While these words appear on materials boldly proclaiming the purpose of the United Religions Initiative, they are for us more than words to be read or recited. These are words to be lived.
In the face of a world seemingly addicted to violence, we at the United Religions Initiative are committed to creating alternative spaces of peacebuilding and reconciliation. Amidst the firestorm of political rhetoric that deepens disputes and dehumanizes others, URI’s network of Cooperation Circles create places where relationships are built and understanding of a common humanity is reached between diverse peoples. As bombs and rockets fall and bullets fly, as planes are shot from the sky, devastating the lives of so many innocent people, we gather together with those who suffer, so that we create unbreakable bonds of relationship by sharing the pain of great losses – bonds that can withstand the calls for revenge and retaliation, and offer instead reconciliation and restoration. In the face of all this violence, we choose to work together for positive solutions that break the cycle of violence and create peace.
This is the United Religions Initiative. This is URI.
The events of these past weeks in the Middle East and the Ukraine, akin to similar to events along the United States/Mexico border, in Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda, and in communities around the world, paint a clear picture of the cycle of violence infecting our world. These events show how the use of violence perpetuates more violence, ultimately creating a culture in which the wanton destruction of human life becomes the “normal” state of human relations, and in which a culture of peace is increasingly seen as a naïve dream. This is the illusion that those who use violence would have us believe. “Violence is inevitable.” “Violence can only be effectively met with more violence.” If one did nothing but watch daily news broadcasts, one would think that violence was the only way in which human beings relate to one another.
But the hundreds of thousands of members of the United Religions Initiative who gather regularly in interfaith grassroots Cooperation Circles reject these calls to participate in the culture of violence. We know that violence leads to more violence, whether it be the violence of bombs dropped or rockets fired into neighborhoods, the violence of children imprisoned for seeking asylum, the violence of the kidnapping and abuse of women and girls, or the violence of poverty gripping the lives of so many people around the world. We denounce this violence as a rejection of the religious, spiritual and humanitarian values at the heart of all of our traditions. Rather, we proclaim a commitment to the power of peace and the practices of dialogue and non-violent collective action that seek to address conflict and transform injustice.
We proclaim the power of peace because every day we hear stories of Israelis and Palestinians, Russians and Ukrainians, Kenyans, Nigerians and Ugandans, Americans and Central Americans, and people of all cultures and religions working together to create peace and justice in their communities. In a world addicted to violence, we must teach others that dialogue, negotiation and relationship-building are the best options for resolving conflicts. We must show others that differences of religion, ethnicity or ideology do not necessitate destructive and violent interaction, but are rather resources for building healthy, sustainable, diverse communities. We must tell the stories of all the peoples of the planet as being interconnected and interdependent rather than incompatible and contradictory. Ultimately, our most effective response to violence is to live the purpose of URI in all that we do.
We invite you then to join us in the daily practice of living the purpose URI:
Join with others in Cooperation Circles in your community or globally in actions to address issues of conflict, violence and injustice.
Share with others in the URI Network and beyond stories of positive peacebuilding and justice-seeking in which you are involved.
Spend as much time reading about the stories of hope and possibility, of justice-seeking and peacebuilding from our Cooperation Circles around the world as you spend reading, watching and listening to stories of violence and destruction.
Reach out in support of URI sisters and brothers and show your support and solidarity for their work.
Speak out on behalf of those suffering from the impact of violence in the world and promote the values of peace and justice, while refusing to engage in stereotyping and dehumanizing rhetoric that diminishes the lives of others.
Offer your thoughts and prayers and those of your community for the peoples of the planet that all people may experience the peace and justice that we seek.
In the face of violence, let us then not just talk about peace, but rather let us practice peace by living the purpose of URI every day in all that we do.
In peace… Victor