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23 Nov, 2008

Scriptures of Abrahamic faiths ALL contain passages that condone violence

Originally Published: 23 Nov 2008

A remarkable report issued by a Washington DC-based peace institute has acknowledged that all the three Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – contain passages in their scriptures which appear to condone violence, and come up with an entirely opposite interpretation designed instead to promote peace and harmony.

Called “Abrahamic Alternatives to War,” the report was compiled by the United States Institute of Peace [www.usip.org] following a series of meetings between senior religious leaders of the three faiths.

Finalised only earlier this month, the study will go a long way towards supporting the Islamic world’s assertion that the so-called links between Islam and violence are based on deliberate fabrications, distortions and misinterpretations of quotes taken entirely out of context.

It also indicates the presence of a just and balanced perspective among certain sections of the U.S. religious fraternity seeking to rebut the claims that references to “holy war” are evil and aggressive only in the Islamic context (“jihad”) but good and pure only in the Christian context (“crusade”).

The report was the outcome of a meeting between eight Muslim, six Jewish and eight Christian scholar-leaders from June 13 to 15, 2007, in Stony Point, N.Y., at a conference sponsored by USIP and the Churches’ Center for Theology and Public Policy.

Conference participants “specified practices within each of the three faith traditions that could lay the groundwork for nonviolent alternatives to resolving conflict and addressing injustice, while also identifying roadblocks in the sacred texts of their traditions to creating such processes.”

The scholars’ teachings found that “these ancient religious teachings on peace and justice are often consistent with modern conflict resolution theory.”

The report says it “examines passages that support violence in each tradition’s scripture, presents definitions of “just peacemaking” in each tradition (and) summarizes places of convergence that might create the foundation for a program offering an Abrahamic alternative to war.”

In a joint statement issued after the meeting, the religious leaders said, “We live in a fearful world of mutual suspicion, mistrust, and misunderstanding. The preparation for war leads to the waste of human economic and intellectual resources that could be utilized to address critical global concerns. Violent conflict causes immense human suffering and destruction. Deep unresolved tensions could even eventually ignite a global war.

“In light of this urgent world situation, we have committed ourselves to continued conversation and to the development of practices of peacemaking that are an alternative to war. Our exchange with each other was deeply enriching as we learned from each other and as we discovered many ideas and peacemaking practices that we held in common.”

The study summarised the conclusions thus:

<> Jewish, Muslim, and Christian sacred texts all contain sections that support violence and justify warfare as a means to achieve certain goals. In particular historical circumstances, these texts have served as the basis to legitimate violent campaigns, oftentimes against other faith communities.

<> Many of the passages from sacred texts in all three religious traditions that are misused in contemporary situations to support violence and war are taken out of context, interpreted in historically inaccurate ways, or can be better translated. Finally, all of these passages need to be understood within (and constrained by) the primary spiritual aims of the individual faith.

<> There are also a great many teachings and ethical imperatives within Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scriptures that promote peace and present the means to achieve it. These include mandates to strive for political, social, and economic justice; tolerant intercommunal coexistence; and nonviolent conflict resolution.

While the passages from the Qur’an seeking to portray Islam as a violent religion are well-known, the report goes a long way towards promoting an alternative, more balanced discourse by quoting those that appear to justify violence amongst Christianity and Judaism.

For example, in the Jewish tradition, it says, “Religiously driven proponents of Israel’s military campaign sometimes point to the verse, “The Lord will be at war with Amalek throughout the ages of Israel’s military campain sometimes,” (Exodus 17:15b), interpreting it to mean that there is a state of permanent war mandated by God against those who are defined as the descendents of Amalek, in this case the Palestinians.”

In the Christian tradition, references to “crusade” can be traced back to “a holy warrior God who executes violent judgment on all unrighteousness.”

Says the report, “For crusade theology, the Revelation to John has the most contemporary resonance. “Zionist Christians” sometimes use its opaque narrative—which speaks of God overthrowing corrupt and oppressive worldly rulers and granting land promised to his chosen people—to defend Israel’s use of violence as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy regarding the second coming of Christ.”

It also cites the statement by St. Paul in the Book of Romans: “For [the ruler] does not bear the sword in vain! [The ruler] is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the evildoer” (Romans 13:4b).”

The report points out the three delegations also “found a wealth of material in their sacred texts comprising a coherent ethic and method for Just Peacemaking that can not only strengthen the means to address conflict nonviolently but that can address some of the root causes that lead to violent conflict.”

It says, “Recognizing the need for a peacemaking program to go beyond the immediate prevention or resolution of violent conflict, and recognizing the need to create sustain-able peace in a manner that is itself just, the three delegations embraced the term “Just Peacemaking” to define their program.

“In so doing, participants built on an understanding of “Just Peace” that emerged in the mid-1980s and was developed into a list of ten Just Peacemaking practice norms by a volunteer, interdenominational Christian group that worked together for five years to develop this alternative approach.”

As the world prepares to commemorate 29 November as the UN-mandated International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, this report clearly provides a more evenhanded context from which to view the ongoing religious and geopolitical conflict in the Middle East. Click here: http://www.usip.org/pubs/specialreports/sr214.pdf