“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” Exemplified in Jesus’ compelling call in the Sermon on the Mount, working for peace is vital to many religious traditions. But what is involved? Who in our complex modern world is a peacemaker?
Virginia Bouvier offered a wonderful example. Ginny’s work with the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) over the past decade focused sharply on peace and development in Latin America, and especially in Colombia. Astute observers affirm that she played a significant part in Colombia’s almost miraculous progress towards peace after decades of painful strife.
So what made her a peacemaker? She was at the same time inspired and practical, a listener and a compelling speaker, loving and tough, patiently persistent and always impatient, creative and attentive to detail. She was an intellectual and a doer, able to work at levels spanning national leadership and very local communities. She was open to exploring new ideas and wise in understanding what it meant to include those who tended to be unseen and forgotten.
Ginny’s sad death (she was so young) on July 29 has inspired an outpouring of care and reflection, of love and admiration from an extraordinary range of people on several continents. The testimonies and witness focus on her personal qualities as much as on what she did. Inclusive peace, which we speak about but too rarely see, demands above all caring at a personal level and a never ending willingness to reach out to others.
Ginny was part of a continuing effort led by Susan Hayward (also a leader at USIP) and myself to shine light on, to illuminate, a group of peacemakers who are often invisible: women inspired by religious beliefs and sometimes supported by religious institutions. Ginny grasped both their remarkable work and the obstacles they face. Her work in Colombia was a wonderful example of what can be achieved when “invisible women” from different traditions are able to come together and when their voices are heard. She worked to bring them into the peace process in ways that contributed materially to the process and to the hopes for peace.
“Inclusive peace” is easy to say but hard to achieve. Language is a first challenge. As Ginny observed, “The complexity of the world is calling on us to develop new languages and narratives that can accommodate multiple, non-linear perspectives. It is often difficult to find the language and the narrative to explore these kinds of multiple intersections. We are more accustomed to the binary relations: women and war, women and peace, religion and conflict, religion and peace. One of the challenges that we face is how to talk about these intersecting issues in a way that is conceptually clear and yet also allows us to identify paths forward for research, advocacy, and policy.”
Ginny asked the tough questions. How can we recognize the particular strengths of women and men in peacemaking without reinforcing narrow stereotypes? That means looking at women as peacemakers both within faith-inspired organizations and across institutional borders. It means active efforts to create spaces for dialogue and action that are truly multifaith and thus include Catholics and evangelicals, indigenous believers and mainline Protestants.
How can women use the strength of their positions and roles as women marginalized from power without locking themselves into the all too traditional positions of subservience?
And how can we ensure that, in giving attention to the victimization of women in conflict, we also empower women as citizens and agents of change?
Ginny Bouvier was a living example of a peacemaker, someone who had a living, vivid vision of what peace involves and an open-eyed understanding of the boulders along the path. She was human and forgiving and, at the same time, demanding and creative. She never gave up and she had the courage to take on obstacles one by one. She looked to a far wider community than has been traditional in her work for peace. Those who had the privilege of knowing her will carry her inspiration with them, even as they mourn her loss and miss her friendship.