Reflections on PWC(VA)'s “International Day of Prayer for Peace 2020”

Updated: Sep 28, 2020

On September 20, 2020, communities of faith in Prince William County, Virginia, (PWC) gathered together to stream an event titled an “International Day of Prayer for Peace 2020.” Virtually all faiths present in PWC played a role in the event—sects of Muslims, Christians, Jews, Baha’i, Sikhs, and the human rights commissioner (a non-religious organization). The event lasted an hour and was streamed via Facebook and Zoom.[1] The theme for the event was “Shaping Peace Together”—three essential keywords—shaping, peace, and together.


Shaping

The act of shaping requires a goal or a purpose. If we want to shape a sculpture, it is to achieve some picturesque or useful image. The purpose in shaping is to achieve some value, be it functional (like a pencil) or ascetic (like a statue). Ideas also can be shaped. Many of our beliefs or ideas influence other beliefs and ideas that we hold. The ideas and beliefs that are the most authoritative (or influential in shaping other beliefs we hold) have been tested and tried and make the most sense of our regular experiences. For theists, it is the belief in God that shapes all other beliefs, so that ‘belief in God’ is said to be foundational. So, when we talk about ‘shaping peace,’ peace is our goal, and we shape peace by (1) practicing peace, and (2) influencing or persuading others to live peacefully. As multiple participants noted, each one of us can be change agents within the sphere of our relational influences.


The participants in the program all shared something in common—a foundational belief in peaceful coexistence that is both warranted and influenced by their belief in God. Their belief in God (and undoubtedly other foundational beliefs) was a principal factor in why they could embrace a member of another religion in peaceful coexistence.


Peace

Peace is the goal of these faith communities, but what exactly is peace, and what does it look like? At its fundamental core, peace is the absence of external violence and internal strife. One foundational belief that must be present is the recognition that human life has exceptional dignity—it is, in part, the foundation for commonality. The fact that virtually all humans share many of the same experiences, desires, and fears ought to speak to our collective conscience that togetherness will help us in the long run. Moreover, there is no more excellent example of unity than between members of varying faiths.


Together

It is clear that if we are going to shape peace, we must do it together. How do we shape peace? We start by realizing that we, as humans, share a kinship based on our shared experiences and common core interests. We all share this sacred space, and each person is an image of the divine and experiences divine common grace. To shape peace, we must practice loving, being kind, and willing the good of others. Some ways we do this is by ensuring the rights of others are respected and that others are treated fairly (social justice) and having respectful dialogues rather than committing acts of violence. As multiple event participants noted, each of us can be the Light for our communities to see and model.


Final Thoughts

There was one program speaker that stood out to me the most—an Imam who spoke out against Islamic terrorists by name, Boko Haram, ISIS, and religious terrorism in general. Concerning bigotry and violence done in the name of a particular religion, the onus is especially on members within that religion (broadly speaking) who believe that no human being should be subjugated to mistreatment and violence based on their religious affiliation, to refute violent ideology practiced in the name of God, and send clear messages to religious perpetrators of violence. The public denunciation of violence under the name of his religion was a noble example of shaping peace.


We are not naïve to our theological differences, but they can be laid aside for unity and fellowship. Granted, fellowship between members of a particular faith or tradition will differ significantly between members and non-members of a particular faith or tradition. Nevertheless, there will be no true peace if differing faiths do not work together for our common good—and this cannot be achieved without first achieving unity—and unity cannot be achieved without recognizing that each member and non-member has some shared fellowship. There was a shared prayer amongst the participating members of this event, “God, we acknowledge our frailties and shortcomings before you. Show mercy on us. Deliver us. Bless us. Help us.” All held in common the doctrine of divine hope and the practice of prayer.


[1] A recording of the event can be found on “International Day of Prayer for Peace 2020” FB page.