(RNS) — This spring, people of faith across religious traditions celebrated their holy holidays. Easter, Passover, Ramadan, Theravada New Year, Mahavir Jayanti, Vaisakhi, Ridvan and the spring equinox have all unfolded and overlapped in recent weeks. This brought Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, Baha’is and pagans into a common time of spiritual celebration and reflection. The convergence of so many religious holidays will not occur again until 2054.
At the same time, the world is also marking overlapping anniversaries related to war and peace. It has been 20 years since the invasion of Iraq, leading to a disastrous war that killed more than 100,000 Iraqis and nearly 4,500 Americans. This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of a peace agreement in the Vietnam War — or what many Vietnamese call the American War. And 2023 will also mark 70 years since the armistice that silenced the guns in the Korean War, although a peace treaty has still never been signed. It has been 25 years since the Good Friday Agreement was signed in Northern Ireland. And April is also Genocide Awareness Month, commemorating the Holocaust and other atrocities in Rwanda, Cambodia and Armenia.
This season of spiritual convergence, alongside reminders of the horrors and tragedies of war, offers an important opportunity to reflect — and act — on our shared humanity and desire for a more peaceful world. Despite our many differences, we are bound together by our shared values of peace, compassion and respect for human dignity. As a Quaker, this is what my faith calls me to remember and live into this holy season.
However, it is important to remember that often our religious traditions are manipulated to mobilize violence. Many faith traditions from across the spectrum are facing an increasing threat of extremism that is destroying lives and fueling hate worldwide.
White Christian nationalism is intimately linked with armed extremism and white supremacy at home and abroad. The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has used Islam to perpetuate violent ideology and armed movements, as has the Taliban in Afghanistan. Even the overlapping religious holidays caused already high tensions to boil over into more violence. Clashes erupted in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque when Israeli forces stormed Palestinian worshippers during the Ramadan and Passover holidays. That the power of religion can be used for good or evil and has been manipulated in the name of war for centuries is another lesson we should not forget and must ensure we learn from.
While our shared values of peace, justice and compassion can sometimes feel overwhelmed by the divisions and devastating violence in our world, they in fact remain a constant source for renewing our humanity and reconnecting with what binds us together as one global family. They are what remind us that another world is possible. And they call us to work together to build that world.
This year, our organization is marking its own anniversary. Eighty years ago, amid World War II, a small group of Quakers established the Friends Committee on National Legislation to be a voice for peace on Capitol Hill.
This year, we are mobilizing thousands of advocates nationwide in support of violent-conflict prevention and peacebuilding. Rather than pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into more war and weapons, we should invest in peace. We should spend our tax dollars to fund such peace programs as the Complex Crises Fund, Atrocities Prevention and Reconciliation Programs.
These small but effective government programs support violence prevention and people-to-people peacebuilding efforts around the world. They help de-escalate tensions before they turn deadly, break cycles of violence and rebuild relationships after conflict. Often they support community, faith and other leaders to work across differences, mediate disputes and increase understanding of “the other.”
As we celebrate spring and holy holidays, we should learn from the legacies of war and take steps to prevent future violence. People of faith have a special responsibility to help heal the wounds of war, plant the seeds of peace and engage governments to prevent future violence.
War is never inevitable, and our faith traditions call us to actively “seek peace and pursue it.” Whatever our religious or political beliefs, we can all agree that investing in preventing wars and building peace makes sense. Congress should agree too.
(Bridget Moix is the general secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation and leads Friends Place on Capitol Hill and the FCNL Education Fund. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)