Thursday, March 10, 2005

BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS: Jewish and Christian approaches to faith-based mediation

A look at faith-based mediation The central tenet of Judaism is contained within the exhortation, Hear, O Israel, the Lord Our God, the Lord is One. It is a call to listen closely, to heed the voice of God.

The importance of listening is emphasized in Christianity as well. Benedictine monks, for example, practice silence as a way to listen more attentively to God: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear”, Matt. 11:15.

Listening, as mediators know, is also the cornerstone of mediation practice. Mediators listen closely to the perspectives of parties in conflict. And through mediation disputants are able to listen to each other.

In light of this parallel it is perhaps not surprising that approaches to mediation have emerged that are deeply rooted in religious traditions and values. Faith-based mediation services have sprung up tailored to the special needs of disputants who are members of a particular denomination or faith.

The Jewish perspective

Jewish mediation practice is inspired by the spiritual mandate of tikkun olam , the obligation to repair and bring healing to a broken world. It includes the promotion of justice and peace through social action. Tikkun olam offers inspiration for the work of a number of Jewish mediators.

One program whose work gives expressions to these goals is the Jewish Community Justice Project in West Los Angeles which “brings together victim, offender and volunteer mediator in a voluntary conflict resolution process guided by Jewish values and tradition.”

Besides addressing community and neighborhood issues, mediation services incorporating Jewish values also focus on divorce and family concerns. This could include helping parents continue to work together collaboratively to raise children during and after divorce, or assisting a divorcing couple to obtain a religious divorce and a Get, or written decree of divorce under Jewish law.

Mediation in the Christian context

Christianity’s sacred texts place great value on peacemaking: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone,” Romans 12:18. The word “peace” itself appears numerous times throughout the New Testament.

A number of organizations provide mediation services built upon Christian teachings. For example, the U.K.-based Resolve: Christian Mediation and Arbitration Service, an affiliate of the International Christian Chamber of Commerce, “exists to encourage and assist Christians to respond to conflict in a biblical manner. Its primary purpose is to provide an advice and mediation service to help resolve disputes whether arising in business, church or family and to reconcile the parties involved.” Another organization, Peacemaker Ministries, a non-profit based in Montana, has a more far-reaching objective: it “trains and assists Christian adults and children to resolve personal, church, business, and legal conflict through biblical peacemaking, negotiation, forgiveness, reconciliation, mediation, and arbitration.”

Beyond the provision of mediation services, there are of course faith-based organizations actively involved in peacemaking efforts generally on local and global levels. For a list of some of these organizations, click here.