Resolving Religious Conflict

Mennonite’s peace bids cross globe

THE PUEBLO CHIEFTAIN, October 27, 2007

The work of Herm Weaver almost seems to contradict the very heart of the world’s religions: reaching out to end religiously motivated violence and to replace it with a culture of peace, justice and healing.

It’s a tall order, of course, but one that seems to fit in with the life’s work of this 49-year-old man, who’s spent the last year living in Nederland, his home base for a day job as the Mountain States conference minister for the Mennonites – a sort of administrative job over Colorado’s 21 congregations and a couple in New Mexico and Texas.

The organization for which he has a keener passion is the United Religious Initiative, a seven-year-old bridge-building organization headquartered in San Francisco. The group says it includes thousands of members in more than 65 countries representing more than 100 religions, spiritual expressions and indigenous traditions.

“We try to find and build good people of any religious background and bring the best out of them and their religious traditions and scriptures to build peace,” Weaver said.

“There doesn’t have to be a conflict among any of the world’s genuine religions . . . their holy books and mandates all call for peace, loving and respecting each other.

“But there are extremists in every tradition trying to further their own agendas and who twist selected sections of those books to promote war and violence.

URI, which involves participants from all over the globe, stresses that people everywhere – if and when inspired to cooperate for the common good – are able to find solutions that can end religion-inspired wars and killing.

“I work alongside of priests, preachers, pastors, imams, sheiks, rabbis and laity from every continent,” Weaver said, “and we have all realized that at core, we are humans, struggling to find connectedness to God in a peaceful world. I’ve learned that Islam isn’t just about jihad, and there have been imams and sheiks who have taught me an awful lot about peace.”

Weaver, a modest and understated man, has a master’s degree in community counseling from the University of Akron and a doctoral degree in psychology and peace studies from The Union Institute in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Weaver has regular meetings with 25 other URI members – all a part of a team – in countries as diverse as Uganda, India, Ethiopia, the Philippines and the United States.

“No matter where I am in the world, I find myself accepted and welcomed simply as me – and that’s the result of grace,” Weaver said.

Among Weaver’s partners in the peace project is John Paul Lederach, professor of International Peacebuilding at Notre Dame’s University’s 20-year-old Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.

Lederach, who has a 1988 doctoral degree in sociology from the University of Colorado, is the author of 16 books and monographs relating to conciliation, including “The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace” (Oxford University Press, 2005); “The Journey Toward Reconciliation” (Herald Press, 1999); “Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies” (USIP, 1997); and “Preparing for Peace: Confliction Transformation Across Cultures” (Syracuse University Press 1995).

“John Paul has pretty much led us in this process, and we have spent weeks together with others in the URI groups walking in their space and place, singing, praying and providing some input into the peace-building process,” Weaver said.

Lederach, also a Mennonite, has trained hundreds of people in dozens of nations in the possibility and art of conciliation and making peace, and has led workshops for officials from many religions in several countries. He calls himself a “peace practitioner.”

The Kroc Institute’s research agenda is a serious and deep one. It focuses on religious and ethnic dimensions of conflict and peace-building; the ethics of the use of force; and the peacemaking role of international norms, policies and institutions.

Weaver, who will present some of his insights at 10:30 a.m. Sunday at the Mennonite Church, 634 Goodnight Ave., has made international trips five times in the last two years.

He is proud of the bond that the 25 members of the team have built in half of a two-year pilot project, and the understanding on personal, psychological, political and religious bases that have been accomplished – a model, Weaver said, of what can be accomplished among the world’s peoples and religions.

“The goal here is to reduce religiously motivated violence wherever it occurs,” Weaver said.

“It may be a long process, but it’s not one that we can give up on – ever.”

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