Celebrating the link between faith and peace

by the Revd Dr Clive Barrett

HOW often do we hear religion being blamed for the wars of the world? The argument goes that, as there is a religious dimension to the mess in the Middle East, Islamic State, Northern Ireland, so religion must be a force for bad.

The watercolour presented to the Peace Museum. Copyright: Madjid Malakzadeh, Farzaeh Jafari and The Peace Musem.

Yet within each of the three Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – there is a priority of peace, a vision and longing for peace over violence. A new exhibition at Christ Church Cathedral glimpses the textual and practical search for peace in each of these religions. It tells stories of their peace-makers. It shows how each stresses welcome for the stranger, including those of other faiths.

Faith and Peace is sponsored by the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship and illustrated with images of artefacts in the collection of the Peace Museum in Bradford. My favourite image comes from a watercolour presented to the Peace Museum by a Muslim woman, the Iranian Nobel Laureate, Shirin Ebadi. Originally painted by an Iranian peace group, it shows an angel sprinkling rose petals of peace on the earth. It reminds me that, whatever presidents and governments might say about states they do not like, in every country there are people like us, longing for peace.
For me, personally, the most poignant original artefact is a banner inscribed Oxford Christians for Peace; this was a group I helped to found 35 years ago. Just producing the exhibition has been a work of peace-making. Several of the original artworks have been produced by mixed-faith groups of women in Bradford.

Making these fabric pieces together has helped to build relationships between women of very different backgrounds. Some were Christian women who have never travelled outside Yorkshire; others were Syrian refugees, Muslims who have had to flee from war.

Stitching a Tree of Life for the Healing of the Nations, or working on a faux-stained-glass representation of Naomi and Ruth, biblical refugees from famine, has been a formative experience for these women. The Cathedral has paid for the women to travel to Oxford to see their work on display.

What priority do we give to peace-making and nonviolence in our own faith? Seeing Faith and Peace encourages us to work creatively with people of other faiths, side by side, to learn the things that make for peace.

The period the exhibition is on display covers All Saints, Remembrancetide, and Inter-Faith Week (12-19 November). See the exhibition and reflect on the male and female heroes for peace, on Jesus’s teaching and example against violence, and the importance of working alongside neighbours of other faiths. If we all act on the imperative for peace-making in our own faith, perhaps others will see that religion is not the problem but part of the solution for the peace of our world.

Faith and Peace: an exhibition at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford runs from 21 October – 20 November 2017

The Revd Dr Clive Barrett is Strategic Adviser to the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship: clive@anglicanpeacemaker.org.uk