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Inter-faith Discussion Aims to Build Bridges

| March 3, 2011

Faith2Faith panelists

In a world plagued by millennia of violence and warfare, what role—if any—can the world's religions play in resolving conflict and addressing other issues of global concern? That was the question considered by Regent University's Faith2Faith Dialogue on Saturday, Feb. 26, when six panelists representing six different faiths and worldviews came together to discuss Religion and Peace: Religious Answers to Global Crises.

Organized by Dr. Clifton Clarke, associate professor in Regent's School of Divinity and director of the Center for the Study of Global Missions, and Steve Carlin, a pastor at New Life Providence Church in Virginia Beach, Va., the discussion was part of the school's Modular Week offerings. Modular Week brings online students to campus for an intensive residency of classes and face-to-face interaction with faculty and fellow students. Also open to the community, the event attracted about 150 people.

"We live in a community where people are increasingly suspicious or one another and where opinions are formed from what is said in the media," explained Clarke, who also served as moderator. "This event highlighted the importance of the fact that although we represent different religious groups we all belong to the some community and society.

"Discussion such as these are important for the Regent community as it demonstrates that we are committed to building community cohesion and fostering positive relations between the different faith groups in Hampton Roads community."

Panel speakers included: Dr. M'hammed Abdous, secretary of the Muslim Community of Tidewater (Islam); Dr. Corné Bekker, associate professor in Regent's School of Global Leadership & Entrepreneurship (Christianity); Kamlesh Kapur, education chair of Asian Indians of Hampton Roads (Hinduism); Shelley Mountjoy, organizer of Capital Beltway Atheists (Secular Humanism); Gloria Stevenson-Clark, chapter leader and minister of ceremonies of Soka Gakkai International (Buddhism); and Dr. Israel Zoberman, rabbi of Congregation Beth Chaverim (Judaism).

As moderator, Clarke asked a series of questions that allowed each panelist to describe the major tenets of their faith, their views on the meaning and purpose of human existence, their views on truth, and their religions' teachings about peace and war.

"Jews created the word for 'peace'—'shalom,' explained Zoberman. Kapur said that Hindu prayers are "aspirations for peace, within ourselves and for everybody else." Stevenson-Clark, whose organization is a non-governmental organization under the United Nations, emphasized that, "There is no way we can bring about peace through war. It's necessary to create a culture of peace," referencing a U.N. peacemaking document. Mountjoy expanded on this concept, discussing the importance of building a community of justice, respect and fairness for all.

Abdous talked about the Golden Rule—found in both Muslim and Christian teachings—that instructs people to treat others as they want to be treated. "Peace can be accomplished by keeping the two Golden Rules in mind individually and at the state/nation level," he said.

As for the causes of war, Bekker noted two: the sins of envy and selfish ambition. In his view, attaining peace requires a better example, and he said that peace can be found in Christ. He added that peace comes at a cost, however, requiring a transformation in people's hearts and minds.

Responding the question, "Is there ever a time when war is justified?" most of the respondents emphasized that all other avenues for conflict resolution must be exhausted first, with war being the last resort for defense of country and protection of human rights. Stevenson-Clark disagreed, however, saying, "There is absolutely no time for war."

Panelists also explored the relationship between religion and politics. While most agreed that "separation of church and state" is a valid concept, the responsibility of citizens to participate in the democratic process is equally vital.

Audience members also had a time for questions where they asked panelists what they value about religions other than their own and how they came to accept their belief system.

Wrapping up the discussion, Clarke asked the panelists to comment on the current unrest in the Middle East. "The crisis is mind-boggling, and I don't believe it's one of religion, said Kapur, who said she has a background in economics. "It's a question of politics and the control of oil and other resources. Should it be controlled by dictators or should the citizens share in the profits?"

Bekker offered two solutions that he alluded to previously. "First, it requires a transformation of hearts, from hearts of stone into hearts of flesh," he said. "Second, it will require forgiveness. It is extraordinarily hard to forgive and to also ask for forgiveness."

Concluding by affirming Abdous' earlier comments about the Golden Rule, Bekker added, "If we can [apply the Golden Rule] not only in our personal practice, but also on the international stage, maybe that could precipitate peace."


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