After 20 years of war in Afghanistan, the Biden administration is withdrawing US troops. With that the longest American war comes to an end. It’s about time.

I wish they prepared better. Now the Taliban is poised to take control of large portions of the country. Women, in particular, and those who served the US troops as translators and other helpers are in a precarious position, although the latter are at last being evacuated. Last week, in talks with the Prime Minister of Iraq, President Biden declared that all US forces will be withdrawn from Iraq as well.

President Biden is not a pacifist. But he knows the cost of war. He knows that his ambitious domestic agenda cannot be funded if the US keeps funding wars. The $6.5 trillion that the US spent during the 20 years of that war is an enormous amount of money. In fact, the US Pentagon spends $2 billion a day on war and weapons of war. That’s more than $1 million every minute.

Is it possible Washington is at last realizing that the money saved from war and weapons of war can be used to distribute Covid vaccinations world-wide, reduce carbon emissions, strengthen education and eradicate hunger?

If so, is there suddenly an opening for an old but crazy idea?

At OMNIA, we’ve been thinking a lot about food justice. This is because many of our Interfaith Peacemaker Teams are in marginalized communities. Many are daily wage earners. Others work in farms. When Covid lockdowns are imposed, poor people who depend on daily wages can't go out and earn their daily living, nor can farmers go out and tend their farms. As a result, they have no money and therefore no food.

IP Team in Kaltungo,  Nigeria prepares and shares food with Covid patients and families
Sri Lanka's IP Teams responded by creating a Home Agriculture Project on farm land donated by the local Buddhist Temple

Eleven people die of hunger every minute, declared a recent Oxfam report (July 9, 2021). The primary causes of such hunger are three Cs: Conflict, Covid and Climate Change. Oxfam likens it to a virus, proposing that the world’s governments attack it with the same vigor that they are attacking the Coronavirus.

But this deadly situation can be addressed. Ceres 2030 (October 7, 2020), a German government sponsored report estimated that hunger can be eradicated across the world by 2030 for $330 billion.  

Remember how much the Pentagon spends on war per day -- $2 billion. So, if the Ceres 2030 number is correct, eradicating hunger in the world takes up only half a year’s Pentagon budget!

Here’s another number to consider: $14.96 trillion.

The Global Peace Index 2021 reports that this is the amount of money (adjusted according to the purchasing power of various currencies) that the world spent on war and weapons of war in 2020. In other words, eradicating hunger takes 0.22% of the world’s war budget. Or, if we were to abolish war, we can eradicate hunger 44 times over.

 

What a crazy idea, you say. It’s a pipe dream, it will never happen.

May be your are right. But here’s why I think its not so crazy!

In 2011, the World Council of Churches organized the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation, a massive gathering of churches, in Kingston, Jamaica. These were not glazy-eyed peaceniks or hippies of the 1960s. These were church leaders from Orthodox, Protestant and Catholic worlds and guests from other religious communities world-wide. They were people with significant and powerful constituencies.

Abolish War was one of the key phrases to come out of that event.

New Zealand theologian Dr. Paul Oestreicher gave the keynote address. Please read it. Here’s the paragraph that I carried back with me.

The abolition of war is possible. It is as possible as was the abolition of slavery, the slavery that still haunts the history of this nation of Jamaica. Wilberforce and his evangelical friends who campaigned to end it, were thought to be unrealistic dreamers. Slavery surely was part of our DNA, necessary to every society’s economic survival. The churches were up to their necks in maintaining slavery, the bishops of the Church of England unanimously upheld it. In the same way, today many Christians remain wedded to a society that cannot let go of the cult of the good soldier,or even the holy warrior. Wilberforce and his determined friends triumphed against all odds. Slavery was made illegal. Its defenders withered away. That needs to become the fate of war. If the churches of the world fail to embark on such a campaign, we will have nothing that is uniquely and specifically Christian to say on the subject of world peace.

This is not all. Let me give you a brief litany of religion’s accomplishments:

* At the beginning of the Hinduism-inspired Gandhian movement, no one thought that a people’s movement could possibly drive the mighty British empire away, abandoning its lucrative colonial ventures.

* At the beginning of the US Civil Rights movement, most people (including many African American leaders) never really believed that the Montgomery Bus Boycott could work. This is why they gave the leadership of the boycott to the youngest minister (26 year-old Martin Luther King, Jr.) in town.

Dr. Allen Boesak (right) and me, soon after he spoke at the 2014 SCUPE Congress on Urban Ministry

* It was impossible to imagine that Apartheid in South Africa could be eradicated until 1982, when a 36 year-old Allen Boesak led the movement in the World Alliance of Reformed Churches to declare apartheid a heresy breaking the back of that structurally racist ideology. They excommunicated the South African Reformed Church and elected Boesak as president of that large network of churches.

* When the Berlin wall came down in 1991, no one thought it was possible until people started gathering for a Monday night prayer meeting at St. Nicolai’s Church in Leipzig and it became a massive movement.

This is religion at its best. At the beginning of these movements, many felt that they were pipe-dreams. But a few believed in the vision, strapped their faith on their feet, and made it happen.

 

A dream will stay a dream unless there is a plan: So we are building a Peaceforce!

Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream would have stayed a dream if there was no movement behind it. Abolishing war will remain a dream if there is no movement behind it. This is why we are building a movement -- a peaceforce.

Today, we are 156 teams in four countries (Bangladesh, Nigeria, Sri Lanka and Uganda) and an International Virtual Team. Each team minimally has 20 members. That means we have more than 3200 trained peacemakers. Many are religious leaders (clergy and lay, women and men) with constituency. Some lead religious communities of over 100 and others over 1000. They can mobilize large numbers.

The Covid restrictions have held us back for much longer than we expected. But even so, our IP Team numbers are about to explode. As soon as we are beyond Covid, we’ll be training in India, and many Central African countries: Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Kenya, in addition to the USA. Until then, we are doing our training online.

 

Join the Movement….

You too can join the movement. Here are some ways to be engaged.

1.      If you haven’t signed up to receive our communications, please do. Click here. This way, you will be informed about what’s going on and new opportunities to participate.

2.      Participate in a training. Physical trainings will resume as soon as the countries in which we have IP Teams, lift Covid restrictions. Virtual trainings are held at regular intervals. These are weekly two hour sessions that go for 7 sessions. You can sign up here.

3.      Sponsor an IP Team, build relationships with team members and learn about what they do. We suggest a $50 a month ($600 a year) sponsorship would help IP Teams engage in creative projects that benefit their community.

4.      Contribute to OMNIA so we continue to build this critical infrastructure with strength. We encourage recurring donations, because the needs of the IP Teams are year-long. Click here to donate.

A Concluding Thought

I don’t know if you noticed, but in the Bible, abundance (of food, for example) and peace (abolishing war, for example) often go together. Here’s a very familiar line where these two ideas combine:

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies… and my cup overflows” (Psalm 23:5)

This familiar line reminds me of an unfamiliar but fascinating story from 2 Kings 6. When the Aramian army came down the mountain to attack Israel, the prophet Elisha prayed that they be blinded. They are, and Elisha leads the blind army to Israel’s king. The king wants to kill them. That’s what you do with your enemies. But Elisha has a different idea. Here’s how the text reads (2 Kings 6:22-23). Elisha says:

“Set food and water before them so that they may eat and drink; and let them go to their master.” So he prepared for them a great feast; after they ate and drank, he sent them on their way, and they went to their master. And the Arameans no longer came raiding into the land of Israel.

The moral of the story is simply this: Don’t kill your enemies. Instead, set up a table. Prepare a great feast. Eat and drink with them. Celebrate with them. And there will be peace.

Food and peace go together. Abundance and abolishing war go together. When we stop the killing, we can have a great feast. All of us -- even our enemies -- together.

Shanta Premawardhana

President

Shanta Premawardhana is president of OMNIA Institute for Contextual Leadership. Prior to OMNIA, he served as the Director for Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation at the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Switzerland. He was also the Associate General Secretary for Interfaith Relations at the National Council of Churches, USA. While serving as pastor of Ellis Avenue Church in Chicago, he engaged in community organizing in the Southside of Chicago. He is an emeritus trustee of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, National Council of Churches, USA, and Common Cause Illinois. He earned his Ph.D. at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

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