Walker Chapel United Methodist Church

Peace and Faith in Our Time


This evening’s Forum is a discussion of the violent conflicts that abound in the world and the efforts of the United States Institute of Peace to help prevent and resolve issues which pose risks for U.S. and global security. The USIP works directly in conflict zones with local partners to prevent conflicts from turning to bloodshed and to end the conflicts when they do.

The approach of the USIP is to bring together experts and practitioners to counter violent extremism and promote religious tolerance. It develops tools to improve the rule of law and tests approaches to conflict prevention and peacebuilding to ensure the U.S. is using the best tools to protect our interests without violence. The USIP embraces traditional media, social networking and emerging technology to track, prevent and resolve violent conflict.

The results of USIP efforts in advancing peace and U.S. National Security interests are evident in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Columbia, Nigeria, and in ten other countries across Africa and the Middle East. Tonight we will hear more about these notable works at calming the growing intolerance of diversity, violent extremism, and growth of groups like the Taliban and ISIS through enlarging the role of civil society, building national consensus with civic leaders and scholars, and strengthening emerging youth civil society leaders.

This focus on Peace did not happen overnight. The foundations were formed by a commission appointed by President Jimmy Carter. Legislation establishing the USIP was signed in 1984 by President Ronald Reagan. For many years the USIP worked in unremarkable leased office space, making steady progress, when Congressional action in 1996 lead to the transfer of a portion of the Potomac Annex facility on Navy Hill in 2005 and the subsequent construction of the inspiring facility of modern office space that is nestled under the spreading wings of a dove that form the soaring roof.

In February, 2016, Susan Hayward, USIP’s director of religion and inclusive societies and an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, attended the three-day conference in Marrakesh, Morocco, as a supporter. This evening she will share with us the significance of the meeting and its pronouncements by Muslim scholars in their pledge of support for religious minorities. Over three hundred Islamic scholars, politicians, and activists, as well as a small group of interfaith observers, gathered to affirm the rights of minorities living in Muslim-majority contexts. The Marrakesh Declaration draws from Islamic tradition, particularly the seventh century Charter of Medina, to affirm equal citizenship as an Islamic principle and traditional form of governance prescribed by Prophet Muhammad.

Many women working for peace around the world are motivated by their religious beliefs, whether they work within secular or religious organizations. These women often find themselves sidelined or excluded from mainstream peacebuilding efforts. Secular organizations can be uncomfortable working with religious groups. Meanwhile, religious institutions often dissuade or even disallow women from leadership positions. Women, Religion, and Peacebuilding: Illuminating the Unseen, edited by Susan Hayward and Katherine Marshall, shows how women determined to work for peace have faced these obstacles in ingenious ways—suggesting, by example, ways that religious and secular organizations might better include them in larger peacebuilding campaigns and make those campaigns more effective in ending conflict. This evening Susan will lead the discussion on the efforts of women of faith in working toward peace within Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Judaism. Ultimately, Women, Religion, and Peacebuilding is a call to change the paradigm of peace-building inside and outside of the world’s faiths, to strengthen women’s abilities to work for peace and, in turn, improve the chances that major efforts to end conflicts around the world succeed.

Palwasha L. Kakar, the senior program officer for religion and inclusive societies at the U.S. Institute of Peace, will go further into the detail of USIP work in Afghanistan where she was the Afghanistan director for Women’s Empowerment and Development and where she led the Gender Mainstreaming and Civil Society Unit in the United Nation Development Program's Afghanistan Subnational Governance Program managing a small grants program for Afghanistan's civil society initiatives. She also served as program manager for The Gender Studies Institute at Kabul University and has experience working with the World Bank Group on gender, social justice and environmental issues surrounding their various projects in the region. Her discussion will bring to life the inner workings and efforts for peace as a constant pushing and easing of pressure and charm as she and her cohorts make progress for peace and equality.

For many of us the Middle East, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan are far off places with people different from us and a way of life difficult to understand. The Forum will conclude with a discussion of applying lessons learned in these far off countries to our lives here in the United States. Animosity, distrust, and even hatreds are creeping into the folds of our society and the time is now to turn this around if we are to continue enjoying the peace of America. How can we become more informed? Where can we turn for accurate information? What can we do through our actions, participation, and works to guarantee our freedoms, equality and tolerance for all?Your questions, discussion, and hopefully, answers will serve to benefit all attendees of tonight’s Walker Chapel Forum.