How to work for peace in the midst of inter-religious war? That’s the challenge which the speakers addressed at a recent interfaith gathering at Hanover Street Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, Delaware. Bernie and Farsijana Adeney-Risakotta, husband and wife peacemaking educators from the Presbyterian Church USA, shared stories about opening their home in Indonesia to neighbors from several religious traditions. That far-flung nation of over 17,500 islands had enjoyed a long history of tolerance, but in recent years severe religious conflicts erupted, resulting in much loss of life and destruction of homes and places of worship.
Bernie explained that often such conflicts are not principally about religious differences. They are much more about social injustices, such as inadequate access to clean water, food, and shelter, prejudicial employment practices, political corruption, and wrongful imprisonment. Patterns of religious affiliation often correspond to contours of culture and ethnicity. Members of one religion get treated less fairly than members of another. Rightly or wrongly, religion can thus become an identifier by which people draw lines between the haves and have-nots, victims and perpetrators. Where grievous injustices abound, religion may serve as a tool to awaken, inspire, and organize masses of adherents to resist oppression.
We return to the subject of this post: How to work for peace in the midst of inter-religious warring? Efforts at interfaith reconciliation often begin with study sessions comparing and contrasting religious beliefs and practices. Such confabs are not likely to scratch where people itch, because they remain fairly cerebral, either overlooking or intentionally skirting the existential issues that give rise to resentment, and sometimes outright fury.
What’s the best way, then, to start interfaith peacemaking, if not by conducting interfaith dialogues? What did Bernie and Farsijana do when their once tolerant nation exploded into religious warfare? They invited neighbors from opposing factions into their own home, to cook and eat together, then to plan work that would improve life in their vicinity. They got to know each other first through their stomachs, and then through the work of their hands, and then through the empathy of their hearts, and finally, through the understanding of their minds.
Please have a look at videos produced by the Interfaith Youth Core and you will discover that the IFYC wisely adopted this very practical action-reflection model for interfaith peacemaking: Eat together and work together first in acts of service for the common good. Then study. This is the best way for interfaith peacemakers to proceed.