Peacemaking Lessons Learned at the Yale Building Hope Conference

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by Rick Love

I just attended the Building Hope Conference at Yale (June 13-22, 2011), a strategic international conference of Muslim, Christian and Jewish religious leaders, committed to seeking the common good.

So what are some of the major lessons I learned?

First and foremost, personal relationship radically alters our view of the other and even how we understand our own sacred texts. What a joy it was to watch the attitudes of people change toward one another over the course of the conference. You can see this important theme in my tweets during the conference:

Peacemaking involves friendship with people of other faiths according to Miroslav Volf. First night of the Yale Building Hope Conference.

At the Building Hope Conference one person asked: How is the "other" part of our relationship with God?

At the Building Hope Conference--after seven days people are sharing deeply. Lives are changed when we take time to get to know the "other."

At the Building Hope Conference--Muslims, Christians & Jews fight back tears, instead of shouting, as we talk about peace. Building Hope!

The first point of the Building Hope Final Statement describes this important lesson:

Personal relationships with those who are different from us provide a foundation for seeking the common good. We need to meet face-to-face in order to put a face on ‘the other.’ This involves listening carefully to the other, respecting each other’s faith, reading each other’s Holy Scripture and visiting each other’s places of worship, in a genuine effort to understand others as they understand themselves. It includes spending quality time together to cultivate new, lasting friendships. Experiencing such relationships first-hand in this conference changed the dynamics and allowed us to deal with difficult issues in a more constructive manner. 

I have attended many multi-faith dialogues and seen this happen again and again. Suspicious, reticent Muslims and Christians begin by talking. When it is successful, they end by relating. I have been told that the same thing is true of diplomatic relations, but that’s beyond my pay grade and experience.

We live in an era inundated with inflammatory rhetoric against Muslims. I guarantee you that those who are most vehement and negative toward Muslims do not have Muslim friends. The importance of the personal touch – building personal relationships -- cannot be overemphasized!

There is another lesson implicit in the conference and central to Jesus-brand peacemaking. The Yale Building Hope Conference did not just happen. People proactively decided to take active steps toward the “other”—to bridge the divide. Jesus taught that we need to take initiative when relationships are strained or broken. We don’t wait for people to come to us. We go to them. Jesus commands us: Go and be reconciled (Matthew 5:23-24)! (For those of you who think that Jesus’ command here only relates to fellow believers, read the next verse - verse 25 - and Romans 12:18).

Taking initiative to bridge the divide, and face-to-face communication: two simple yet profound lessons learned from the Yale Conference and taught in Scripture. If followers of Jesus took these priorities seriously in Christian-Muslim relations, it would cause a revolution. I think Jesus - the Prince of Peace - would like that!