Yesterday, when I was asked to speak at a Methodist Women’s Conference here in LA, I told the women that I believed war must and can be abolished, just like slavery, and that if women united, they could abolish war. Do you agree? If so, how can we go about this critical task? I makes some suggestions in this talk, but would love to hear your ideas. I am convinced that ending war will take a huge interfaith effort, comparable to what the women of Liberia did when they drove out the warlords and elected an enlightened woman president–a little known story that I discuss in my talk.
Building a Culture of Peace, Abolishing War
I am delighted and honored to be back at this church after only six months to be part of this distinguished interfaith panel. Last fall I spoke to you about my experiences with the Parliament of the World’s Religions inMelbourne,Australia. This gathering takes place every five years and brings together 6,000 plus religious and spiritual leaders who meet to seek ways to make the world a better place.
The local Parliament group that I belong to is striving to create a culture of peace by bringing together people of different faith to share insights, music, religious practices, and ways of worship. This kind of trust-building work is essential for creating a culture of peace. For too long, differences among religions have been seen as a source of conflict, and have even led to bloodshed. The interfaith movement says, in effect, Vive la difference! Let’s appreciate our differences and learn from each us, because deep inside we are all one—one human family made in the image of God, and made to serve God and love each other.
The fact that you have invited representatives of the three Abrahamic faiths—Judaism, Islam and Christianity–to be part of this panel is a sign that this church is committed to building a culture of peace.
Today I would like to share with you about another side of interfaith peacemaking, what I call the prophetic.
All three Abrahamic faiths believe that God sent prophets to speak the truth to those in power, and those in power don’t really like the truth very much, as we have seen in their reaction to Wikileaks. Bradley Manning was not only imprisoned, but subjected to conditions tantamount to torture, for allegedly revealing government secrets. If governments were following the teachings of the prophets, if they were acting morally and ethically, they wouldn’t have to keep secrets. Dictatorships thrive on secrecy. Democracies require openness and transparency, and a free press willing to publish the truth, no matter what people in power say.
The prophets speak out for the concerns of the poor and marginalized. They call for the redistribution of wealth so that everyone will have enough to live comfortably. They condemn usury, what we call predatory lending. They also call for an end to war, and for people of all faiths to worship together in peace and harmony. As Isaiah said, “My house shall be a house of prayer for all people.” Jesus echoed these words when he went to theTempleand threw out the money changers. “My House will be a house of prayer for all people, and you have turned it into a den of thieves.”
The prophets recognize that you can’t have peace without justice, and you can’t have peace unless you make peace your daily practice.
The Holy Qur’an has a beautiful passage stating that true worshippers of God are those practice peace in their daily lives. It says, The worshipers of the Most Gracious are those who tread the earth gently, and when the ignorant speak to them, they only utter, “Peace.” (25:63)
The Torah makes it clear that peace and justice are linked. The prophet Zechariah says: “These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another, render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace, do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath; for all these are things that I hate, says the LORD.” 2 Zec 8
And of course, Jesus makes peace his core teaching: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Matthew 5:9.
The prophets are clear: in order to build a culture of peace, we must also work for justice and oppose war and all its lies. That is the mission of the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization that I support. It is also the mission of Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace—an organization that was founded after 9/11 with the motto: “Religious Communities Must Stop Blessing War and Violence.” And it is the mission of organizations such as the Methodist Federation for Social Action.
As a peace maker, I have a clear and simple mission. I want to abolish war, not simply end the current ones inAfghanistan,Iraq, and nowLibya. How many in this room feel that war can be abolished?
I know it seems like a daunting task. But it is not impossible. Wars are man-made institutions, created for political purposes. Human beings were not created by God to be warriors, nor are we genetically programmed to be killers. Psychologists and even military experts agree that people must be trained to be soldiers, and it’s not an easy task. Without such training, normal human beings would not willingly kill other human beings.
Yet many people falsely believe war is part of human nature. This myth is similar to the myth once widely believed that some people are born to be slaves. For thousands of years, people held this false belief. It is even written into the original Constitution of theUnited Stateswhere slaves are defined as 3/5 of a human being. Today we look back on slavery with horror and are ashamed that our country was founded on the myth that slavery is normal and natural.
How did we come to abolish slavery? People of faith banded together—men and women, Methodists and Quakers, Congregationalists, and many others. These abolitionists worked tirelessly and courageously to free the minds of those who believed slavery was divinely ordained. Abolitionists were often reviled, and sometimes attacked and beaten. When the Quakers built a hall inPhiladelphiain 1838 so that abolitionist speakers could have a place to express their views, an angry mob burned down the hall. John Greenleaf Whittier, after whom the city ofWhittierwas named, was stoned by an angry mob when he spoke out against slavery.
It took many decades and much blood and tears to end slavery, but today it is universally recognized that slavery is immoral and illegal. Sad to say, forms of slavery still exist, but every country in the world regards slavery as a crime.
I believe that if an institution as deeply entrenched as slavery can be abolished, so can war. But we can’t end war unless we join together—men and women of diverse faiths—just as the women ofLiberiadid. I am glad that you will have an opportunity to see what women of faith did inLiberiato end the bloody civil war in their country. “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” is an amazing story of faith and courage that proves nonviolence works. This is a story that deserves to be more widely known. When women unite, they can be amazingly powerful.
Trying to end war is a huge task. But if each of us made a commitment to do something each day to promote peace, and if we do it with deep faith, I believe we can make a huge difference. When I became involved in helping to end the Cold War in 1980s, I imagined it would take decades to bring this 40-year conflict to an end; in fact, I wasn’t sure it would end in my lifetime. But I felt a deep sense of urgency and took part in the citizen diplomacy movement that helped build bridges of peace between our two nations. Thousands of Americans went to the Soviet Union to promote peace and good will, and thousands of Russians came to theUnited Statesfor the same purpose, during the Reagan era. These committed peace activists influenced Reagan and Gorbachev to end the Cold War—one of the great achievements of our time. Today Reagan and Gorbachev are given credit for ending the Cold War, but they would not have been able to do so if the citizens of their respective countries did not support them and insist that the Cold War must end.
Today our country is committed to endless war, a war that uses terroristic means to end terrorism. Most Americans know this is a futile effort, and most want to see the troops brought home fromAfghanistanand elsewhere. We have hundred of military bases around the war. We spend trillions of dollars killing people, destroying homes and polluting the environment. These actions are not bringing us any closer to peace; they are simply enriching those who are in the military industrial complex.
We need to do more than oppose the current war. We must make a determined effort to end ALL war, just as abolitionists wanted to end ALL slavery. To abolish war, we must be as committed and courageous as the women ofLiberia. We must do everything we can to build a culture of peace and to remove the seeds of war from our lives. There are many things you can do: write your elected officials, support peace organizations. Also, live simply. Consume less. Depend less on fossil fuel. Our consumerism helps to fuel war. War is an addiction, but it is curable I hope that in our discussion, we can brainstorm ways to end our addiction war.. Let’s work together to build a culture of peace and justice. YES, WE CAN!
(The movie “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” and then screened, and we had a very good discussion, led by a female UCLA student.)
Liberia facts from Wikipedia:
A peace movement called Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace was instrumental to the end of hostilities in Monrovia. Organized by social worker Leymah Gbowee, thousands of Christian and Muslim women staged silent protests and forced a meeting with President Charles Taylor and extracted a promise from him to attend peace talks in Ghana. Gbowee then led a delegation of Liberian women to Ghana to continue to apply pressure on the warring factions during the peace process. They staged a sit in outside of the Presidential Palace, blocking all the doors and windows and preventing anyone from leaving the peace talks without a resolution. The women of Liberia became a political force against violence and against their government. Their actions brought about an agreement during the stalled peace talks. As a result, the women were able to achieve peace in Liberia after a 14-year civil war and later helped bring to power the country’s first female head of state. The story is told in the 2008 documentary film Pray the Devil Back to Hell.
After the exile of Taylor, Gyude Bryant was appointed chairman of the transitional government in late 2003. Because of failures of the Transitional Government in curbing corruption, Liberia signed onto GEMAP, a novel anti-corruption program. The primary task of the transitional government was to prepare for fair and peaceful democratic elections.
With UNMIL troops safeguarding the peace, Liberia successfully conducted presidential and legislative elections on October 11, 2005. There were 23 candidates; an early favorite was George Weah, an internationally famous footballer, UNICEF goodwill ambassador, and member of the Kru ethnic group expected to dominate the popular vote. Though Weah garnered a plurality of the votes, no candidate gained the required majority, prompting a runoff election between the top two candidates, Weah and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Harvard-trained economist and former minister of finance who had been jailed twice during the Doe administration before escaping and going into exile. The November 8, 2005, presidential runoff election was won decisively by Sirleaf. Both the general election and runoff were marked by peace and order, as thousands of Liberians waited in the harsh West African heat to cast their ballots.
Upon taking office, Sirleaf became the first elected female head of state in Africa. During her administration President Sirleaf established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to address crimes committed during the later stages of Liberia’s long civil war. Sirleaf also requested the extradition of Taylor from Nigeria and immediately handed him over to the Special Court for Sierra Leone, which had charged Taylor with crimes against humanity, violations of the Geneva Conventions and “other serious violations of international humanitarian law.” The trial by the Special Court is being held in The Hague for security reasons