At the end of October I attended a small conference in Birmingham, organised by the British section of Church and Peace. Rethinking security was a strand throughout the day, coming at this both from a theological perspective and from the very real experience of intercommunal (and intra-communal) violence and conflict. This is just a summary of some of the themes, questions and ideas from the day that seem pertinent to our own exploration of security. [a video of Simon Barrow’s opening address is here – other links will be added as and when they become available ]
Whilst many of people’s concerns about security are very immediate, based around such fears as burlary, cyber-threat, fear of shortage etc the response is very often one that is about responding with force or strength. How can such thinking be reversed, particularly drawing on faith? This could be along the lines of building security through the valuing of sharing rather than of hoarding, accepting vulnerability and contingency (‘stuff happens’) , by offering shelter and welcome, and by finding ourselves in the other.
Societal and inter-community conflicts can be based around contested spaces and contested world views, being about ‘them’ and ‘us’ and in which there is a deep-rooted fear of the other. By sharing vulnerability, we can make connections in new ways. ‘It is in the shelter of each other that that people will live’ says an Irish proverb.
Mediation was described by one church minister from inner-city Birmingham as her mission, a form of ministry. But if mediators are our ministry, how can they be strengthened? How can we go against the natural pull to avoid those who are different to ourselves? By sitting in silence together with someone who we disagree with, that can be the beginning of a mediation journey.
There is a need to widen knowledge and thinking on nonviolence and peace-making in the mainstream churches, moving from the concept of Just War and towards Just Peace. Challenging nationalisms and putting up barriers, changing mindsets, critiquing the lies we are told about what makes us secure, gaining confidence in speaking out and changing the narrative.
But when people are really insecure in society, holding onto and emphasising identity becomes more important. How can we provide listening spaces, being alongside those who feel marginalised, building connections and providing mutual support, engaging with the deep roots of fear and powerlessness?
Whilst identity is important, we all have multiple identities and this is inescapable. None of this is simple – dealing with the conflicts that arise, particularly after violent conflict, is a slow and long-term process.
Churches’ role may be to model unity in diversity, supporting opportunities for genuine dialogue that is really inclusive. Recognition and acceptance of the nature of a conflict can be the start of a process towards positive change. But the recent shift towards xenophobia in British civic and political discourse has undone so much good work, which means that the atmosphere in which these things are discussed can be very difficult. How do we repair the harm that has been done so we move to an approach in which people are not seeking their freedom and identity at the expense of others’?