How Can Faith-Based Actors Respond to Conflict?

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What is the role of faith-based organisations and religiously motivated actors in responding to conflict?

The ACTION Support Centre attended the “International Consultation on the global Anglican contribution to Promoting Peace and Preventing Violent Conflict: Understanding the Distinctiveness, dilemmas, and scope of faith-based conflict prevention” from 5 to 7 November in the UK.

The consultation comprises one component of a larger research project between Coventry University’s Centre for Trust, Peace, and Social Relations and the Anglican Church.

After research visits to Nigeria (February 2014) and Solomon Islands (May 2014), clergy gathered from the Solomon Islands, Nigeria,  Pakistan, South Sudan, Kenya, and the DRC. Non-clerical representatives included Kenya, the UK, Nigeria, the US, and South Africa.

We reflected on the three questions at the heart of the project:

  • What is distinct about conflict prevention when people operate from faith perspectives?
  • What are the dilemmas unique to faith-based actors in conflict prevention efforts?
  • What is the scope for faith-based conflict prevention efforts in future?

But what is ‘conflict prevention’? The working groups proposed the following definitions:

  • addressing basic human needs and root causes of division – including religious, political, ethnic, resource, land, and personal causes – through dialogue and relationship building; it is a continuous process with local and international dimensions;
  • an activity, or set of activities, adopted for communicating change or power or interests among people, or groups of people, aimed at reducing violence. It includes acceptance of diversity and creating safe space for peaceful coexistence.

Learning from the research includes the recognition of the nuance of conflict (not simply Christians v Muslims), inroads made by faith-based organizations in preventing violent conflict, human security as a root cause of conflict (as opposed to political violence). Faith-based organizations are on the front lines with unique dilemmas, and big NGOs are often better known but less effective than local NGOs and local unregistered actors (the Insider Mediators).

Examples of conflict preventing activities were shared, including the following from Nigeria and Pakistan. In Jos, women and youth were mobilized by a pastor and an imam to monitor their local neighborhoods and to report suspicious changes to community leaders. In Pakistan a local church community sought government security for Easter celebrations, only to be told that the government could not provide security because of the Taliban. The pastor went to the local Taliban leader, who asked to see the church. After seeing the church, he said they should have their celebrations and procession, no problem, and that when the Taliban comes to power he would make sure the government builds them a much nicer church. Relationships prevented conflict.

A scheduled conversation on the roles of information, technology, and communications tools for conflict prevention was removed from the programme after the facilitators decided that such a focus did not reflect the overall conversation – no one had introduced the topic or mentioned ICTs in their work, and the facilitators felt such a focus would have been externally driven. Instead, we reflected on what the tools are that we already have access to, and what tools we require, in order to prevent violent conflict. Among the significant tools that we both have and need were opportunities to learn from each other and opportunities to document and share what is already happening on the ground.

At the conclusion of the consultation, participants guided a forum at Lambeth Palace with two MPs, several professors from other universities, and individuals involved in internationally active NGOs, during which several clergy presented on the conversation of the previous two days. We shared about the efficacy of local activities and horizontal relationships with those who are typically involved in vertical relationships. Perhaps the content of the consultation and the discourse of the forum began the process of transforming even those relationships.

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