July 14, 2008
— Martin E. Marty
The Economist's (July 5) long headline talks about "Mediation and Faith: Not a Sword, but Peace." The subtitle notes that "In some cases, only the religious have the patience to be reconcilers." The anonymous editors include a couple of cautionary notes, but in the main the story is surprisingly appreciative. It provides "the text for our meditation" this week.
"Public religion," usually sighted hereabouts on local and national scales, has global settings as well. While the world press gets better all the time at reckoning with the role of religion in global affairs, the religious efforts to work on reconciliation and peacemaking often draw slight notice from editors and columnists. Often when they do take up the subject they sneer. Religious mediators get portrayed as naïve, amateurish, foolishly idealistic, and often in the way. Many professional diplomats, who do not have impressive records at bringing about peace and reconciliation, dismiss faith-based efforts and sometimes wish all Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and other faiths which nurture peacemakers would bring their agents home, and let the killings go on.
Most religious peacemakers whom we know do have respect for professional and secular diplomats, but see their own work as pioneering, bridge-building, conversation-starting efforts to prevent conflict, and picking-up-the-pieces endeavors when the killing stops. Americans witnessed samples of the post-killing endeavors after World War II, where the Marshall Plan was complemented by church efforts. Bishop Desmond Tutu and the Peace and Reconciliation efforts in South Africa offer another example.
Let it also be noticed that if religious groups were to produce no peacemakers, no adventurers across the boundaries of hate, they would fail in their own missions. The first emphasis in most sacred scriptures is on the last things, namely visions of a kingdom of peace, a paradise, a sphere of reconciliation. Let it also be observed that in many cases the chief critics of the peacemakers are hawks who share the faith and the country but not the vision of the prophecies and revelation.
The Economist is a newsmagazine, so it discusses recent events, not philosophy. Singled out are, among others, the Sant'Egidio community, which now has 60,000 members in seventy countries; the Netherlands Institute of International Relations; the Search for Common Ground; and more. We learn that such groups are at their best in the hardest cases, meaning those in which combating groups are moved by religious impulses. Sharon Rosen of Search for Common Ground says, "I do not believe that inter-faith dialogue will bring about peace in the Middle East, but I do believe that it is essential if peace is to be brought about. To ignore religion is a very grave mistake" and, for example, "the Oslo accords made that mistake."
One partial downside: Sometimes (and, wouldn't you know, evangelicals are singled out here) some groups accompany their diplomatic missions towards other religions with effforts to evangelize. Overall, however, evangelicals share good intentions and some achievements in what the magazine calls "a crowded sector, that of faith-based peacemaking." In a world given to suspicion, sometimes well-founded, and cynicism, always destructive, it is nice to see corners of the media world which would replace the sneering section not with a cheering section, but with a give-peace-a-chance view from the sidelines.
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.
Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
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