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I was asked in 2011 to contribute an article to a special issue of the journal Religions published by the Doha International Center for Interfaith Dialogue (Qatar). The Editor-in-Chief is Patrick Laude, a faculty member of the Georgetown University extension in Doha and this was a special issue on "Ecological Responsibility." The Keynote article was written by Prince Charles of Wales and my article was the first one after his. Twelve more followed mine, including one by Omid Safi, "Qur'an and Nature: Cosmos as Divine Manifestation in Qur'an and Islamic Spirituality." Two other articles were written by Christians, both Orthodox. There were two Jews, three Muslims (including Safi), one Buddhist, one Hindu, one Chinese author emphasizing the diversity of views of China's "Three Teachings" (Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism). There was also one article on indigenous African religions and environmentalism and another by Yale scholar Mary Evelyn Tucker on "World Religions, Earth Charter and Ethics for a Sustainable Future."

My article, “Muslim-Christian Trusteeship of the Earth: What Jesus Can Contribute,” is a combination of things I have written before, except for my extensive use of Glen Stassen and David Gushee's Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003). I was also arguing that being trustees of the Earth included peacebuilding among humans.  Truly, a holistic approach to caring for the enviroment also entails we take care of one another as fellow human beings. Peacebuilding encompasses all the above concerns, as Glen Stassen's ten steps for Just Peacemaking demonstrate. Wars have become more and more destructive on people and nature.

Take notice of their interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount, especially. I believe you will find the idea of "transformative initiative" very helpful, whatever your spiritual orientation.

 

I was finally able to finish the revised draft of my translation of Ghanouchi’s book in June and in July I completed the changes to my book, Justice and Love: A Muslim-Christian Conversation. The Equinox Publishing owner and chief editor told me she was delighted I got this done after an almost three-year hiatus and would work on getting an outside reviewer immediately. This doesn’t mean there won’t be more work for both of these projects, and especially for the translation – I will have to deal with comments and suggestions coming from Ghannouchi’s family and two blind reviewers this fall! But I feel a great sense of relief!

Justice and Love is five chapters and is a bit more than 150 pages. All five chapters and the Conclusion begin with short case studies of conflicts or injustices that cry out for resolution in contexts where Muslims and Christians are involved: Israel-Palestine, Pakistan, Egypt, racial reconciliation in the US, and Nigeria. Three of those I did from scratch last month and that’s why I checked out an edited book by Susan Thislethwaite, Interfaith Just Peacemaking (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011). I did not use it in the end, but I will now. It is so very significant for the sake of advancing the cause of peace in our troubled world.

In addition, I know several of the contributors to this book, including the man who conceived of this project from the beginning, the late Glen Stassen (d. 2014), a Christian ethicist and activist who finished his teaching career at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, CA. Have a look at his obituary in the NY Times: “Glen Stassen, Theologian; Championed Nuclear Disarmament.” The first paragraph is telling:

 

“Glen H. Stassen, a Southern Baptist theologian who helped define the social-justice wing of the evangelical movement in the 1980s and played a role in advancing nuclear disarmament talks toward the end of the Cold War, died on April 25 in Pasadena, Calif. He was 78.”

 

Stassen’s seminal work was Just Peacemaking: Transforming Initiatives of Justice and Peace (Westminster Press, 1992). His main insight was to add a third option between pacifism and just war theory, namely preventing war in the first place. How is that possible? Stassen listed ten practical steps to achieve conflict resolution and the prevention of war. But already a movement was forming around these ideas. For one thing, twenty-three scholars collaborated with him over five years in refining this paradigm. The third edition of that edited book was published in 2008 (Just Peacemaking: The New Paradigm for the Ethics of War and Peace, Pilgrim Press). Interestingly, President Barack Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech mentioned each one of these of these ten steps for a just peace.

[For a more in-depth treatment of how the teaching of Jesus led Glen Stassen to his work on just peacemaking, see my article on Jesus, environmentalism and peacebuilding in the journal Religions published by the Doha International Center for Interfaith Dialogue.]

These scholars represented several disciplines, many Protestant denominations, and a number were Catholic as well. Right from the beginning, they phrased these practices in a way that could be adopted by adherents of other faiths. Meanwhile, shortly after 9/11, the Justice Department under President George W. Bush gave a substantial grant to Fuller Seminary for a Muslim-Christian dialog project in partnership with the Salaam Institute for Peace and Justice in Washington, DC, from 2003 to 2008. I personally benefitted from that grant in two ways. I received grant money for my writing of Earth, Empire and Sacred Text, and I participated in two long weekend conferences in Pasadena with Christian and Muslim scholars (2005, 2006). The result was Peace-Building by, between, and beyond Muslims and Evangelical Christians, Mohammed Abu-Nimer and David Augsburger, eds. (Rowman & Littlefield, 2009). Glen Stassen, as you might imagine, was very much a part of those dialogs.

The story of the present book, Interfaith Just Peacemaking, picks up precisely at this point. The positive momentum generated by those Muslim-Christian dialogs led to a new, wider project, and this time with the support of the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). Jewish scholars were invited to join and in total thirty scholars gathered in January 2009 for the Interfaith Just Peacemaking conference. They decided to put together a book with introduction and conclusion, ten chapters, with three scholars from each tradition contributing to each chapter.

Thistlethwaite notes that the Jews and Muslims drew attention to the importance of scripture: “We are text-based faiths; we need to base our peacemaking practices on our scriptures” (3). But another important issue was building trust. How do you create an atmosphere in which no one feels under attack and therefore has to write defensively, or apologetically? This would apply especially to the Muslim scholars, considering the growing Islamophobia in the 2000s. Fortunately, during the earlier conference at Stony Point (2007) participants had to present papers that included past instances when their own scriptures had been used to justify violence. Naturally, the fact that all three traditions had plenty of examples to share served as an icebreaker. “So we experienced a remarkably nondefensive spirit as we worked together” (3).

By now I’m sure you’re wondering what those ten practices of just peacemaking are …

 

The ten practices to build peace

Practice Norm 1: Support nonviolent direct action

            Think of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr, but also of Christian and Muslim women who came together to protest the civil war under the name Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace. Because they staged a sit-in outside the presidential palace while negotiations were ongoing, they pressured the mostly male assembly to sign a peace agreement in 2003)

Practice Norm 2: Take independent initiatives to reduce threat

            These are a series of steps taken graciously by one side, and clearly communicated, in order to de-escalate tensions and encourage reciprocation. Under presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy the US said it would halt nuclear testing for a year and if the USSR also halted, it would continue to do so for another year. In both cases the Soviet Union reciprocated and eventually this led to “the treaty that halted nuclear testing above ground, under water, and in outer space” (34).

Practice Norm 3: Use cooperative conflict resolution

            Former adversaries are encouraged to actively and creatively cooperate in finding mutually acceptable solutions. “To truly engage in this kind of initiative, participants must be willing to listen carefully, understand the perspectives of their adversaries, and suspend judgment, even though they may personally disagree” (51). Though the Sri Lankan government defeated the separatist movement (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) in 2009, the end of the 26-year civil war left plenty of tensions between Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians. The USIP partnered with the Columbo-based Centre for Peace-Building and Reconciliation and began training 100 clergy and professionals from all four communities. This has made a remarkable difference on the ground in the last decade.

Practice Norm 4: Acknowledge responsibility for conflict and injustice and seek repentance and forgiveness

            This is an attempt to build empathy and trust between both sides. This is a lot more promising than it seems, mostly because the idea of apology, pardon and reconciliation has gained so much traction in literature, sociology, political science, and psychology. Yet even as it has garnered interest in these secular contexts, interfaith movements have been multiplying in many parts of the world, and not least in Israel-Palestine, the Balkans and in West Africa.

Practice Norm 5: Advance democracy, human rights, and interdependence

            I will end with a few more thoughts on this one. Just one word here: “no democracy with human rights fought a war against another democracy with human rights in all the twentieth century (although some funded and fomented wars by others)” (87).

Practice Norm 6: Foster just and sustainable economic development

            This involves not just material prosperity but also “the cultivation and growth of the individual person … Just Peace cannot truly be said to exist without a resultant state of human flourishing … Sustainable development also requires the defense of the human rights and economic and property rights of the poor … and is therefore inseparable from legal and political development” (111).

Practice Norm 7: Work with emerging cooperative forces in the international system

            We can rejoice in and seek to develop more of the social activism that through the social media has multiplied in the last couple of decades. But mostly, we should contribute to nongovernmental organizations that seek to alleviate the plight of the poor and shine a light on human rights violations. Some NGOs are faith-based, but many are not. Both types need to be supported.

Practice Norm 8: Strengthen the United Nations and international efforts for cooperation and human rights

            Despite its flaws, the U.N. represents a key factor in fostering world peace. “Empirical data show that the more nations are engaged in supporting U.N. actions, the fewer wars they experience” (145).

Practice Norm 9: Reduce offensive weapons and the weapons trade

            By lowering military budgets nations are able to spend more on sustainable development and in alleviating poverty. The arms trade has only increased the risk of conflict and war. We must find ways to build trust and cooperative conflict resolution.

Practice Norm 10: Encourage grassroots peacemaking groups and voluntary organizations

            Individual peacemakers can only be effective as they build peacemaker communities and movements. “Grassroots organizations are inherently focused on transformation and do not easily become entrenched in cycles that perpetuate conflict and injustice” (195).

 

The crucial nexus of democracy and human rights

I want to conclude with the “Christian Reflection” by Matthew V. Johnson Sr., an African American pastor from Atlanta, an academic (PhD in philosophical theology from the University of Chicago Divinity School) and an activist (national director of Every Church a Peace Church). It’s easy to pick out the speck in our brother’s eye, Jesus said, and much harder to take out the log in our own. We can name any number of human rights abuses in other nations, but they are more difficult to see at home. Johnson quotes Martin Luther King Jr: “We have moved from the era of civil rights to the era of human rights, an era where we are called upon to raise certain basic questions about the whole society” (99).

Democracy in the United States, he then asserts, “excluded African Americans and other minorities.” Giving them their full human rights is a foundational democratic objective. Yet our track record so far is spotty at best: “The commitment to democratic values and ideals has ranged from very warm when in the interests of the ruling party, class, or race, to ice cold when it comes to subjects, servants, and slaves.” Western democracies in general leave many with a “hermeneutic of suspicion.” But that “healthy skepticism” does not undermine belief in democracy” (102).

The African American church, as a result, has developed over the years “an ethic of struggle,” focusing on the prophetic tradition of the Old Testament (the prophets calling for social justice) and on the eschatological passages in both testaments. God promises to make all things right in the world to come, and even before that he will come to judge the nations and all the oppressors and evildoers. One such passage also mentions peace: “And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall no longer lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isaiah 2:4).

Racism in daily life has worsened for African Americans in the last couple of years. The high incidence of young blacks being shot by police is not going away, despite Black Lives Matter and other organizations. But though there’s been progress, sustainable economic development for this community is far behind what it is for whites, Asian Americans and Latinos. Look at this NPR article from yesterday on black homeownership (“In Baltimore, the gap between white and black home ownership persists”). That rate is about the same ratio as it is nationally: 43 percent for blacks, versus 72 percent for whites. But if you look at the graph there, you will see a dramatic decrease in rates for blacks after the “Great Recession” a decade ago. In fact, “the black homeownership rate today is just the same as it was in 1967.”

This is a failure in democracy and human rights, and as you can see, many of those norms for just peacemaking are interconnected and work not just internationally but nationally within the domestic fabric of each nation. Yet these are issues we can work on and successfully move forward, particularly in an interfaith mode. The third Muslim member of Congress was named last night (Rashida Tlaib replaced Rep. John Conyers who resigned last year) and the first Muslim woman. That’s on the political level, which of course is crucial for a democracy. But at the grassroots level, we should rejoice at all the interfaith organizations working in so many locations around this country. I know Peace Catalyst International very well, but there are others too, like the Abrahamic Alliance in the Bay Area pictured above. This should give us much hope.