We Resist Despair: A Recommitment to Nonviolence
From Larry Greenfield, Executive Director, Parliament of the World’s Religions
The Parliament of the World’s Religions has a focused commitment to address issues of violence. It is one of three critical issues that hold priority in our mission and work.
The recent rash of egregious violence has been shocking; not only because of the sheer number of incidents, their frequency, their aberrant severity, and the amount of lives lost and injured, though all of these are important in their own right.
It is disturbing because of the trends that have begun to emerge. Violence, it seems, is increasingly being employed as a method of resolving personal, interpersonal, social, political, and religious conflict. It is showing itself as a common response to everything from petty objection to deep rage, and in the last few weeks, revenge.
It’s been little more than a generation since a nonviolent movement for civil rights succeeded in liberating America from the shackles of much of the unapologetic institutionalized racism. Yet the insidious roots of racism have continued to sprout, often lethally in instances of police brutality. And we are now seeing violent reaction.
Recent political rhetoric indicates that two of the most visible superpowers on earth - the UK and the US - intend to reject the building blocks upon which they were founded: those of a pluralistic, united, “better together” society. New building blocks are being constructed to create borders and walls.
Our national military ideologies directly and indirectly contribute to a culture of killing, both “at home and abroad,” by teaching our soldiers and citizens that it is acceptable to kill other human beings because someone has designated them as “ the enemy.” Military violence has reached extreme levels of both normalization and depersonalization as our drones mechanistically murder “targets” and civilians alike.
The message is clear: “We are giving up on peace.”
The result is the rejection of human beings from equal inclusion in both our cultures and territories, whether they be fellow citizens or future neighbors.
In 2015, the Parliament of the World’s Religions called those gathered in Salt Lake City, and our community around the world, to endorse a declaration decrying War, Violence, and Hate Speech, and to commit to bringing about transformative action on a personal and societal level.
Over the past year, the Parliament has responded to several tragic world events, through spiritual meditation and prayer, through training, through resources for reflection and education, through solidarity and embodied solidarity, through “sorrow and distress,” through calls to action, and through reminders of the past.
But as our world goes through these cycles of strife, I urge you on behalf of the Parliament to:
Recommit to the material presented in the declaration against War, Violence, and Hate Speech from the 2015 Parliament.
Resist the temptation to be satisfied with simple, uncomplicated answers. The incidents of violence, hate, and exclusivist rhetoric around our globe stem from a multitude of factors, and to pick one to the exclusion of others ignores the nuances of and motivations behind each tragedy. Don’t distance yourself from the issues because they don’t touch you, or remove yourself from the challenge of making this world better because it seems like a futile effort. Instead, allow yourself to be confused, to be shocked, to be hurt, and use that emotion to spur your personal action.
Remind yourself that there is wisdom and power both within and beyond yourself. Draw on the best parts of your religious traditions. Dig into the wealth of accumulated knowledge that comprises your faith. Even as you recognize your own power, join together with others; it is easier to be discouraged, to feel futility, when you are acting alone.
Remember the times when non-violent action made a difference. Remember Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Martin Buber, Khān Abdul Ghaffār Khān, Daniel Berrigan, Thich Nhat Hanh, Toyohiko Kagawa, Nelson Mandela, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel. Stand with the people who are seeking reform at all levels, with government and law enforcement officials who are trying compassionately to de-escalate extremism and to reach out to those in society who might be prone to extremist ideology and targeted violence. Violence speaks quickly and loudly. Working for peace is long arduous, but the results resonate and have the power to be world-changing.