The Neighbor-Love Week for National Reconciliation

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Dear friends,

 

This week I’m sharing an article that I recently published with my partner Dr. Tekalign Nega on the website Ethiopia Insight. Our article invites Ethiopia’s religious leaders and communities to devote a week to praying and preaching about loving our neighbors in a time when almost every day seems to bring news of another massacre. Please join us in praying for and promoting this reconciling initiative. If you or your community would like to get involved, please email me.

 

Yours with gratitude,

Andrew

 

The Neighbor-Love Week for National Reconciliation

Ethiopia is an overwhelmingly religious country. The Pew Research Center found that ninety-eight percent of Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Christians say that their religion is “very important” to them. This makes them among the most religious people in the world.

There is little reason to assume that Ethiopian Muslims, Evangelicals, Catholics, and followers of other faiths see their religion as less important to them. Taken together, over ninety-seven percent of Ethiopia’s population holds its religious texts, traditions, and teachers with very high authority.

The result is profound and should not be ignored. One can travel to the farthest corners of Ethiopia and find a church, mosque, monastery, or other places of religious devotion and education. Spread throughout Ethiopia are physical infrastructures and human networks that ceaselessly flow with religious piety and passion. When these are connected by TV channels, radio stations, Facebook pages, Telegram groups, text messages, and webs of real-life gatherings, their reach and influence are astonishing and nearly omnipresent.

These unique religious traditions share a powerful moral vision that is key to Ethiopia’s present and future: the other is our neighbor. And this moral vision can speak to the heart of Ethiopia’s contemporary crisis of hatred, conflict, and violence, and can prepare the spiritual climate necessary for national healing.

How is this so?

The way we see others defines our relationships, and our relationships define our society. When we see others as outsiders or enemies, conflict becomes inevitable. This is what is behind the death and destruction we see exploding today.

But when we see others as valuable and connected to ourselves — as neighbors — then we can see one another’s dignity. And seeing one another’s dignity motivates us to move towards one another, talk to one another, and rebuild trust and cooperation. These are the practical steps of reconciliation.

For this purpose, we would like to propose a humble invitation that could contribute to this process of national reconciliation. This invitation is not a quick fix or magic solution. It can serve as one initiative among others required to move Ethiopia toward dialogue, reconciliation, and a sustainable future.

We’re naming this invitation the Neighbor-Love Week for National Reconciliation, and it goes as follows. What if on the first weekend of May or June (election weekend), every church, every mosque, every monastery, and every other platform of religious devotion and education in Ethiopia would agree to preach the same message? The message would be simple, fundamental, and practical:

  1. The other is our neighbor, regardless of their ethnic, religious, or political differences. We are not enemies but neighbors.
  2. God commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Genuine faith requires us to see and treat one another as valuable neighbors. (Signing the Neighbor-Love Covenant is a simple way to make this commitment.)
  3. True believers must condemn hatred, insults, and violence and work together for our shared flourishing through dialogue, reconciliation, and cooperation. (The Neighbor-Love Movement’s seven Practices invite each of us to begin this work with our bodies.)

In the week leading up to this weekend, a national television channel could air a 1-hour program each day in which leaders representing Ethiopia’s diverse religious traditions communicate this same message. NLM’s documentary “Our Shared Moral Vision” (available upon request) looks at neighbor-love in five of Ethiopia’s religious traditions and could serve as an inspiring introduction to this week of national TV programming.

This united initiative would not require a relativistic, Western religious pluralism. Instead, each religious community could preach, pray, and practice from the texts that they themselves respect as God’s own revelation.

Christian clerics could speak from the Holy Bible and sacred traditions:

“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself… Love the foreigner as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18, 34)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:43-45)

“[All of God’s commands] are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:9-10)

“Respect others more than yourself, and be the brother of all. Do not be prone to quarrel or to strike anyone… Such a man is like one who takes a bath in a place full of dirt.” (Fetha Negast, Part 1, p. 78)

Muslim clerics could speak from the Holy Quran and Hadiths:

“People, We created you all from a single man and a single woman, and made you into races and tribes so that you should recognize one another.” (Holy Quran 49:13)

“Do good to neighbors near and far.” (Holy Quran 4:36)

“None of  you has faith until you love for your neighbor what you love for yourself… He will not enter paradise whose neighbor is not secure from his wrongful conduct.” (Muslim, Kitab al-iman [Book of Faith], Book 1, #72 and #74)

“If anyone kills a person…it is as if they kill all humankind, while if anyone saves a life it is as if they save the lives of all humankind.” (Holy Qur’an 5:32).

“The most virtuous behavior is to engage those who break relations, to give to those who withhold from you, and to forgive those who wrong you.” (Hadith al-Tabarani, no. 282)

Baha’i clerics could speak from this summary teaching from Abdul’l-Baha:

“Should any come to blows with you, seek to be friends with him; should any stab you to the heart, be a healing salve for his sores; should any taunt and mock at you, meet him with love… Such is the essence of God’s admonitions; such in sum are the teachings for the Dispensation of Baha.” (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 34)

From these diverse sources, the Neighbor-Love Week’s message would end up being genuinely shared, because this message is actually shared across our different religions: (1) Each person is our neighbor. (2) God commands us to love our neighbors. (3) Hate and violence must be converted into dialogue and cooperation.

If this message were presented every day for one week on national television and then across our local platforms on the same weekend, it could resound in Ethiopia from corner to corner across Ethiopia’s powerful religious networks and communities.  Each program could encourage our communities to preach, pray, and practice this same message. Participants could be encouraged to flood social media with this shared moral vision of the other person as our precious neighbor. Perhaps a simple hashtag like #NLMEthiopia could be used to counter the toxic messages we see today.

And perhaps a miracle would actually happen: Together the whole country would hear a non-political but authoritatively religious, robustly moral call to see the precious value of the other across every boundary and to seek reconciled relationships. (Love is not fuzzy feelings; love is practical care and action for others’ wellbeing.) As the federal election approaches, this initiative could be a profoundly practical way to promote peace, especially if the Neighbor-Love Week is held in June — just before and after the election.

The practical implications would be obvious for all of us:

  1. Enemy-making words must be washed from our mouths and communities as sins against God and our neighbors.
  2. Enemy-making images must be washed from our minds and media as sins against God and our neighbors.
  3. Law-breaking acts of violence that harm our neighbors must be opposed as offenses to God’s will for our shared dignity, justice, and peace.

In this way, the Neighbor-Love Week for National Reconciliation would serve as a public moment of shared conviction, shared clarity, and shared commitment. When we face challenges and conflicts moving forward, we can all ask each other, “Do we have no fear of God? We have heard God’s word to us. If we continue like this, we have betrayed what we claim to value most. Let us do better in God’s name.”

Imagine the positive aftershocks in communities across the country: “Let us abandon dehumanizing language, because that person or group is still our neighbor! Let us speak new words of respect and reconciliation.” “Let us abandon violent tactics to achieve our goals, because that person or group is still our neighbor! Let us find better strategies of dialogue and cooperation.” “If we do speak and act with hate, we have no business stepping into our church or mosque or temple, because we have rebelled against God.”

In summary, what if the Inter-Religious Council of Ethiopia mobilizes the Orthodox Patriarchate, the Islamic Affairs Supreme Council, the Evangelical Churches Fellowship, and all other religious bodies for a Neighbor-Love Week at the beginning of May or June? What if a national television channel would sponsor a week of daily programs to promote this initiative? And what if our local religious communities and social media platforms got behind it with their own preaching, prayer, and practice?

For one week, the entire country would resound with the same message: “The other is our precious neighbor, simply because they are God’s creation. Even the person we’re tempted to hate in our hearts, to curse with our words, to attack with our actions is our God-created neighbor. Whether we like it or not, we must love across boundaries.”

Ethiopia is a rich country. Among Ethiopia’s greatest riches is her people’s faith in God. Unlike many materialistic, individualistic societies, almost ten out of ten Ethiopians claim to look beyond themselves to God and God’s will as the compass for their life’s meaning.

So why not engage this rich national resource with its almost omnipresent infrastructures and powerful networks in this urgent moment of crisis? Why not mass-proclaim on national television and our grassroots communities the message that our religions independently but unanimously agree upon: the other is our neighbor in God’s eyes; hateful words and actions have no place in a true believer’s life; faith in God demands love, respect, and peaceful solutions to our conflicts for our shared flourishing.

No one would be asked to preach anything that they don’t already believe. This Neighbor-Love Week would simply re-centralize what is already central and proclaim it together for one week during a time when it is urgently needed.

Every day is an election, and our choices are our votes. When we choose to love our neighbors as ourselves, our shared dignity is rediscovered. Dialogue becomes possible. Trust begins to heal. Cooperation and innovation flourish. Reconciliation becomes our way of life. And this reconciliation starts with each one of us, with our bodies and local communities, and the way we choose to see and treat the other across boundaries.

 

Please help us make the Neighbor-Love Week for National Reconciliation a reality.

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