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Engaging Together in the Complexities of Religion, Social Conflict and Peacebuilding

BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz and the 2018 Hispanic Summer Program

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January 4, 2019

Engaging Together in the Complexities of Religion, Social Conflict and Peacebuilding

by María Pilar Aquino

The Baptist Peace Fellowship ~ Bautistas por la Paz (BPFNA) gathers together a pluralism of religious and social actors who share in partnership vision and work for a reconciled humanity in a healed world infused by peace rooted in justice. With an emphasis on interdependence and collaboration, everyone endeavors to contribute in shaping environments that sustain the flourishing of humans and creation, so that we all can live-well, together. Addressing and responding to complex issues of destructive conflict, violence, and unjust systems and relationships, the action of BPFNA takes place internationally and locally in different settings, including the public societal arena, churches, and the academy. A core goal of BPFNA is to provide involved actors with tools and resources for effective intervention in peacebuilding, conflict transformation, and reconciliation practices.

This writing seeks to both honor the contribution of BPFNA to the educational community and greatly appreciate its faith-based commitment to foster individuals and communities as architects of peace (artífices de la paz). The classroom has become a crucial space to shape worldviews and values aimed at supporting transformative action for peace. In its support of seminary programs, summer programs, short-term classes, summer conferences and other initiatives, BPFNA affirms the role of the educational community as an interconnected actor serving in partnership with others the interest of a more just and peaceful world. The peacebuilding theoretical frameworks explored in the academic setting disclose critical reflection on the lived experiences of the conflict affected communities, and are intended to strengthen those experiences for constructive ethical, religious, emotional, cultural, and structural transformation.

The partnership of BPFNA with the Hispanic Summer Program (HSP) is illustrative of successful joint initiatives for enhancing the capacities and enriching the skills of the educational community for peacebuilding work. Informed by the biblical and theological traditions of Christianity on peace, justice, human dignity, the common good, and the integrity of creation, this partnership affirms a shared effort as being distinctively ecumenical and interreligious. Collaborative learning, discerned wisdom, informed knowledge, critical deliberation, faith-based practice, and a committed spirituality are components that come together in a teaching/learning process aimed at embracing joyful experiences of doing peacebuilding work while courageously facing the challenges of intervention for more just and peaceful societies.

Thanks to the generous support of BPFNA, I had the honor of presenting a peacebuilding course during the 2018 HSP Summer Program. The title of the course was “Religion, Social Conflict and Peacebuilding.” When I received information concerning BPFNA approval of my faculty appointment for this year’s course, I became delighted as much as deeply humbled and grateful. I embraced this emotional response because I knew ahead of time that the HSP peacebuilding courses are offered through the BPFNA sponsoring support, which occurs every two years. As I personally expressed to Rev. LeDayne McLeese Polaski, BPFNA Executive Director, I also developed a sense of responsibility and accountability because the Baptist biblical and theological tradition of liberation has contributed to shape my religious worldview. I have continued to value my connection to the Baptist Seminary at the Theological Community of Mexico, at the time when I was a student of theology in Mexico City. Baptist biblical scholar Jorge V. Pixley was my professor of biblical studies and served as dissertation advisor for my licentiate in theology. Also, to this day, I continue to be inspired by the many contributions of Iglesias por la Paz (Churches for Peace), a social and religious movement in Mexico, largely sustained by the courageous intervention of Baptist theologians and pastors.

For the HSP course, I was interested in expanding appreciation of religious peacebuilding studies within the Latinx theological and ministerial community. Facing an intense two-week period of course work, exposure to this emerging field of study entailed a pedagogical method able to support the combination of academic rigor, pertinent resources for critical reflection on peacebuilding experience, and resources to support spiritualities of reconciliation and peacemaking. That is why the course was articulated by interactive strategies of teaching/learning for shared intellectual growth, ecumenical collaboration, and cultivation of one’s development of critical thinking in doing work of conflict transformation for peace rooted in justice. Those strategies included pre-course reading reports, reflection papers, facilitating in-class discussion, online-based deliberation, informational lectures, and reflective integration projects.

Opening the class with learning about the mission, vision, activities and resources of BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz through constructive scrutiny of its website, further awareness and visibility of the global network of Baptist peacemakers were facilitated through an insightful presentation by our guest speaker, Mayra Picos-Lee, current President of BPFNA Board of Directors. Acknowledging the goals and initiatives of this global network, the students engaged in exploration of the role of religion in social conflict and peacebuilding. This exploration included criteria for assessment of religious actors’ intervention in the contemporary dynamics of human atrocity and conflict transformation taking place simultaneously around the world. The thematic outline highlighted topics such as theories of conflict analysis, scholarly approaches to peacebuilding and religious peacebuilding, the contribution of truth commissions and trials, religious meanings and components of reconciliation processes, the involvement of civil society and the global justice movement in peacebuilding, the characteristics of interreligious dialogue for peacebuilding, feminist critical approaches to peacebuilding, and the constructive function of religions for a spirituality of solidarity, peacemaking and reconciliation.

The site of the course presented challenges due to the intense heat and humidity of summer time in Dallas, TX. The 2018 HSP met this year at Perkins School of Theology in the large and beautiful campus of Southern Methodist University, from June 16 to June 30. This type of weather, however, was no impediment for bringing together a group of seven brave students coming from diverse cultural environments and educational institutions. A richness of individuals composed the class, including the young and older, born in Latinx or Latin American and Hawaiian contexts, conventional and transitional sexualities, engaged in graduate theology or divinity programs, an ordained pastor, and a practicing psychologist. While taking into account commonalities and differentials in self-identity, together we experienced the enlightening journey of learning from key peacebuilding scholars and practitioners through lush and extensive bibliographic resources. The guiding voices of internationally recognized experts in the field contributed to refine the voices of the students in class, strengthening one’s capabilities as conflict transformation and peacebuilding committed religious actors.

During the early stages of preparation, the HSP Director, Dr. Daisy L. Machado, expressed to the seven faculty members of this Summer Program her goal of making our experience the best it can be. On my part, I can say that her goal reached a successful end. Being a faculty member of the HSP this year has been a source of joy and hope for me. One of the most attractive and gratifying features of the HSP has been its dedication to foster spaces for interaction and collegiality among Latinx scholars of religion and theology who gather together from different parts of North America and Puerto Rico. Possibilities for fruitful ecumenical dialogue and mutual support within a small group setting do not just occur but must be created by actualizing opportunities.

This year the HSP gave me the opportunity of meeting with a wonderful group of colleagues whose ethical values, religious commitments and justice-seeking interests came to enhance my life. Various opportunities also allowed the faculty to participate in delightful gatherings with administrators and faculty members of Perkins School of Theology. The hospitality we received from Perkins’ associate deans and from personnel of the Hispanic/[email protected] Ministries Program and the Center for the Study of Latino/a Christianity and Religions was splendid. In sum, by successfully creating spaces for fruitful interaction, dialogue, support and hospitality, the HSP forged new possibilities for living together in this world.

As the course concluded, I received evaluative comments from the students which, in my view, provide lenses to view the relevance of a continual partnership of BPFNA with the Hispanic Summer Program. If the systematic study of religious peacebuilding is unavailable to students because this field of study is absent or decreased from the curriculum of seminaries and universities, keeping alive the partnership BPFNA/HSP continues to be crucial today. Giving no particular order, illustrative comments include the following:

  • “In terms of conflict transformation, religious peacebuilding, and reconciliation, I would like to work more in my abilities to perform them as an individual, as a Christian actor, and as a citizen of the world.”
  • “A key point in conflict transformation is the ability to take the concepts that we have talked about in class and actually create practices that will help us apply them to our reality.”
  • “My main interest as a scholar are Latin American liberation and feminist theologies, but I highly believe any subject must be approached through an interdisciplinary peacemaking. In the future, as a professor and a leader that empowers and trains her community, I also hope to continue advocating for peacebuilding by working for change of government policies.”
  • “As a part of the global peacebuilding efforts, religious institutions must deconstruct violent and dehumanizing religious norms, practices, and ideologies in order to more effectively come together in interreligious dialogue for peacebuilding work.”
  • “I can honestly say, I have a deeper understanding of the field and a more holistic experience of it.”
  • “There is a lot of work to be done, but I am empowered by knowing I have already done a lot of it even with my limitations. I am inspired by my professor and peers from class, by the authors of the articles that taught me so much, and I am hopeful that I can do even more.”

I wish to close this reflection by encouraging everyone involved in theological and ministerial education to continue strengthening vision and motivation for peacebuilding work. This course was also deliberate in broadening and strengthening the students’ motivation in doing peace work. While no single religion provides the whole wisdom on peace, the religions of the world show strong compatibility of insight and values for collaboration in shaping a reconciled humanity in a healed world infused by peace rooted in justice. Peacebuilding epistemology requires not only a continual refinement of frameworks and tools for transformation, but also cultivation of spiritualities to sustain perseverance and hope.

For the Christian, peace work may appear to be daunting and overwhelming, but it is a constitutive dimension of who we are. In spite of limitations and adversity, seeking peace rooted in justice also brings blessings to the journey of becoming children of God (Mt 5, 9). We are not alone in walking the path of Christian discipleship. Throughout the rigors and joys entailed in this summer course, both the students and the professor enriched one’s life by adopting the convictions and motivation declared by the Baptist Peace Fellowship~Bautistas por la Paz. An excerpt from BPFNA Theological Statement reads:

“Trusting in God’s grace, we turn to Jesus’ teachings for inspiration and as a guide to life. We learn from experience that following Jesus in the joyful path of peace rooted in justice calls us to risk, to sacrifice and sometimes to make challenging choices in our daily lives. We embrace this reality.

We know we are not alone in the struggle: The Spirit of God unites us; the crucified and risen Jesus walks beside us. Witnessing and working for peace rooted in justice is a journey of faith and love--it is a pilgrimage of grace” (BPFNA, Our Theological Statement, http://www.bpfna.org/about-us/mission-vision).



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