both exclusive truth claims and inclusive love aims.

Christians, Muslims, and Mormons should all have the right to persuade others about their faith’s exclusive truth claims. But this freedom is forbidden in countries like China, Burma, or Iran. Thus we need to advocate for laws protecting minorities around the world.

It takes more than laws, however, to make the world safe for diversity. Habits of the heart that cultivate civil discourse – such as gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15) – also need to be promoted. In a multicultural and multireligious world, we need to learn the art of persuasion instead of coercion, invitation instead of intimidation, dialogue instead of diatribe.

Followers of Jesus are respectful of other faiths and tolerant of other viewpoints not because we minimize the importance of truth. But because Jesus allows people to reject the truth. Because Jesus commands us to treat others as we want to be treated. Because Jesus commands us to love our neighbor as we want to be loved.

So I think President Kennedy and the Ayatollah were right. We need to make the world safe for diversity.

We’ve got some work to do!

Glenn-Stassen-PicLink: Just Peacemaking: The Practices

Recommended Reading: Just Peacemaking: Ten Practices for Abolishing War

I first met the late Glen Stassen in 2007 at a human rights conference in Washington DC. He was promoting his book, Just Peacemaking, which I bought immediately. Since that time I’ve had the privilege of working with Glen in many other venues, including the Evangelicals for Peace Summit in 2012 at which he spoke.

The long-asked question concerning the Christian response to war has historically had two answers: pacifism, meaning that war is never justified; and “Just War” theory, meaning that there are certain circumstances which justify killing during war. That was, until Glen Stassen presented his third option: “Just Peacemaking,” an approach focusing on proactively preventing wars from happening in the first place.

Stassen had been advocating for peace since the ’60s, when he participated in the civil rights March on Washington, at which Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Stassen graduated with a degree in nuclear physics, but not willing to contribute to the development of nuclear weapons, he soon gave it up and actually became a key activist against nuclear weapons during the Cold War, later turning his efforts fully toward peacemaking. He earned a Ph.D. from Duke University and has impacted countless lives through his more than 50 years of university and seminary teaching.

Dr. Glen Stassen leaves Christianity and humanity with his profound contribution to peacemaking and the prevention of war, and we think all peacemakers would benefit from studying his work. Among his writings, Just Peacemaking: Ten Practices for Abolishing War and Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context (with David Gushee) are two of the most notable.

 

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Denver Seminary class

by Rick Love

In this, the second post in a series on religious freedom (click here for part one) I offer two practical ways to promote religious freedom and counter terrorism.

I taught a course called ‘Peacemaking as God’s Mission’ at Denver Seminary last month and John, one of my students from Kenya, told the chilling story of the terrorist group Al Shabaab. Al Shabaab, originally from Somalia, has begun infiltrating the mosques in Kenya, seeking to overthrow the government.

John seemed overwhelmed by Al Shabaab’s brazen, evil plans. I struggled to answer but then sensed God’s guidance and said the following:

“First, you are not responsible to figure out how to stop Al Shabaab, John. You are responsible to work for peace where God has placed you. God has given you a sphere of influence. Begin there. Encourage Christians to reach out in love to Muslims.”

Secondly, I said, “John you need to find noble, Muslim peacemakers. You should partner with them to win the hearts and minds of their fellow Muslims and turn them against Al Shabaab.”

My response highlights two keys that will help us counter terrorism and promote religious freedom:

 



1. Peace begins with me. What does God expect of me in my sphere of influence? 


Thomas Davis had lived in Padang, Sumatra in Indonesia a number of years ago. Because of this, he was invited to speak at the Muhammadiyah University there recently, and he began his speech with an apology: “I have come from America to ask for forgiveness, because we American Christians have not loved our Muslim neighbors in America as Jesus commanded us to.” The surprised crowd sat eagerly waiting to hear more. So Thomas shared Jesus’s teaching on love and reconciliation, highlighting where followers of Jesus in America have fallen short.

He then continued with some good news: “There is a growing number of Christians in America, like those of us in Peace Catalyst International, who want to live according to the teachings of Jesus.” He explained how he does this by giving practical examples of his own peacemaking work with Muslims in Raleigh.

When Thomas finished speaking, a Muslim Professor from another university stood up and gave an impassioned challenge: “Thomas has come from America to bring a message from God. He and his co-workers are modeling for Indonesian Muslims a better way to live. Indonesian Muslims must also learn to treat Indonesian Christians with kindness and respect. We need to follow Thomas’s example of serving the minority, learning from them, and building friendships with them.”

Thomas was just trying to be faithful and tell his story. He worked for peace within his sphere of influence. The result? His story planted seeds for greater religious freedom in Indonesia.

 

2. Christians need to partner with Muslims to counter terrorism and promote religious freedom.

Douglas Johnston and his organization, the International Center for Faith and Diplomacy partner with Muslims to promote religious freedom and counter terrorism in Pakistan.

For the past ten years they have worked with Muslim leaders of madrasas (religious schools) to expand their curriculums beyond the Qur’an. They have engaged over 1,611 madrasas, enlarging their curriculums to include sciences and a strong emphasis on religious tolerance and human rights.

Johnston wisely notes, “Bombs typically create additional terrorists by exacerbating the cycle of revenge. Education, on the other hand, both drains the swamp of extremism and provides a better future for the children of Pakistan (and, indirectly, for our own children as well)” (Evangelical Peacemakers, edited by David Gushee, 2013. p57).

The Bible says, “seek peace and pursue it” (1 Peter 3:11). I would add, “…in your own sphere of influence and in partnership with Muslim peacemakers.” These two keys will unleash peace, leading to less terrorism and more freedom of religion.

 

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by Nathan F. Elmore

This reflection is based on and inspired by the fascinating story of a man named Dolkun Tunurganjan, a 31-year-old Uighur Muslim from Xinjiang, the semi-autonomous region in northwestern China. Dolkun is currently riding his motorcycle across numerous provinces and regions in China in the name of promoting greater ethnic harmony (you can read more about his story here, in the Global Times).

The largest geographical region in China, Xinjiang features gorgeous deserts and stunning mountains as well as ancient sites along the famous Silk Road. It also has become a volatile political landscape filled with ethnic strife and inter-communal conflicts between the now-majority Han Chinese and the indigenous Uighur Muslims.

 

The ride for peace always begins with—and within—you

Before Dolkun set out on his impassioned, improbable peacemaking mission, he spent seven years in prison for a drunken rape. Obviously he had to come to some very serious terms with himself, in a Chinese prison, before he could imagine what he might do to redeem himself.

While trekking China, he rides his motorcycle draped with a banner—proudly if not rather hopefully—proclaiming, “The Xinjiang people live in harmony with people of all ethnic groups.” Of course, to give that banner any true meaning at all, the one who pronounces such things must first be transformed and embody such things.

So, inescapably, as ever, peace is always down to you and me. Indeed, here’s the remarkable power of the individual—without sounding like a modern disciple of Oprah.

Dolkun’s ride also provides another challenging provocation for peacemakers: the work of reconciliation will only happen along a road marked by sacrifice, sometimes great sacrifice. For him, the journey began in May 2013, with his wife at home and pregnant. Now, he is still at it, motorcycling here and there, having yet to see or hold his seven-month-old son.

 

The ride for peace necessitates creativity through the making of new narratives

By every appearance, the Uighur/Han minority/majority narrative is stale. What is desperately needed is not more of the same: social attitudes, central or local government policies, advocacy strategies, ideological narratives.

Dolkun’s ride injects a bit of creativity into the typical proceedings of strife, hostility and conflict. And he rides, however ironically, without a map and unable to read Chinese characters. Surely his ride goes firmly against the ethnic odds—cutting across the cultural grain. No matter: he is making something new from the old that is.

For the Christian peacemaker, Dolkun’s ride should conjure up that famous biblical storyline of shalom—the Hebrew concept richly infused with the complementary notes of wholeness and well-being, harmony and flourishing. Peacemaking oriented toward reconciliation is always working to bring into wholeness all the broken pieces of a fractured human story.

Not in that dreamy, utopian, generically otherworldly sense. Instead, in that otherworldly but real-world sense whereby the kingdom of God is being revealed on earth as it is in heaven. Walter Brueggemann says, “The Bible is not romantic about its vision. It never assumes shalom will come naturally or automatically.” In other words, you have to put yourself on a motorcycle and ride for it—against the odds and across the grain.

 

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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.