Analysis: As Ethiopians long for peace and stability, religious leaders, scholars in search of irreplaceable roles of religion in peace building

Participants of this year’s Epiphany (Timket) celebrations in Addis Abeba sharing a moment of Holy Water sprinkles. Photo: Addis Abeba Mayor’s office

By Molla Mitiku

Addis Abeba – Last week, while the Orthodox Christian believers celebrated Epiphany (Timket), one of their major holidays by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC), His Holiness Abune Mathias I, Patriarch of EOTC, called on all mass to work hard to “heal broken hearts, solace the dismayed, enhance peace and fortify unity with true love, justice and equality in true repent”.

The Patriarch conveyed his message of peace to all Ethiopians both at home and abroad and pleaded with them to avoid conflict and sustain peace through “sincerity, reconciliation, brotherly love and complete obedience”.

Despite the presence of countless legally registered religions in Ethiopia, which are followed by nearly 98 percent of the total population of the country, conflict, displacement and disharmony have become synonymous with the country, raising the specter on whether religion has been playing its roles in resolving conflicts and building peace and solidarity in Ethiopia.

On 21 January, religious leaders and scholars came together at the Sheraton Addis hotel in Addis Abeba to discuss the role of religion in peacemaking process in Ethiopia. The panel was organized by the Foundation of Christian Servanthood (FCS).

Tarekegn Nega (PhD), one of the presenters, emphasized that peace and nation building without participation of religion is absurd and the role of religion to seek proper solution remains irreplaceable. Despite the availability of three different perspectives: peace only by religion, peace out of religion, and peace with religion, global experiences indicate that the third option, peace with religion, contributes the greatest role in building lasting peace, he noted.

Yared Tilahan, a pastor, has also the same understanding that he argued peace and security are two separate issues. He said, “The government can enforce security but not peace as the former is external and legally handled while the latter is internal effective spiritually”.

“…religious leaders have become just “political instruments” and the scholars have become the “causes if not aggravators” of conflict in the country.”

Priest Tagaye Tadele, General Secretary of Inter-Religious Council Ethiopia, believes that Ethiopian religious leaders have done nothing that make them proud as their “preach to reinforce love, peace, respect, sympathy and unity among their followers bare no fruits”.

Participants of the panel argued that, “neither religious leaders nor scholars” have contributed for peace, nation and solidarity building in Ethiopia. According to Anteneh Worku, CEO of the Foundation of Christian Servanthood, religious leaders have become just “political instruments” and the scholars have become the “causes if not aggravators” of conflict in the country.

Geleta Simeson (PhD), another presenter on his part emphasized, in a country where about 97.3% of the population is religious, conflict, hate and revenge have become incredibly the country’s identification, which witnessed the “ineffectiveness of religious leaders” in handling their religion proactively.

The major reason for sustained conflict in the country could be attributed to the failure of religious leaders to live for the “heavenly world rather preferred to live earthly life,” he added. Hence, they have engaged in “competition for wealth, fulfilling their limitless needs and ignoring their promises to serve their followers”.

According to Abba Daniel Assefa (PhD), another speaker, religious fathers have almost ignored their spiritual responsibility and are “busy of accumulating wealth” in an unfair, twisted, mischievous ways” so that they failed to “earn respect” from their followers, “fall under suspicion” to each other within one religion and among religions.

“As they have engaged in corruption, the religious leaders have become weak in their spiritual life, looked down and lost resection as well as acceptance,” he added.

Taye Dendea, state minister of ministry of peace, also shares the idea that, “religious values have already washed away at present and the impact of religious leaders upon their followers is not at its normal place”.

At the one-day panel discussion, it was underscored that the need for the irreplaceable roles of religious leaders in conflict resolution, peace, nation and solidarity building remains mandatory. In this regard, it is necessary first to recognize and accept the extent of the problem. “Let’s face the reality,” Geleta said, adding that conflict, the unavoidable incidence, in one or another way is related to religion that, “religious leaders must empower themselves in giving spiritual leadership, which the government organs cannot do”.

As they have engaged in corruption, the religious leaders have become weak in their spiritual life, looked down and lost resection as well as acceptance”

Abba Daniel Assefa (PhD)

Geleta added that religious fathers are under suspicion, challenged by extremism, political imposition, hijacking and serving as instruments for government that is why they failed to “earn respect”.

While briefing the role of religious leaders in building “Social Solidarity”, Abba Daniel remarked that standing by the victims, being voice for morally and psychologically dismayed, refuting bias in connection to religion or identity and above all working to ensure justice for the subjugated segment is what religious leaders should do. “Religious leaders are currently working to accumulate wealth, to meet their limitless needs, competing for power, satisfy their stinginess, fulfilling earthly life”.

According to Abba Daniel, the purpose of reconciliation is not something that religious fathers do when they want and leave when they do not, rather it should be a task they handle all the time. He added that, “both the mainstream and the social media have also been contributing in escalating conflicts instead of working for justice. In our country, the media has remained being “conflict aggravators, mouths of government authorities”.

Hence, we hope the media coupled with religious fathers and the government, can bring lasting peace and stability in the country, Yared said, adding that the suffering of the people due to conflicts was so drastic that religious leaders should come together and find lasting solution for it.

The participants of the panel have also stressed that the irreplaceable roles of religion in building peace, nation and solidarity has already eroded away and that it needs a serious attention. The religious leaders finally vowed to work further to realize their irreplaceable roles and reinforce their efforts to resolve conflicts; thereby, contribute their shares in building peace, nation and solidarity in the country. AS

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