Context & Need
Until relatively recently, religious conflict was thought to be an epiphenomena of allegedly deeper underlying struggles over resources, blood, or power. The academy was dominated by the notion that modernity is categorized by the diminishing relevance of religion. Gradually the academy has begun to acknowledge the central and substantial role of religious experience and expression in modern life and in the conflicts that beset it at all levels. It has taken even longer for the academy to see that religion functions in the modern world as an instrument for peace as well as a source of conflict. Religious peacebuilidng has been marginalized in the academy and one of the results is that the church has allowed itself to be marginalized in the process of peacebuilidng .The church has struggled until recently with the place of peacebuilding and reconciliation in its message and work. This was seen, for example, in the diminished attention given to corporate forgiveness in the writings of seminary professors. The calling of all Christians is to a ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:15-17), but this has not been the central focus for the work and mission of the church.
Building peace within our communities requires the full participation of faith communities themselves, especially their leadership. Religious leaders are called and positioned to use their faith, knowledge, and stature to encourage conflict transformation. Religious leaders, following the principles and mandates of peacebuilding in their religious traditions, can be and will be significant resources for peacebuilding in this world, if conflict transformation and the ministry of reconciliation is put at the center of their theological education.
At the same time, religious leaders clearly need and want competence in peace-building in their daily work. Many practicing ministers are shouldering the burdens of conflict within their congregations and communities without the skills or support that they need to meet this challenge effectively. Church leaders report spending a significant portion of their time dealing with conflict – personal, ecclesial, and civil on a national and international scale – but lament that they have not received training in seminaries or schools of theology for this work. A recent study by Hartford Seminary found that the major indicator of church decline was destructive conflict within the church. The alumni, faculty, students and church officials we assembled with the help of the Luce Foundation in 2004-05 vocally affirmed the need to prepare religious leaders in the theology, theory and practice of conflict transformation as a central mission of the seminary and the church. The program proposed here aims to put the theology and practice of conflict transformation and the ministry of reconciliation back at the center of seminary education.