“…they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
—Isaiah 2:4; the verse is inscribed on a wall across from the United Nations Building in New York City
Following in the steps of the Hebrew prophets, Jesus taught his disciples to turn the other cheek. But our Savior must have known that mankind would always find lasting worldwide peace nearly impossible.
Peace escaped us as we toiled in New York City high-rise towers. It was elusive as we sipped coffee late at night in Paris cafés. Peace flees our grasp in Syria as thousands risk death to escape, only to be trapped in refugee camps.
Still, the leaders of diverse faith traditions strive for peace in the belief that we can bridge our differences and work together in its name.
Members of the Orange County Interfaith Network board of directors represent myriad religions and cultures. They conquer their differences as they work toward peace in our community, providing educational and cultural events showcasing both diversity and the shared yearning for peace.
“The notion of peace comes from the Hebrew Bible as do many of our values,” explains Network President Rabbi Frank Stern. “We make sure it remains a key value through worship and study.”
Indeed, agrees Cal State Fullerton religious studies scholar Dr. Ben Hubbard, the Book of Deuteronomy counsels to negotiate first for peace and resort to war only as a last resort.
“Our two traditions of Christianity and Judaism are very closely entwined,” Dr. Hubbard notes. “Early Christians were pacifists who refused to fight in Caesar’s army. There is a sense of peace and utter non-violence in Christianity – along with the recognition of the reality of self-preservation.”
With nuclear missiles in the hands of dubious world leaders, society today is under the constant threat of atomic war. “Paranoia exists all over the world that someone will invade or nuke us. It just seems as if we’ve lost our way,” Dr. Hubbard observes. “We need to get back to the roots of peace.”
Those peaceful roots, believes Christ Cathedral Parochial Vicar Father Quan Tran, begin with each individual. “Mother Teresa said we need to be one with God, at peace with who we are, before we foster peace among our friends and the community close to us,” Fr. Tran says. “Then we can reach out to the world at large and spread that peace.”
Peace is part of every greeting Muslims extend and an integral part of their five-times-daily prayers, notes Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, religious director of the Islamic Society of Orange County. Dr. Siddiqi worries that most of us may not understand the vital distinction between Muslim Americans in our community and those on the fringe who commit violence in the name of Islam.
“We should not misrepresent each other,” he warns. “We must stand together and speak up when things aren’t right. Social justice should work wherever people are mistreated. We must protect each other’s lives while condemning acts of violence.”
Social justice ideals were foremost in the minds and hearts of about 1 million Americans from all faiths who met July 16 at the National Mall in Washington for “Together 2016.” The event featured speakers and worship services and offered more than 8,000 opportunities for community service around the Washington metro area.
Such shared commitment seems unlikely in a society shattered by violence, scarred by poverty and divided by hateful rhetoric. Still, that same dedication was evident locally early last month when representatives from every Orange County police department joined the O.C. Solidarity March and Summit. A number of local organizations and churches gathered as officers linked arms with members from the Black Lives Matter movement, together with community members and local leaders to march through Irvine in a joint effort of peace and understanding.
On Sept. 11, several events will go beyond commemorating the horror of 9/11 to emphasize peace. Early in the morning Orange County Muslims will pray at Anaheim Stadium. At 10:30 a.m. an interfaith service will be offered at Christ Our Redeemer AME Church in Irvine, and the shared commitment of peace will be the theme of a 1 p.m. Leadership Luncheon at the Pacifica Institute in Irvine. At 6:30 p.m., multiple performers will present a concert featuring inspirational music from different faiths and cultural traditions. The concert will take place at Temple Beth Sholom in Santa Ana.
And even after 9/11/2016, opportunities to work for peace abound, Rabbi Stern says. The interfaith network’s 13 interfaith councils in various parts of Orange County feature speakers and events designed to motivate citizens and promote cultural understanding.
Through it all, God’s persistent call to witness for peace is a solemn one not to be ignored, notes Fr. Quan. “God has entrusted us as human beings, the highest form of all creation, with intelligence, a conscience and the moral rules that live in our hearts. We have the responsibility to build a world of justice, peace and love – and to take care of one another.”