Hope for Peace: Reflection on a Conversation with Professor C. Melissa Snarr
Reverend Kitty Norton Jones, MDiv'98
“The twentieth century was one of the most violent on record, and new forms of terrorism and warfare continue to define the beginning of the twenty-first century.” –C. Melissa Snarr, assistant professor of ethics and society, Vanderbilt Divinity School
C. Melissa Snarr, assistant professor of ethics and society at Vanderbilt Divinity School, will lead a discussion on religion, war, and reconciliation on March 23, 30, and April 6 in a Relevant Religion Series hosted by Trinity Presbyterian Church. Snarr will discuss the consequences of war, the role of religion and politics, and the rituals and practices we may turn to for peacemaking and reconciliation. Recently, I interviewed Snarr about religion, war, and reconciliation, and she shared these reflections:
Ten years into the 21st century, you would think we would have made progress toward peace. We were to have learned from the Holocaust, says professor Snarr, who goes on to name the more recent atrocities of Kosovo, Rwanda, Darfur, and the Congo. Sanctioned violence in the name of peace is outrageous to some, but as we have learned with Iraq a well-educated political elite can convince a population otherwise. Violence in the name of religious and political freedom has been the mask for those with a political agenda that favors corporate shareholders and the arms industry.
In war there is the false assumption that one side will win and one will lose. The reality is that nobody wins. The losers in all cases are the most vulnerable of a population. War directly affects the most defenseless people on the planet: women, children, and the elderly. Should you survive a conflict such as Kosovo, the memory of the brutality linked to the genocide is never far from the surface. How, indeed, is one to survive, let alone thrive, in such a violent world?
Snarr admits the students in her religion and war class are down at this point in the semester. It is no wonder, but she offers hope for our broken and wounded world. People of faith respond to the violence in the world by mourning. Rituals and practices help us define our grief and prepare us for the long road to healing. In that healing process we try to find meaning. Snarr wants us to discern the moral obligations of the religious community and of faithful people in the face of local and global violence.
The final analysis does not appear to give us much hope, but, it is there. Snarr believes that we must make a global connection. She says that one strategy is encourage and support theological education in every religious tradition. There is a movement to open more Islamic religious schools for women. This move will add new voices to the theological conversation. Peace building and reconciliation can begin by sitting around a table with a variety of voices expressing a variety of experiences.
The Divinity School is training students to think theologically in a local and a global context. The School’s global immersion program has provided an opportunity for students to begin conversations around tables at the U.S. Mexico border, in Namibia, and in Bangladesh. These experiences have made a significant impact on our students. They saw with their own eyes the scars of war when they traveled throughout Vietnam. They also experienced the reconciliation. Will Matthews, MDiv’07, wrote in the article, “What Is in a Name?” for the 2006 summer issue of The Spire:
“Reconciliation transcends logic; it transcends even our inner sense of what is just and right. Reconciliation creates a place for healing; it creates a new and common path on which we can all begin to trod together, even for two countries that not so long ago had been engaged in brutal conflict against each other.”
Women and men called to the ministry come to Vanderbilt Divinity School to challenge themselves and to engage in theological dialogue. They leave the School prepared to continue those theological conversations within the religious and civic communities they serve. Peacemaking and reconciliation may seem a daunting task to us. Thanks to dedicated scholars such as Snarr, our students gain a set of tools they can use to engage in theological conversations about peace and reconciliation. They will know how to preach about the moral obligations of a people of faith. They will learn to lead their communities in rituals of healing. They will teach us to have hope for peace.
Join the conversation with Professor Snarr on Tuesday, March 23, 30, and April 6 at Trinity Presbyterian Church, Nashville, TN.
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