The Emergence Of Faith-Based Diplomacy
Sudan, and ultimately the attacks on September 11th. But also audible is a discordant strain, one that tells of churches and synagogues, imams and pastors, religious parties, communities, and organizations who have worked to bring peace to Sudan, Kashmir, Nicaragua, and Mozambique, peaceful transitions to democracy in Poland, Portugal, the Philippines, South Africa, and across Latin America, and restorative justice to South Africa, Chile, and El Salvador. This strain cries out for amplification. Irenic, restorative, and constructive, it holds great insight for those who seek to quell violent conflict, effect reconciliation, make a peaceful transition to liberal democracy and the rule of law, and elicit justice in the wake of evil.
What begs to be amplified is in fact a whole family of initiatives, all inspired by religious faith, all seeking to bring about peace in conflict situations, restore political orders that have suffered war and injustice, and foster reconciliation among people groups. They may be summarized as “faith-based diplomacy.” In the parlance of diplomats, faith-based diplomacy is “multi-track,” practiced by non state actors, ngo officials, religious leaders or private citizens as an extension of official diplomacy. Most distinctively, it is based in the texts, practices, and traditions of religions. It draws from these religions a two-sided spiritual reality: that God exercises an active hand in human affairs; and that human conduct of politics, especially the repair of broken political orders, ought to be oriented to the transcendent. Practitioners of faith-based diplomacy will, to be sure, draw upon expertise in conflict resolution and analysis, political science and political philosophy, and experience in national security, diplomacy, community development, and the like, but their central compass, around which they integrate this expertise, is their faith.
Here, we seek to describe these principles and practices in the hope that with a keener understanding of them, practitioners can better integrate their faith and their expertise and become what Scott Appleby has called “militants for peace.” From what sources do we draw such principles and practices? One is our own experience. We have practiced faith-based diplomacy in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Sudan, Burundi, and Kashmir (India and Pakistan). Currently, we are working together on a project in Kashmir for the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy in Washington, D.C. that seeks to develop a movement of faith-based reconciliation among the younger generation of Kashmiris, a movement that serves as a means to a political settlement, a framework of sociopolitical healing, and a moral vision that shapes the political order and civil society. We have also learned much from the experiences of other scholars and practitioners working along similar lines, including John Paul Lederach, Rabbi Marc Gopin, Scott Appleby, and the Sant’Egidio Community. Finally, our understanding of faith-based diplomacy comes from our own faith perspective, rooted in Jesus of Nazareth. We have found, though, that the principles and practices of faith-based diplomacy also resonate in other faith traditions. In Kashmir, we have witnessed them effect reconciliation between Hindus and Muslims. Though they will be emphasized and understood differently by different faiths, to be sure, broadly speaking, they are portable. What, then, are these principles and practices?
Faith-based diplomacy is oriented towards the divine -- that is its most central and distinctive principle. Its motivating vision of politics, its assumptions about human nature and the political order, and the norms that govern its conduct all arise from an understanding of the nature and activity of the divine.
Expressing crucially this divine orientation is the vision of the political order that serves as the lodestar, the compass, the roadmap of the faith-based diplomat. As the Abrahamic faiths understand it, God reveals his vision for how his people are to live together through scriptural texts. The Jewish Torah, for instance, often describes this vision as shalom, a harmony that amounts to far more than the negative peace in which people refrain from harming one another, but is a condition of active love for each person consistent with his God-given dignity. Many faiths also look to natural law, divinely instilled moral precepts understood through reason, for guidance in governance.
From these sources emanate principles that prescribe the nature and purpose of government and temporal authority, the duties and entitlements of citizens, the respective roles of temporal and spiritual authority, the distribution of economic wealth, the treatment of the poor, punishment, war, and other matters. Of course, a multiplicity of interpretations of these texts and principles has proliferated down through the centuries, carrying on a continuing conversation. Many of these principles will overlap with secular conceptions, strongly or weakly depending on how they are interpreted.
What is important for the faith-based diplomat is that the political order is ordered by a divinely grounded vision. In any such vision, the “horizontal” relationships between members and between them and outsiders will be modeled upon their “vertical” relationship with the divine. In the Abrahamic faiths, then, people must recognize the sovereignty of God if they are to live faithfully with one another. The very meaning of Islam is submission to God, a concept that is the basis of shari’a, the divine law. For Jews, God’s covenant with the people of Israel and the laws revealed in it are the basis of their common community. Christians view society as ordered around God’s self-revelation in the person and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. When Pope John Paul II proposed forgiveness as a principle for the nations in his address on the World Day of Peace, 2002, he understood this to be a direct response to God’s mercy towards humanity. So, too, the faith-based diplomat, whether he is helping to construct a truth commission, imparting a moral vision to a divided village, building networks of relationship between political and religious leaders, working for a peace settlement, or seeking to build a movement for reconciliation within a civil society, will base his work on what he understands to be a divine will for humanity. Though he recognizes that this vision will not be fulfilled this side of heaven, and though his immersion in the darkest corners of human suffering will frequently remind him of the distance between this vision and the world as it is, it will yet be this vision that motivates him and makes his work intelligible.
An orientation towards the divine, though, involves more than a vision for the political order. Faith-based diplomacy is also premised upon God’s active agency in human affairs. Reconciliation between enemies, solidarity with the poor, and the overturning of unjust structures, along with the practices through which the faith-based diplomat contributes to them -- prayer, fasting religiously based conflict resolution, love for enemies, spiritual friendship -- are understood to be the active work of God with the cooperation of his people.
Such an understanding helps to make sense out of events that may seem surprising on their own terms. Our work in Kashmir features a four-day seminar that imparts a moral vision of reconciliation to activists and leaders in civil society, both Hindu and Muslim. At the beginning of one recent seminar, an angry Hindu stood before the participants and issued a bitter diatribe against the Kashmiri Muslim community --surely an inauspicious beginning for a vision of reconciliation. But over the subsequent days, through the prayer of the seminar leaders, through spiritual conversations between him and several Muslims that extended into the wee hours of the night, and through Muslim expressions of repentance towards him, his spirit was gradually changed. On the final day, he stood up again before the group and apologized for Hindu insensitivity towards Muslim suffering and forgave Muslims for their oppression of Hindus. This is an instance of what we understand to be the work of God.
History’s more famous faith-based social movements were conducted with a similar understanding. The American civil rights movement of the 1950’s was famous for its courageous commitment to overturning unjust laws and its spirit of reconciliation and love of enemies. What is less often recognized is that the movement’s signature activities of marching, imprisonment, and verbal protest were ensconced in prayer, worship, the seeking of the guidance of God, and the life of the Christian community. Individual and community sought God; God shaped the movement’s unique and astonishing politics. Spiritual practice shaped political practice similarly in the Indian movement against British colonialism led by Mahatma Gandhi.
Faith-diplomacy’s orientation to the divine is found, too, in its view of human nature. It understands first that people matter. A trivial statement? Not when one recalls that leading views of international politics view diplomacy as the mere outworking of colossal forces -- the international balance of power, the global economic system, the class structure, technology, and even the globalized western culture of Coca-Cola, blue jeans, and the internet. In faith-based diplomacy, human nature matters in general, as does the vision and leadership of certain humans in particular. In humans is found a spiritual hunger, an alienation that is fulfilled in a living relationship with the divine. Faith-based diplomacy also recognizes the evil in the human soul. Taking the form of the animus dominandi, envy, anger, hatred, and spite, evil is a living, efficacious, spiritual reality, not a mere dysfunction or a byproduct of social conditions. Its eradication and defeat are, in turn, accomplished not through mere human acts, whether the work of psychology or arms, but through the divine. Alienated and susceptible to evil, fulfilled through the divine, the person is the site of potential spiritual transformation. With this potential in mind, faith based diplomacy is conducted. The orientation towards the divine extends into a second broad theme in faith-based diplomacy -- the centrality of reconciliation. Reconciliation has now become familiar in public discourse, virtually a buzzword today in America and a common phrase elsewhere. For some, it arouses deep passions. In a July 2002 opening of the Institute for Reconciliation in Srinagar one prominent Kashmiri journalist challenged the very idea of reconciliation. In a moment of passionate anger he shouted out, “Does reconciliation mean submitting lamely to a rapist when you are being raped as we are here in Kashmir?”
But reconciliation is neither a recent trend nor a Western importation. It is expressed deepest in the ancient religions, who understand justice as the restoration of relationship to shalom, this in contrast to dominant Western conceptions whose response to injustice envisions end states of war and of punishment, understood as a retributive balancing of scales. The languages of the ancient religions express reconciliation as restoration of relationship. In Hebrew, it is expressed as tikkun olam, meaning “to heal, to repair, to transform.” Its Greek derivatives are katallage, apokatallasso, and diallasso, meaning “to bring forces together that would naturally repel each other,” “to break down walls or barriers” and “to heal or change the nature of a relationship.” In Latin, the word concilium, meaning a deliberative process by which adversaries work out their differences “in council,” expresses the concept, while Arabic denotes reconciliation as salima, meaning peace, safety, security, and freedom, and salaha, meaning to be righteous, to do right, settlement, compromise, restoration, and restitution. In Sanskrit the word dhynan (zen) means awakening or enlightenment leading to liberation, reconciliation and atonement. Yoga means “union, integration.”
To be sure, differences abound among and within faith traditionS about the meaning of reconciliation and about the relative roles of punishment, forgiveness, apology, atonement, and the practice of these concepts in public law. But reconciliation is important in each tradition. It pervades the Jewish tradition, in which atonement, central to the Torah, infuses halakhah, the Jewish law, where punishment, repentance, and restitution, are all arrayed towards restoration. Christianity extends atonement to God’s mercy toward sinners on the cross, a restorative act that theologians have long thought relevant to political orders. Though Islam often appears harshly retributivist, the Qur’ an’s repeated references to Allah’s mercy and injunctions to forgiveness imply a restorative logic, one indeed practiced in Arabic rituals of sulh, designed to bring reconciliation between offenders and victims. What of Hinduism? The conception of dharma, or human obligations, found in the Laws of Manu, appears to stress retributive punishment, but speaks also of repentance and penance, through which an offender is restored in his soul and returned to his rightful place in the social order. Reconciliation reached its height in Hinduism through the life and thought of Mahatma Gandhi, who once exemplified his vision by counseling a Hindu murderer of a Muslim to find an orphan Muslim boy and raise him as Muslim. In Buddhism, the restoration of the offender’s soul and the relationship of the estranged epitomize the faith. Both its compendium of ethics, the Vinaya, and the judicial practice of traditional Tibetan culture stress reconciliation as a response to evil. If restoration of relationship found in faith traditions, then so, too, the restoration of political orders wounded by war and injustice relationships is a natural principle for faith-based diplomacy, a close cousin of its divinely grounded views of the nature of the political order, the dynamic force behind politics, and human nature form a divine perspective.
What, then, does reconciliation mean for faith-based diplomacy? When armies are squared off and guns firing, reconciliation demands first a political settlement among leaders. But a settlement is not enough. Reconciliation involves a far greater breadth of participants and depth of transformation among them. Absent this breadth and depth, even a political settlement itself may not succeed. Six years after Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat achieved an apparent breakthrough for peace in the Oslo Accords, the two sides descended into a war of suicide bombings and harsh Israeli reprisals. When asked why Oslo had collapsed, the lead U.S. negotiator of the agreement, Dennis Ross, commented that whereas political leaders had come to an agreement, far too much hatred, far too little sympathy for peace persisted between the Israeli and Palestinian people. What was needed was a change of hearts and minds at the grassroots and middle levels of society. Such reconciliation on the ground can exert upward pressure on political leadership, eliciting new possibilities for a lasting peace.
The deeper, broader reconciliation of faith-based diplomacy is in fact a family of interwoven ideas. Together, they propose reconciliation as a moral vision for wounded societies. The healing of historical wounds is indeed the first of these ideas. Prominent contemporary theories hold that bitter memories of past injustices are only illusory causes of racial, ethnic, and religious war, conflicts whose true causes are cynical elites who manipulate popular identities, the trauma of economic and political transition, globalization, and dysfunctional demographic patterns. A faith-based perspective demurs. Such factors doubtless contribute to conflict, but they ignore the power of memories of past crimes and massacres against one’s parents, grandparents, great grandparents, and even one’s community of past centuries to erupt afresh into atrocities. Left unhealed, historical wounds fester endlessly. The Jewish author Elie Wiesel once wrote, “That which is forgotten cannot be healed and that which is unhealed becomes the cause of greater evil in the future.”
But if the power of memories is not illusory, neither is the power of healing. Crucially, it is not forgetting. It begins with the members of a community examining intensely their suffering at the hands of their enemy. The next, more dramatic step is their acknowledgment of their enemy’s suffering. This recognition can, often to surprising degrees, lead to the change of heart, the repentance, and the embrace of the other in which healing begins. As the religious traditions -- and faith-based diplomacy --understand it, this examination, acknowledgment, and healing occur before, through, and with the assistance of divine power.
The second idea, flowing from the first, is apology and forgiveness, practiced with respect to misdeeds perpetrated in the name of the political order. Apology is the acknowledgment of and expression of sorrow to one’s victim for one’s misdeeds; forgiveness is the victim’s foregoing of all claims to anger, resentment, and payment against her offender. Such practices are usually not the first inclination of doers and sufferers of evil; the change in heart that comes from examination and acknowledgement are usually prerequisites. Apology and forgiveness are essential to the restoration of wounded communities; their absence leaves a good distance between former enemies. It is not surprising that most religious traditions give prominent place to these practices. The Abrahamic faiths understand them as direct responses to God’s mercy.
In our seminars in Kashmir, we have often found that we could not talk about apology and forgiveness until we had first addressed a third aspect of reconciliation: social justice. The participants could not acknowledge or forego anger towards “the other, ” they insisted, until the seminar addressed such issues as self-determination, human rights, colonialism, racism, democracy, economic justice, and restitution for past evils. So we discovered the important interrelationship between justice and forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean giving up the pursuit of justice. At the same time, justice without forgiveness becomes revenge motivated by anger and hostility toward “the other.”
As with reconciliation and visions for the political order, the long history of thought about social justice in virtually all of the faith traditions, both voluminous and contentious, must be acknowledged. But a few common threads are worth stressing. First, accountability for injustices on the part of offenders is essential. Reconciliation without it is cheap. Second, most religions propose a healthy pluralism and inclusion, two other aspects of reconciliation, where people of varying ethnicities, races and religions move beyond tolerating one another’s rights, but value and embrace one another for their very differences, affirming the richness of complementarity. For example, Surah 49:13 in the Quran affirms the inclusivity of all peoples regardless of racial or ethnic origin. Virtually all faiths advocate an economics of compassion that gives special emphasis to the dignity of the poor. Other principles can also be included as should the familiarly liberal democratic ones that our participants stressed. Most important here is the indispensability of social justice for reconciliation.
The practice of faith-based diplomacy begins with the site of its operation. One of the contemporary practitioners of faith-based diplomacy, John-Paul Lederach, argues in his book Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies, for the strategic importance of the middle layers of society -- religious leaders, civil servants, officials of non-governmental organizations, student leaders and professionals, including lawyers, doctors, business people, academics, journalists, writers, and the like. Political philosophers as far back as Alexis de Tocqueville and G.W.F. Hegel have conceived this middle layer as “civil society,” and have understood its value in promoting democratic participation and an alternative source of power to the state. What value does this layer hold for reconciliation? Unlike top officials, who are typically under the great political pressure attendant to their responsibility for the whole, the middle rungs enjoy more flexibility to envision and practice creative ideas. Yet, they also have more influence than people at the grassroots and have enough contact with leaders above them to urge reconciliation upon them. Under this rationale, we focus our seminars in Kashmir on civil society and have indeed found it receptive to reconciliation and eager to promote it in their spheres of influence.
A second practice of faith-based diplomacy is its critical emphasis on personal relationships. This is only natural, given its openness to the activity of God, its emphasis on personal transformation, and the role of healing and apology. The faith-based diplomat forms friendships with the people she works with and encourages friendship among them. Our work in Kashmir has depended vitally on our friendship with a young Muslim man who has trod his own path of reconciliation away from a life that involved militancy and imprisonment on behalf of his cause towards becoming a leading spokesman for peace. Our commitment to one another’s welfare and to encouraging one another in our mutual work is essential for the trust that allows us to take risks together. Multiplied into a network, friendships are the adhesive that binds the rest of the work together.
A third practice of faith-based diplomacy is prayer and fasting. Embraced as a practice by most religious traditions, prayer and fasting emphasizes the believer’s dependence and submission to God. It unleashes spiritual power into difficult or intractable situations and effects transformation of hearts and conflicts. Our experience with intractable identity-based conflict has taught us that analyzing the root of the problem or understanding the negotiating positions of the parties or communicating information in workshops or empowering middle level leaders with conflict resolution skills is not enough. Each has a critical role to play, but in the face of bitter intractable conflict one cannot dismiss the transformational potential of the divine that can resurrect a phoenix out of the ashes. In our work we have seen the dynamic of transformation play out time and again. It is a common practice for us in the conduct of our work to incorporate a prayer and fasting component to our team. The job description of these individuals is to engage in prayer and fasting during activities such as reconciliation seminars, diplomatic meetings or civil society forums. On the first occasion that we brought Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits together in Gulmarg in July 2002, the reconciliation seminar began in an awkward and tense climate of anger, fear, mistrust and demonization. We had taken a bold, but calculated risk and we would not have done so without the presence of a prayer and fasting contingent on the team. Two days later we witnessed a powerful breakthrough of healing when Islamic clerics and scholars stood up during a service of reconciliation, acknowledged the role of the Muslims in the driving out of the Pandits, repented, asked forgiveness and vowed to work for repatriation of the Pandit community to the Kashmir Valley. Days later when the Pandits returned home to the camps around Jammu it sent shock waves through the camps as they shared their experience and their own change of hearts toward Muslims. Can we scientifically prove that the prayer and fasting brought about the transformation? No, but as people of faith we know that what happened went beyond simple human agency.
A fourth practice of faith-based diplomacy is spiritual conversations. Political leaders or militants are frequently surprised and disarmed by the ability of the faith-based diplomat to go “below the line” and connect on a heart to heart level. People engaged in conflict are often starved for conversations that enable them to share their own struggles, pain, doubts, fears, hopes and dreams. On one occasion we engaged a prominent separatist leader in a conversation about forgiveness. For the first forty five minutes of the conversation we were treated to an angry and passionate monologue cataloguing his personal pain and suffering. When he finished he looked at us and we thanked him for trusting us enough to share on such a personal level. He then told us that we were the first people that seemed to care enough to listen to his pain and suffering. Later he acknowledged that both he and his people would need to reach a point of forgiveness if there was to be any future. A startling admission that one was not likely to read in the sound bites of the media!
A fifth practice of faith-based diplomacy is the use of rituals in conflict resolution methodology or in healing wounded history. So called “prophetic actions” can be powerful symbols that energize a demoralized community and create a climate of hope. Visitation and rituals at places of past suffering can be an important part of the communal healing process. On numerous occasions we have participated in on site reconciliation ceremonies that brought key political and religious leaders together at the site of an historic injustice or place of suffering. There is a powerful healing dynamic when the leaders of an offending community acknowledge the historical action, apologize and ask the forgiveness of leaders of the victimized community, who then extend forgiveness.
A sixth practice of faith-based diplomacy is utilizing faith-based forms of intervention in conflict resolution processes. In the Islamic context, for example, the ritual of sulh (settlement), which has its origins in village and tribal contexts, is a process of reconciliation that seeks to resolve a conflict between two parties by involving the families and the officials of the community. It seeks not only to end the hostilities and resolve the issues, but, also to restore the relationships.
We have utilized a combination of the reconciliation basic seminar and the learning conversation model as a method of faith-based conflict resolution. The reconciliation basic seminar utilizes a series of presentations, small group exercises and a reconciliation service to teach eight core values of faith-based reconciliation, train participants in reconciliation/peacebuilding skills and provide a climate for divine transformation. The Learning Conversation seeks to create a tri level conversation in the context of an intractable identity-based conflict and includes the following steps: relationship building, establishing common ground, discussion of the conflict, discussion of the macro picture about reconciliation in that context, sharing about areas of offense caused and received and the need for forgiveness, exploring settlement frameworks and exploring creative options for negotiating a mutually satisfactory solution to the conflict. In utilizing these two models together in different situations we have witnessed breakthroughs in the negotiating process because the toxin has been removed from the relationship and created the ability to engage in a problem solving mode.
Faith-based diplomacy is most appropriate in four specific situations. First, is the situation where religion forms an important part of the collective identity of the conflicting or estranged parties or where religious issues are at the heart of the conflict. Kashmir is a prime example where religion plays a key role in the collective identity of Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits. Sudan is another example where intractable identity-based conflict exists between the Christian and Muslim communities. The Balkans has been a key area of religiously based conflict among Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats and Bosnian Muslims.
In an increasing number of conflict situations and wounded societies the international network of militant non state actors animated by religious faith have become a major factor in the resolution of conflict, the restoration of political order and the reconciliation of people groups. In Kashmir, for example, the growing presence of non-Kashmiri, al Qaeda linked militant groups has moved the conflict away from the primary goal of Kashmiri self-determination to a broader objective of extending Dar al Islam. One of our colleagues in Kashmir who understands the militant movement from the perspective of a former insider has posited the argument that Kashmir is evolving into a religious conflict where the agenda is being prosecuted by non indigenous, non-state actors. As such, typical secular approaches to diplomacy simply are ineffective because they fail to win the trust of the conflicting parties and to understand and draw upon a worldview informed by an orientation towards the divine. As a former militant leader shared with us, “It is not enough to take the gun out of the militant’s hand. One must deal with the ideas that cause him to pick up the gun in the first place. To do that, one must present a more compelling idea.” In our work we are discovering that faith-based reconciliation represents a compelling alternative to militant Islam and a more accurate understanding of the Abrahamic tradition.
Second, is the situation of mobilizing faith-based people as peacemaking assets in conflict situations and wounded societies. Frequently an analysis of a conflict situation leads one to discover that the grass roots religious leaders are part of the problem instead of the solution. During the height of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia it was frequently poorly educated priests and imams that were stirring the passions and resentments of village people. Captive to a bitter history, many of them were animated by a nationalistic rather than a religious agenda. Often they were cynically manipulated by the state or other political leaders and utilized to provide a theological covering for settling old scores. In this type of situation it is best to begin working with middle level religious leaders who are usually better educated and have a greater sense of the common good. If they can be infused with a vision of faith-based reconciliation, they will influence the leaders on a grassroots level.
Third, is the situation of civilizational dialogue. Faith-based diplomacy is particularly equipped to understand and ameliorate the ongoing tensions between different major cultural groupings where religion plays a key role as an anchor point in collective identity. Perhaps most prominent are the tensions between the Islamic world and the West, shaped largely by the Judeo-Christian heritage and a long history of misunderstanding, mistrust and attempts at domination on both sides. Faith-based diplomats are often better informed and grounded in the complexities of theological concepts which define the differing worldviews. This enables them to avoid shallow and misguided attempts at establishing lowest common denominator forms of common ground. Bridgebuilding attempts, for example, with the Islamic world that fail to understand the centrality of the Abrahamic tradition and the notion of submission to God are doomed to failure.
Finally, is the situation where faith-based diplomats become trusted envoys based on the rapport they have developed with conflicting parties even when religion plays no role in communal identity or the cause of the conflict. The “gospel friendship” approach of the Sanť Egidio community in Mozambique established caring friendships with the leaders both in Renamo and Frelimo. In time Sanť Egidio leveraged this repport with both sides to create a dynamic of reconciliation on the personal level so as to engender new possibilities for political settlement and to open the door for official negotiation mediated by the OAU and other state actors. The role of The Reverend
Jesse Jackson in negotiating for hostages in Yugoslavia and in Lebanon is a prime example of faith-based diplomats as targeted envoys.
In conclusion, faith-based diplomacy is an emerging discipline informed by principles such as an orientation to the divine and the centrality of reconciliation. It has distinct practices that seek to utilize the tools of religious faith in the conduct of statecraft. And it has an important contribution to make in certain interstate and intrastate situations. Faith-based diplomacy, to paraphrase the words of the French author, Victor Hugo, is “an idea whose time has come.”