A Survey Look at Peacemaking in Seminary Education

That was the title of the seminar I presented at the Interfaith Youth Corps 6th Conference on Interfaith Youth Work this week. To an over-stuffed room of 19 students, professors and non-profit trainers, I presented the findings of our summer’s work: 22 interviews with 10 seminaries, one divinity school and one graduate department of religion.

I may have rushed through my PowerPoint, as I wanted to continue the survey – hearing from this group, how can and should peacemaking be incorporated into future religious leadership? Before I could get to that, I needed to work through the fundamentals. But isn’t seminary all about creating peacemakers?, one student asked. (I wish!) I took that opportunity to elaborate on the fact that seminaries create religious leaders, but not all religious leaders are religious peacemakers. I used the example of the war in Bosnia to talk about religious leaders condoning and even fomenting violence, then the example of Friar Ivo Markovic as a religious peacemaker.

I was also reminded once again that the word “peace” is controversial. Many fear that it references a cold calm, a glossing over of wrongdoing and inequality. One participant pointed out that his tradition prefers to start with the word “justice.” Once assured that Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers work for sustainable, deep, cultures of peace that are rooted in justice, the group could progress with me to my first question: “What is your peacemaking work?”

I’d never thought about my “peacemaking resume” before, said one student. A professor commented, I feel less alone in this work after this conversation. Next: “How might conflict-related skills be essential to your professional development?” Hand raised: I think the question should be which conflict-related skills, because in all of my dealings with human beings, there is conflict. (Good answer.) Final question: “When you envision the future of seminary education, what do you see?” (Where do we begin?!)

During the three day conference, before, during and after my seminar, I was struck by the yearning of young people for a new paradigm of religious leadership – and by the emerging efforts to create it. From what I could tell, according to the roughly 800 people gathered in Chicago, the future includes interfaith work, engagement with local, national and global issues, deep and diverse spiritualities, conflict resolution, and peacemaking.

At a lunchtime networking session, one student explained that she needs a seminary to offer a new degree – a combined masters of divinity and masters of public administration – because she wants to work in the public sphere with religious literacy. That was only one example of something wonderful that I’d never heard before. And yet, the old, enduring themes of our work were present as well. Plenary speaker Jim Wallis issued a call I’ve often heard from Peacemaker Canon Andrew White: If religion is part of the problem, it must be part of the solution.