Here is one I wrote earlier – about a month earlier – when we were just back from Israel-Palestine and the Women, Equality and Faith conference was still being planned. But it has just been published this week on the Heartedge newsletter. Hope it is worth an airing….
I’m writing this a week after flying back from Israel where I had been part of a group of 24 people from Birmingham. Drawn from the Christian, Muslim and Jewish traditions, together we were exploring holiness, conflict and peace in one of the most contested places in the world.
As we returned I was plunged into preparations for a conference on Gender, Equality and Faith to mark International Women’s Day on March 8th. These two pieces of work may seem at first glance to have nothing in common but for me they are both about peace.
I believe the Bible is a narrative of peace and reconciliation, Jesus’s death was a cosmic peace-building moment and all Christians are called to be peace-makers. Policy makers call one part of peace ‘cohesion’ and for this reason I have got involved in various cohesion initiatives across the city.
But at a recent event we were presented with a report of findings drawn from a series of ‘Honest Conversations’ that challenged the idea that faith communities have a serious part to play in cohesion. The report concluded that peace-builders needed to offer spaces and places in which all were free to participate and contribute but faith communities often excluded groups of people from full participation for doctrinal reasons or cultural reasons and not only were non-believers marginalised, women’s voices were not often heard, minority ethnic Christians have struggled to find a place in established churches and LGBTI+ people were not welcome. These are some of the issues we’ll be exploring at our conference.
The importance of shared space and place was highlighted on our recent visit to the Holy Land. Peace-builders struggled to find spaces and places that all could access because of the way land was divided and controlled. Organising events for faith leaders generally meant no women were at the table and so we met activists who had switched their focus and terminology from faith ‘leaders’ to faith ‘actors’ to make sure that women could be present and represented. I would like to see that happen here too. Another issue for peacemakers in Israel-Palestine is language – how can peace be built when people don’t share a common language?
Sometimes as Christians in the UK we speak a completely different language from our neighbours. I remember joining a mission organisation aged 18 and not speaking for two weeks as I had no idea what anyone was talking about because I came from a different church tradition from other participants. Our Christian culture can be baffling. Our confident pronouncements can leave people feeling judged.
Our neighbourhoods are crying out for places where all people are welcome, for activities that include all people, for encounters that turn the stranger into a friend. Our world is crying out for models of community that straddle difference, for people who love one another across perceived divides.
Ringing in my ears is the challenge from a Palestinian peacemaker, Sami Awad of the Holy Land Trust: be a model for us of how to live well together. If you can do it in Birmingham the ripples will reach us here.
Every day, we pray the oldest Christian prayer – ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’ I am sure that all in the kingdom of heaven are included, are free to participate and are valued. Let’s have a go – in Birmingham, in Bradford, in Bristol and beyond and we can be sure the ripples will be felt across the world.
PS The Gender conference has now happened and we had a great time as women and men together exploring what it means to flourish, to share leadership and to be fully engaged with our faith communities. Before the conference we commissioned our friends at BRAP to hold some focus groups exploring how women engage with their faith communities. You can read the report here.
Here is the graphic report produced during the conference