“Faith-Inspired Peace Making” by Philip Kakungulu

(Philip wrote this blog in part in response to a series of questions he’d been given related to sustaining oneself as a peacemaker.  This blog is his responses, but he invites you to make any responses you would like to turn this into a conversation.  You can add your comments at the end, which we will clear for posting as appropriate and as quickly as we can.)

As a faith inspired peace builder, how do you explain to others what you do?

Often a faith inspired peace builder will feel like they are the last person in the world who is cut out to be a peacemaker, Sometimes we might feel insignificant like Gideon, especially when the problems we face are huge: a relationship in conflict, violence in our communities, or poverty and hunger. There are no easy answers to these problems. From my experience, a faith-inspired peace warrior will often ask himself; How am I going to be a peacemaker? How will I develop a sense of well-being and harmony in my own life? What social problems move me to want to make a difference?

A faith-inspired peace builder explains what he does through living the example of faith in his or her life. Portraying his work as a divine mandate, a calling which is not only his but starts with him as a wounded helper but also inviting others to join in the finished work of God. What an inspired peace builder does is a work of God, a service to others in the name of God in which all humanity is called to  reconciliation not only with each other but also with God through Jesus Christ in whom all creation has a restore point.

What does faith-inspired mean, what does it look like, how would we know it when we see it? In other words, does being faith-inspired make any difference in the process of building peace?

Faith-inspired denotes a person driven to serve and lead others for a higher purpose. Faith-inspired means being purpose-driven, and this purpose being a spiritual purpose.

Faith is a perennial and perhaps inevitable factor in both conflict and conflict resolution, Faith, after all, is a powerful constituent of cultural norms and values, and because it addresses the most profound existential issues of human life (e.g., freedom and inevitability, fear and hope, security and insecurity, right and wrong, sacred and profane), faith is deeply implicated in individual and social conceptions of peace.

The face of “Faith-inspire work” will be known from by looking at its conceptions of peace within diverse religious and cultural traditions, while seeking the common ground among them.

Being faith-inspired makes the difference in forming the ideals and values held in highest esteem by groups and individuals.  Faith profoundly influences goal-seeking behavior in conflict situations by establishing the criteria or frames of reference for determining the rightness and wrongness of events. Being faith-inspired brings this new interpretation of conflicts being seen not only as ruptures in horizontal relationships between human beings, but also as ruptures in one’s vertical relationship with the divine. Faith-inspired work can affect individual and social responses to triggering events through (a) placing the event in a historical, goal-seeking context; (b) providing meaning for events in light of values, goals and religious identity; and (c) offering roles for dealing with conflict through appropriate, affirmative responses based on religious precepts and idealized models or precedents.

When a faith-inspired peace builder is faced with difficult challenges or uncertainty in conflicts, he or she will rely on these established codes of conduct to alleviate cognitive dissonance, anxiety and guilt as well as to fashion a path of correctness based on conviction and idealized courses of action that promise to restore harmony and order.

What rituals do you follow? What beliefs and values frame your calling?

As a Christian I follow rituals which affirm my belief in the universal work of God, and this work constitutes much of my peace building. Some of these rituals are Baptism, Holy Communion, Fellowship, Solitude and Charity.

What preparation do you practice?

Weekly, I practice the following for peace:

Morning and Evening Celtic liturgy.

I practice being for peace; giving attention to my heart in meditation on peace, harmony, laughter and love.

I practice thinking for peace; keeping the silence to introduce peace in my thoughts.

I practice feeling for peace, to experience the emotions of peace such as compassion.

I practice speaking for peace, coming up with creative ideas to resolve daily conflicts in my life or family.

I practice acting for peace by helping someone in need without asking for gratitude or recognition.

In your opinion, what are the potential spiritual and inner resources available/necessary for the sustained practice of faith-inspired peace building?

Family.

Prayer.

Fellowship in a congregation of believers.

Seminary Education.

Cross-cultural exchange and capacity-building programs.

Individual welfare sponsorship, different from project support.

Within the communities you engage, how does religious identity interact with history, culture, protracted conflicts in positive/negative ways?

In previous centuries before the independence of Uganda, the Buganda Kingdom ruled over much of what is Uganda today.  The coming of missionaries played a huge part in dividing the kingdom along religious lines. King Daudi Chwa entertained the Arab Muslims, while King Mwanga persecuted the Catholics, in another regime King Muteesa collaborated with British missionaries establishing the Anglican Church. You will find that in Kampala the Buganda capital of seven hills each religion was assigned a hill, and today all major religions have their capital on one of the seven hills in Kampala. As a result of influence of religion on our history in Uganda we have the Uganda Martyrs who perished at the hand of King Mwanga, and up to today thousands of people journey the pilgrimage from all over Africa to visit the shrines of the Uganda Martyrs.

In our present time during Uganda’s independence, the church has always always had a great influence on political system with political parties being divided between religions such as Democratic Party being predominantly Catholic and Uganda People’s Congress being predominantly Anglican. This led to the rise of the Muslim dictator Idi Amin Dada who persecuted so many Christians and started an underground work for Sharia Law to rule Uganda. Later on President Museveni being predominantly a charismatic Anglican Christian led a coup which has seen the freedoms we now enjoy. However the scars of conflict are still visible in our history, and unfortunately it is very clear how religion has shaped these conflicts. Today the Muslims accuse the evangelical Christians of being segregated and dominating the White House, hence marginalizing the interests of other faiths.

Religion has shaped the dominating belief systems of the Bantu Kingdoms in Uganda. For example, the western kingdoms are predominantly Anglican with some being Catholics, while in Buganda kingdom there is even representation of major religions being that the great Buganda kings allocated each religion hill zones and natural resources.  In west Nile where the former president Idi Amin Dada comes from, they are predominantly Muslims.  Up to today there is tension between the tribal kingdoms in Uganda resulting from allocation of resources.

The activities of the most recent 20-year long Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency in the north of Uganda were notorious.  The LRA was founded on Christian extremism led by rebel commander Joseph Kony who had picked up the mantle from rebel leader Alice Lakwena, founder of the Holy Spirit Rebel Movement.  Today the father of the late Alce Lakwena lives on and still minsters as a founder and senior leader of a prominent church ministry in Uganda.  As a result the faith-inspired peacemaker conducts his work in very deep waters in which his faith can potentially be the greatest challenge to his work.  No wonder the scriptures mention in Daniel 12.3:  “Those who are wise will shine light the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness (justice) like stars forever and ever.”  This is the scripture from which I pick my alias “Stargate” believing that those who lead many to righteousness will shine like stars forever as a memorial and legacy for the generations to come.  Matthew 3:9:  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

What are some of the pressures you’ve experienced as a result of being tangled inside on-going conflict or the direct threat of violence?

In 2014 the Uganda Anti-Gay bill was passed with very attention given to the physical protection of Gay people. This was a very difficult time for a Christian Peace Maker like me knowing very well the ethics of the Kingdom of God. I was caught between the church pursing violence against Gay people who are seen as demons and actually creating  a safe space where Gay people can have a voice and potentially be reached and given a chance in participating with the church. This opened my eyes to several other injustices among other clusters minority groups who over the years had been ignored and taken for granted.  Some of these included people living with albinism, street children and sex workers, I realized these people groups had also been demonized by the church and left out.

I was under threat of being attacked; some church leaders had misunderstood me approaching the Anti-Gay bill with non-violence. I was also under pressure to take sides and also deeply worried of dropping my integrity before the church and my sense of pride before my tribesmen. However, like war, peace must be waged.

In 2016 I migrated to a very remote and fragile non-family duty station with my wife and son, in Gambella at the South Sudan and Ethiopia Border. It was very difficult to serve in Gambella among the 4 refugee camps. The refugees where dominantly from the Nuer Tribe. The church leaders vowed not to attend a peace program led by a Ugandan, reason being that it is alleged that Uganda Government and Army worked with the Dinka Tribe to dominate the South Sudan government and push back the nearly successful coup which had been staged by the rebel faction dominated by the Nuer tribe. So the Nuer people began to blame Uganda as being the reason why they are internally displaced and also exiled in the refugee camps. It was a real daily threat to my life and my wife and son Joshua, as at times we had to live inside the refugee camp in a grass thatched mud house which has no door or window. However, my being present with the Nuer people in the refugee camps with my family also opened a door to a new way of thinking as the Nuer pastors began to realize that actually this young Ugandan pastor must have abandoned so much to come down live with them in the refugee camps. In the end we had very powerful conflict transformation trainings.

There is a call and response in faith-inspired peace building – times when our inner world becomes activated by surrounding events and we offer our presence and skills. Can you give an example of when this happened to you, and reflect upon what converged, invited, and compelled you?

Picking up from the previous paragraph, in 2015 I realized that it was not biblical for gay people to be lynched and maimed in cold blood, I realized that it was not right for Gay people to be denied access to church. I realized that the current state of things in the church was a hindrance to the saving work of our Lord Jesus Christ. These injustices activated my inner world, and I immediately began to engage church leaders in conflict transformation trainings, I also participated in a marathon geared towards raising the plight of gay people.  We ran with banners saying “We are your brothers and sisters,” “Do not kill us, do not throw us to hell,” “We want to worship the Lord together with you,” “We are your children.” This is one of the outdoor high-risk events I have done in line with this work. However the Anti-Gay bill conflict also opened a huge door for deeper introspection for many of the church leaders as tabloids began to publish the secret Gay lifestyles of many of the church leaders in Uganda. As a result the tide is changing, and people are willing to learn of a new way of co-existence, living non-violently, thus allowing the saving work of our Lord to reach many souls who previously had been locked out by our religious pride and prejudices.

What compelled me is the hypocrisy which is lived in broad day light by clergymen living a double-standard life, like Pharisees who Jesus referred to as white-washed graves. It was evident that church leaders had sided so much with the atrocities committed by government, simply speaking but not identifying with the sufferings of the local people. This really sparked inside me the energy to expose this evil knowing that, if it continued, it would incapacitate the church’s ability to fulfill the Lord’s great commission.

What are the inherent dilemmas of engaging across lines of hatred, where people perceive others as enemies?

The existing dilemmas of engaging across lines of hatred is that there is great possibility of the faith-inspired peacemaker  being misunderstood. This misunderstanding can quickly diffuse into larger domains. For example dealing with people who perceive each other as enemies could easily lead to misunderstanding of who the peacemaker is and what the peacemaker represents. The parties who are enemies could easily fall into conflict with the religion of the peacemaker and everything the peacemaker represents, and this would serve to create more hostility between the conflicting groups.

It is also very frustrating as it is very natural for the faith-inspired peacemaker to demand to see forgiveness and reconciliation too soon. The belief systems of forgiveness and reconciliation could also be very different from what is actually practiced in the faith-inspired peacemaker’s religion, which then challenges the peacemaker to practice a more universalized approach when dealing with people who perceive each other as enemies. Often times people who perceive each other as enemies have gotten to a point where they think the Divine has abandoned them and tend to blame the divine for their sufferings. So this presents a challenge for the faith-inspired peacemaker as he might be seen as an agent of the Divine “oppressor”.

What are the competing voices, anxieties, and debates that have shown up in you as a peace builder?

Competing voices and anxieties started when I got family, finding the place of my family in my calling to peace building.

Much of the work being voluntary and working with so little funding, more like squeezing water out of a stone, I began to debate on whether am going to do peace work full-time or part-time. However the need is so huge that the peace builder must work full-time. So being anxious about welfare, what my family will eat, housing and school for my children are huge debates in this work.

The other worry comes from the absence of welfare structures in Africa such as insurance to cover the peace builder and his family, as some of the areas we have to work in are very fragile and high risk.

The overwhelming issue at hand is the growing need for peacemaking in the predominantly Muslim Arab Middle East and North Africa. Our background is majorly Christian peacemaking. We need to grow in such a way that we are able to do interfaith peace work. The debate would then be am I accomplishing the Great Commission by diversifying with interfaith work? The peace builder needs to be educated in such a way that our understanding of the Great Commission is broader, in that even with interfaith work we continue to plant the seeds of the Kingdom of Heaven in souls of men and women.

How do we nurture the quality of presence required to sustain a constructive and positive encounter with people perceived as “enemies?”

We must in all our efforts allow the people perceived as enemies to be part of every decision which is taken in the process of mediation. This means that parts of their identity such as language, norms, beliefs and positions must be included in the mediation or engagements. We want them to own the decisions so that whichever outcomes, good or bad, they are able to own them.

One way of nurturing the quality of presence required to sustain constructive and positive encounter is to work very hard at keeping the communications going on between the people, and developing activities which mitigate isolation both within the people and between the people groups.

The peacemaker working with people perceived as enemies needs to be able to speak and understand the language of the people as this adds quality to his or her presence working with people in conflict.

Above all else, we are called to love our enemies even when they never love us back. This is the love which disarms the enemy and provides an opportunity for the enemy to experience not only his or her humanity but also the humanity of the person being oppressed. The nurturing of the faith-inspired peace builder must be grounded in loving the neighbor (including enemies) as you love yourself. This includes appreciating the attributes of the people perceived as enemies such as language, culture aspects such as food and fashion. This then means that the peacemaker must be willing to learn cross-cultural, scientific and interfaith concepts of peace and harmonious living.

For more about Philip Kakungulu:  Click here.

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