By Rev. Wayne Lavender
Human history has been written in blood and tears. The terrorist attack on September 11 was simply one more act in a long running play: they kill us; we kill them. Repeat. This is the eternally-contemporary drama of human interaction since the time of Cain and Abel.
It is said that one definition for insanity is doing the same activity over and over again but each time expecting different results. However, this we know: the death and destruction caused by war creates a vicious cycle that leads to ever increasing levels of violence.
But there is another way: the path of peace with justice – where cooperation and collaboration replace competition and conflict. This has been the road less taken. But it is the road we must choose now because continuing to do what we have done in the past – complemented by technological advances in humanity’s ability to kill – will lead to toward a dark and destructive future.
What is the opposite of a terrorist?
No, this is not a joke. It is actually a question I posed to my congregation in the weeks following the attacks of 9/11. I’ve come to the conclusion that the opposite of a terrorist must be a builder. A terrorist, after all, destroys, demolishes and devastates. A builder, on the other hand, innovates, creates and constructs.
A terrorist creates fear: a builder produces hope.
The most effective way to confront terrorism is to build a world of peace with justice. Peace begins when hunger ends. Peace begins when people have gainful employment and access to decent housing, education, and healthcare. Peace endures when justice prevails – thus mitigating the anger and despair that often leads to violence.
When I think about what a just world looks like, I consider the next generation. An estimated 10 million children die yearly from the effects of extreme poverty; this is an average of 26,000 children per day. In the decade since the attacks of 9/11, approximately 100 million children have died as the result of extreme poverty. This, in fact, is the silent and scandalous terrorism of our day. Distracted by other concerns, persons of faith have neglected the cries of these children.
A recent UN report indicates that there are as many as 200 million orphans alive today – mostly concentrated in the poorer nations of the global south. Alone in the world these children often have no one to love, care and raise them. These orphans are disproportionately represented in the total number of child deaths each year, more so than any other demographic.
How can we address this crisis? Some answers come from our faith traditions. The Abrahamic religions share a belief in monotheism. We also share multiple references within our sacred texts to care for the orphan. For instance in the Hebrew Bible (and Christian Old Testament), we read, “Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice” (Deuteronomy 24:17), and in the Qur’an, “And feed with food the needy wretch, the orphan and the prisoner, for love of Him” (76:8).
Sadly, we also share in the ability to widely ignore these admonitions.
In my experience, I have learned this: interfaith dialogue is important, but talking is only a starting point. Interfaith work is better. Interfaith work builds relationships, creates networks, fosters trust, breaks down stereotypes and constructs a space for understanding and peace. In the few months since I established the Foundation 4 Orphans (F4O), an interfaith, international non-governmental organisation dedicated to supporting the physical, spiritual and emotional needs of the orphan, I have been blessed in my work by Jews, Muslims and Christians.
I received the first gift for F4O from a Muslim friend and had my first speaking engagement in a synagogue. I have Jewish, Christian and Muslim board members. We have come together as brothers and sisters to accomplish three things: to build a world of peace and justice, to fulfil our mandated obligations and to change the operating paradigm of human history.
We can continue to practice what many Jews, Christians and Muslims have practiced for thousands of years: if you strike me, I will strike you back. This is the eternally contemporary cycle of violence. It is the response the United States made following the attack of 9/11. But what has all this war accomplished?
There is a better way. We have the ability and option to forge a new path – a path leading towards peace and justice where the obligations to love our neighbour and care for the needy are taken seriously. This is the better way. The decision about which way to choose is ours. Let us make this decision wisely.
Rev. Wayne Lavender is a United Methodist pastor and director of the Foundation 4 Orphans.