As the previous page describes, the ‘conflict sensitivity’ planning approach was originally developed for secular purposes, but it has proven to resonate deeply with people of faith. This is relevant not only to Christians, which comprise my own faith community, but also to other faiths that value peace, caring for others, and personal ethical responsibility. Every application of conflict sensitivity is unique, depending on local circumstances and user priorities.
I partner with two agencies that use conflict sensitivity to discern how best to provide religious services in sensitive multi-faith contexts in Southeast Asia. Both agencies actively pursue inter-faith linkages, based not on the well-known strategy of merging diverse religious beliefs and experiences, but rather on the ethos of building bridges of relationship across lines of difference. This model is not new, but it deserves broader exposure as a kind of inter-faith engagement that is meaningful to conservative believers in Asia and around the world.
In the Southern Philippines, the Davao Ministerial Interfaith (DMI) has used conflict sensitivity to better understand a key local problem: broken relationships between followers of Roman Catholic Christianity, Protestant Christianity, and Islam. In this region, inter-religious tensions are painfully entwined with a history of colonial conquest and modern ethno-political violence. There is a pattern of religious separation and exclusion, which feeds into the conflict and holds back development. Conflict sensitivity, particularly a tool called ‘Local Capacities for Peace’ or ‘Do No Harm,’ has helped DMI members to develop a role for themselves in addressing these troubling trends.
DMI was initiated by Protestants who observed the community’s need for peace, and felt ‘called’ to open their relational network to welcome Catholic and Muslim leaders. Now they work together to tackle practical community development needs. DMI members are ‘orthodox’ leaders within their own churches and mosques, and they do not downplay the important differences in their doctrines. Instead, they have simply opened up the door of relationship, and re-discovered the scriptural basis for mutual respect and collaboration towards the common good. They now see friendship with ‘the other’ as a contributor to their own spiritual growth, making them truer followers of their own faiths.
“I am now open to people of different religions. I am now a better Christian.” – Sister Joan D. Castro, Davao City, Philippines
In a different sequence of events, Singapore’s Harmony Centre at An-Nahdhah began its inter-faith effort several years before encountering conflict sensitivity. The Harmony Centre was launched by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore, to engage Singapore’s nine other faith communities in ways that increase mutual understanding, while maintaining the uniqueness of each religion. Conflict sensitivity has become a useful part of the Harmony Centre’s toolkit. Singapore is not currently affected by violent conflict, so people value the ‘Do No Harm’ conflict sensitivity tool as a way to strengthen the existing harmony between religious and ethnic groups.
The Philippines action research was funded by small grants from the International Peace Research Association Foundation, the Peace and Justice Studies Association, and the Religious Research Association, plus in-kind contributions from World Vision Development Foundation and Hugpong sa Kalambuan-Dabaw (Unity for Progress Davao).