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The Nature of Faith-Based Diplomacy

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of God, to the house of the God of Jacob.  That God may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.  For the law shall go out from Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.  God shall mediate between the nations and shall judge for many peoples.  They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.  Nations shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”   Isaiah 2:3-5

I.    Introduction

A.    Faith-Based diplomacy is an emerging paradigm of reconciliation that is needed in the resolution of international conflict and the rebuilding of divided societies.

B.    Perhaps the most neglected and unappreciated aspect of diplomacy and peacemaking is the spiritual and religious dimension.

C.    Such activities as prayer, trust in God, sacred scriptures, conversion, forgiveness and repentance rarely, if ever, find their way into traditional diplomatic discourse or secular conflict resolution models.

D.    Rarely, if ever, is God’s role in changing human hearts acknowledged by secular practitioners of bridgebuilding, conflict resolution or social justice.  Transformation is often seen as simply self actualization of the human potential or even more cynically as individuals acting in their own best interest.

E.    The 1994 book Religion: The Missing Dimension of Statecraft was a landmark piece in making the case for the role of religious actors in resolving international conflict.  How do we understand the specific ways in which faith empowers diplomacy?

F.    In the summer 1993 edition of Foreign Affairs Magazine, Harvard Professor Samuel Huntington wrote a seminal article entitled, The Clash of Civilizations.  In it he observed that the wars of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were primarily between princes, whereas the wars of the nineteenth century were between states, while the wars of the twentieth century have been primarily between ideologies (ie. liberal democracy, Marxism and Fascism).

G.    However, he posits that the wars and conflicts of the post-Cold War era will be primarily ethnic, cultural and religious in nature.  Further, he suggests that religion will serve as the anchor point of civilizational identity.

II.   Faith-Based Diplomacy


Faith-based diplomacy is a form of multi-track diplomacy that seeks to integrate the dynamics of religious faith with the conduct of international peacemaking and statecraft.

1.    In the traditional view diplomacy is understood in more restrictive terms as involving the relationships between sovereign states and their duly appointed representatives.

2.    Historically, though, the notion of multi-track diplomacy emerged from the realization by diplomats, social scientists and other conflict resolution professionals that official government diplomacy was not always the most effective method for securing international cooperation.

3.    Multi-track diplomacy views the process of international peacemaking as a living system including the contributions of citizen diplomats, or non-state actors such as NGO’s, business persons, private citizens, educators, activists or religious leaders.

4.    In the broader sense diplomacy is an interactive process between various parties that includes relationship building, communication of information, negotiation and the sending of signals.

5.    Diplomacy is developing and maintaining the strands of connectedness between communities and nations.

6.    Diplomacy is the ability to move fruitfully among diverse communities to build relationship, establish trust and to be the primary architects of a reconciliation system.


Faith-Based Intervention as a form of multi-track diplomacy has five distinct characteristics

1.    Dependency on Spiritual Principles and Resources

a.    There is a conscious dependency on spiritual principles and resources in the conduct of peacemaking.

b.    This is the most significant way in which faith-based diplomacy departs from the rational actor model of decision-making.

c.    The faith-based intermediary calls into play a range of spiritual tools that are unavailable to his secular counterpart: prayer, fasting, forgiveness, repentance and a wealth of inspiring references from sacred scriptures.

d.    This is in contrast to intermediaries who embrace a religious faith, but for whom it plays no meaningful role in their practice of statecraft.

2.    Spiritual Authority

a.    The faith-based diplomat operates with a certain spiritual authority.

b.    Every intermediary faces the issue of legitimacy.

c.    Why should parties to a conflict give an erstwhile mediator the time of day?  Why should they allow him or her to play a role in the resolution of the conflict?

d.    Faith-based intermediaries derive their legitimacy in one of two ways: either through one’s ties to a credible religious institution or through the trust evoked by one’s own spiritual charisma.

3.    Pluralistic Heart

a.    A faith-based diplomat has a pluralistic heart.  They are firmly rooted in their own religious tradition, but understand and respect the essence of other traditions.

b.    It is not in their heart to dominate or diminish other traditions, but rather to build bridges of friendship and understanding.

c.    At the same time they can provide a spirited apologetic on the integrity of their own tradition should that prove necessary.

d.    They do not seek common ground by reducing faith to its lowest common denominator, but by appealing to those from different traditions out of the essence or strength of that tradition.

e.    Faith-based intermediaries can lose their credibility if they fail to appreciate the profound and irreconcilable differences between religious traditions.

f.    The intermediary who adopts the approach that all religious traditions are fundamentally the same will not only make strategic mistakes, but will also cause offense to the mainline adherents of a particular religious tradition.

4.    Transcendent Approach to Conflict Resolution

a.    This, once again, is where religious faith introduces a logic that is absent in secular diplomacy.

b.    Faith-based intermediaries may be well trained in the disciplines of conflict analysis, negotiation, mediation and diplomatic communications, but they recognize, perhaps more fully than their secular counterparts, that there are limits to human understanding.

c.    Accordingly, they look to their sacred texts to inform them not only about human nature and behavior, but also about the spiritual dimensions of the human heart and how they can be tapped when all else fails.

d.    This same sensitivity also enables them to discern the religious subtext underlying many identity-based conflicts, something frequently missed by secular-minded policymakers and diplomats.

5.    Motivation and Perseverance

a.    The motivation of faith-based diplomats to be reconcilers and peacemakers stems from a deep sense of religious calling.

b.    Christian peacemakers take seriously Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”

c.    Muslim peacemakers are reminded in the Holy Quran that the heart or essence of the Abrahamic tradition is not jihad or holy war, but peace, social justice and reconciliation.

d.    Jewish peacemakers are reminded that the core of Jewish tradition is the mandate of tikkun olam, “to heal, to repair, to transform”.

e.    Because the faith-based peacemakers perseverance is divinely inspired, it tends to be more lasting in nature.

f.    It is this same inspiration that has led these religious intermediaries to put their lives on the line in such places as Nicaragua, Mozambique, Bosnia, Northern Ireland, South Africa, Kashmir and Sudan.


1.    Faith-based diplomacy is more about reconciliation than conflict resolution.

2.    This governs both the conceptual framework and the modes of intervention of faith-based intermediaries.

3.    Regarding the conceptual framework, faith-based intermediaries believe that the international system and diplomacy should be grounded in an essential moral vision.

4.    In foreign affairs there has been a longstanding debate between two schools of thought: idealism and realism.  Should the international system be grounded in the interests of the state and the raw exercise of power or should it be grounded in moral absolutes?

5.    Realism vs. Idealism:  Cardinal de Richelieu

a.    The concept of raison d’ état was first promulgated by Armand Jean du Plessis, Cardinal de Richelieu, First Minister of France from 1624 to 1642.

b.    Raison d’ état asserted that the well being of the state justified whatever means were employed to further it.

c.    The national interest became the paramount consideration in a Westphalian system of nation-states.

d.    This principle continues to govern international relations into the twenty first century.

e.    The concept of raison d’ état was accompanied by the principle of balance of power.

6.    Realism vs. Idealism: Prince von Metternich

a.    Prince von Metternich, who served as Austria’s negotiator at the Congress of Vienna in 1814 believed that a shared concept of justice was a prerequisite for international order.

b.    Metternich understood justice and power to be in both a physical and moral equilibrium in the international system.

c.    In other words, an international order that is not considered just by some of its members will be challenged sooner or later by the exercise of power.

d.    This represents an early example of the application of moral principles to the international system and foreign affairs.

e.    Metternich was profoundly influenced by the Enlightenment in that he reflected the rationalist conviction that laws and rights existed in nature and not by fiat.

7.    Realism vs. Idealism: Tsar Alexander I

a.    Tsar Alexander I, who represented himself as Russia’s chief negotiator at the Congress of Vienna in 1814 believed that the international order should be based “on the exalted truths of the eternal religion of our Saviour”.

b.    Having undergone a profound religious conversion Alexander attempted to apply spiritual and moral principles to the international system and the practice of statecraft.

c.    His efforts were largely unsuccessful as they were blunted by Metternich’s pragmatic impulses.

d.    However, this is a nineteenth century example of faith-based diplomacy.

8.    Realism vs. Idealism: Otto von Bismarck

a.    Otto von Bismarck became Prime Minister of Prussia in 1862.

b.    Bismarck married into a family of Pietist convictions and even experienced religious conversion, himself and became a Bible-reading Christian.  However, he separated his private devotional life from his public policymaking role.

c.    He abandoned Metternich’s pietist principle of consensus among nations and developed the concept of realpolitik.

d.    Realpolitik asserted that relations among states are determined by raw power and that the mighty will prevail.  Realpolitik brought about a marriage of raw power and national interest.

e.    Ultimately Bismarck’s beliefs and policies set the stage for Adolf Hitler, the Nazis and the Third Reich.

f.    William Gladstone, British Prime Minister described Bismarck as “the incarnation of evil”.

9.    Realism vs. Idealism: Theodore Roosevelt

a.    Theodore Roosevelt served as America’s 26th President (1901 to 1909).  He served as President at just the time that America was emerging as a world power and had a profound influence on the course of U.S. and, hence, international diplomacy.

b.    Roosevelt carried Bismarck’s concept of realpolitik a step further.  He brought about a marriage of realpolitik with the emergence of the U.S. as a world power.

c.    Hence, realpolitik was no longer the operative principle of the European system.  It became globalized as a principle.

10.    Realism vs. Idealism: Woodrow Wilson

a.    Woodrow Wilson served as America’s 28th President (1913-1921).  He served as President during and in the aftermath of World War I.

b.    Wilson believed that America had a messianic international role.  It had a calling to spread its principles throughout the world.

c.    Wilson believed that foreign policy should reflect the same moral standards as personal ethics.

d.    In 1913 he laid down the outline of what became known as Wilsonianism.

e.    Wilsonianism assumed an international system and diplomacy based on moral principles.  He spoke about Universal Law and national trustworthiness as the foundation of international order.

f.    He believed in collective security, binding arbitration, and international institutions as a means of implementing this vision.

g.    As a world power in the 20th century the U.S. has projected a complex blend of Roosevelt’s and Wilson’s respective visions.

11.    Moral Absolutes and the International System

a.    Most sacred texts such as the Bible, the Torah and the Quran teach us that God created the heavens and the earth.

b.    God also created the rules that govern the universe.

c.    These rules are known as absolutes, because they apply to all people, in all places, at all times.

d.    Scientific absolutes apply to those laws of nature (i.e. such as gravity which apply to all people, in all places, at all times.

e.    Moral absolutes apply to the arena of values that govern human relationships and structures.  These are values that apply to all people, in all places, at all times.

f.    Faith-based diplomacy assumes the existence of moral absolutes that govern human relationships and the affairs between nations.

12.    As such, in the traditional debate between idealism and realism/realpolitik faith-based diplomats see the need for a pragmatic idealism or idealpolitik.

13.    Reconciliation is a form of idealpolitik which has a rich tradition in most religious communities and, yet, possesses a pragmatic insight into human nature and behavior.

14.    The paradigm of reconciliation finds its earliest roots in the Abrahamic Mandate of tikkuh olam which embodies a call “to heal, to repair, to transform” Jews, Christians and Muslims all trace their roots back to Abraham, and, thus, share this mandate.

15.    The paradigm of reconciliation finds its most profound expression in the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

16.    Regardless of one’s religious tradition, we find in Jesus of Nazareth a basis for reconciliation for more enduring, far more deeply transforming, and far better able to penetrate the darkest spaces of discord than any secular, rational actor model can offer.

17.    Mahatma Gandhi loved Jesus and attempted to model his life and his work on the Sermon on the Mount.  While he embraced Jesus, he rejected Christianity.

18.    Martin Luther King Jr. wrote “Jesus is eternally right.  History is replete with the bleached bones of nations that refused to listen to him.”

19.    The paradigm of reconciliation according to the Abrahamic tradition and the principles of Jesus of Nazareth embody eight core values:

  1. The pluralistic nature of God’s creation: gender, ethnicity, race, culture, which means that we seek unity in the midst of diversity.

  2.  Compassionate inclusion of all people in a society which includes embrace of one’s enemies.

  3.  Peaceful resolution of conflicts between individuals and groups.

  4. Forgiveness as a bedrock principle both in relationships between individuals and between communities or nations.

  5. Social justice as a basis for right ordering of relationships and structures in a society.

  6. The healing of historical wounds that stem from exclusion, prejudice, conflict, injustice or unforgiveness and hold back a community’s true potential for growth and development.

  7.  Collective acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty over the community or nation.

  8. Affirming and validating the universal experience of spiritual hunger, alienation and the need for atonement with God.


1.    Imparting Vision

a.    The task of imparting vision for a faith-based diplomat can take one of two forms.

b.    First of all, it involves empowering the parties to a conflict to embrace a new reality and a new relationship with each other.

c.    Each of the major world religions contains an ethic of moral absolutes which govern human relationships.

d.    Sometimes an appeal to those very principles creates an emotional and spiritual dynamic that enables parties in conflict to move toward reconciliation and also encourages them to be agents of reconciliation within their own spheres of influence.

e.    Professor Harvey Cox points out that one reason Jesus’ words touched Mahatma Gandhi so deeply may be that they evoked associations with his very Hindu conviction that even the bitterest enemy can be made to give way to reconciliation if the actors can be led to see the situation differently.

f.    Secondly, imparting vision involves the development of reconciliation as an ongoing moral vision for a particular society regardless of whether or not it is embroiled in a conflict.

g.    A moral vision is a body of underlying spiritual and moral principles that form the core values of the community or nation and provide the foundation for its political, economic, social and cultural structures.

h.    One purpose of imparting a moral vision is so that reconciliation will become a permanent center of gravity in that society.

i.    This is particularly important for deeply divided societies emerging from violent conflict.

j.    This is also a poignant mode of intervention with heads of state or leaders of ethnic communities since one of the key aspects of leadership is the articulation of vision.

2.    Building Bridges

a.    The task of bridgebuilding means developing the tangible and intangible strands of connectedness among diverse people groups in the national or international community so that they can live together in peace and seek the common good of the whole community.

b.    Bridgebuilding means being the architect of a reconciliation system and assumes a pluralistic vision for a community.

c.    There are five situations that point to the need for bridgebuilding within the community of nations:

  •  A situation of no preexisting relationship

  • A situation of long term estrangement

  • A situation of irreconcilable core values

  • A situation involving personality clashes between leaders

  • A situation involving inherited or acquired prejudice on the part of both communities toward each other.

d.    Building bridges provides the basis of forging unity out of diversity.

e.    In building bridges faith-based intermediaries rely not only on such concepts as “gospel friendship” but also look to spiritual principles and traditions as a basis for establishing common ground between people.

3.    Resolving Conflicts

a.    The task of resolving conflicts through mediation is perhaps the role most closely associated historically with the intervention of intermediaries.

b.    In this case the goals of reconciliation are threefold

•    Bring an end to the hostilities

•    Resolve the issues of the conflict

•    Restore the relationship

c.    People of faith place as much value on relationships as on the results of a negotiated settlement.

d.    Spiritual conversations with parties to a conflict can enable a faith-based intermediary to penetrate the heart and “go below the line” to uncover deeper interests, goals, values and fears that form the creative basis for settlement of the conflict.

e.    The role of forgiveness and apologies can be a powerful transformative vehicle in faith-based mediation.

4.    Healing Wounds

a.    The task of healing historical wounds is one for which faith-based intermediaries are particularly equipped and sensitive to listen to the pain of the human soul and marshal the resources for spiritual and emotional healing.

b.    Historical wounds are events in the institutional collective memory of an identity-based community which bring emotional, spiritual and moral pain and suffering and inhibit the development of a community or nation.

c.    Usually parties to identity-based conflicts are deeply wounded by their collective historical consciousness.

d.    This state of woundedness needs to be considered by intermediaries in the mediation of international conflict.

e.    Historical wounds create a victim/offender dynamic, give birth to stereotyping and demonization, create wounded world views, impact subsequent generations and cause a profound sense of loss and suffering which lead to mistrust, collective guilt and further polarization.

f.    In other words, one of the principal reasons that negotiation to resolve a conflict might be unproductive is because the parties are captive to their wounded histories and are unable to reach beyond their bitterness and sense of injustice.

g.    There are resources within different religious traditions that enable the adherents to reflect on their history in a redemptive manner such that it brings meaning and dignity to human suffering and holds out the promise of genuine healing.

5.    Advocacy for Social Justice

a.    The task of advocacy for social justice can often place the faith-based intermediary in an antagonistic role with the state or a privileged segment of society.

b.    A faith-based intermediary should never be neutral toward evil, injustice or oppression.

c.    Faith-based social justice means that God has given moral absolutes as a means of governing human relationships and structures and these are embodied in such concepts as human rights, religious freedom, respect, equity, impartiality and advocacy.

d.    Faith-based social justice embodies a transformation of not only systems and structures but also relationships and human hearts.

e.    Justice is the bedrock of any community that seeks to be free of resentment and broken relationships.

f.    To speak of reconciliation without social justice is a sham.

g.    Faith-based intermediaries know that the sacred texts embodies the messages of those who were the prophetic voices and moral consciences of their times.

6.    Advocacy for Religious Freedom

a.    The task of advocacy for religious freedom can also place the faith-based intermediary in an antagonistic role with the state or a privileged religious institution.

b.    One of many outgrowths of the Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment was the concept of religious freedom.

c.    This means that no human power has the right to prevent or inhibit worship of God or the supreme being.

d.    The task of advocacy for religious freedom can take one of three forms:

  • The first type of advocacy is on behalf of one’s own religious community

  • The second type of advocacy is on behalf of a religious minority different from one’s own religious community.

  • The third type of advocacy is on behalf of religious faith and expression for all traditions.

7.    Negotiating for Prisoners and Hostages

a.    The task of negotiating for prisoners and hostages is one for which faith-based intermediaries can play a critical humanitarian role that literally saves lives.

b.    Frequently in conflicts that involve a significant power differential between the parties the weaker entity will use prisoners and hostages as a negotiating ploy to level the playing field.

c.    Quite often governments or revolutionary groups are unwilling to release the hostages to the party with whom they are in conflict.

d.    However, they are able to save face by releasing them to an intermediary as a humanitarian gesture.

8.    Go-Between Messenger

a.    The most difficult task in mediating a conflict is convening the mediation or getting the parties to the table.

b.    Frequently, they are unable or unwilling to speak with each other directly and, thus, need an intermediary to carry messages between them.

c.    This has been dubbed as “shuttle diplomacy” and is another common role of intermediaries.


1.    In which specific situations is faith-based diplomacy appropriate?

2.    Whether or not one agrees with Harvard Professor Samuel Huntington’s thesis that future conflict will take place at the fault lines between cultures and civilizations, there are a number of scenarios in which faith-based intervention could make a positive contribution.

3.    Ethnoreligious Identity

a.    The long-standing dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir is representative.

b.    The tensions in Kashmir have stubbornly endured half a century and three major wars.  Of even a greater concern, the situation is seen by most geopolitical strategists as the most likely flashpoint for the world’s first nuclear exchange.

c.    To what extent does religion play a role in the cause or escalation of this conflict?

d.    It appears that religion plays a key role as a significant part of communal identity for Kashmiri Muslims, Hindu Dogras of Jammu, Kashmiri Pandits, Buddhists of Ladakh and Sikhs in a broader context of ethnoreligious nationalism.

e.    In general, Kashmiri Muslims envision as independent Kashmir or accession to Pakistan.

f.    Dogras, Sikhs and Buddhists insist on remaining within India.

g.    To what extent can religion play a role in the resolution of this conflict?

h.    Consider that, in the Muslim heart, faith and politics are inseparable.  The concept of a secular approach to peacemaking or a secular liberal democracy is inconceivable to a practicing Muslim.

i.    Hence, intermediaries who operate within a religious framework or who can integrate political and theological concepts may be best equipped to bring creative options for settlement of a conflict.

j.    An example is that of the concept of sovereignty.

k.    From a secular perspective sovereignty refers to the modern Westphalian system were in a state has supreme authority over its citizens and territory.

l.    From a sacred perspective sovereignty means collective submission to God’s will.

m.    The concept of sovereignty is a cornerstone of the three Abrahamic traditions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

n.    In Kashmir is it possible to create a government entity that acknowledges God’s sovereignty over Kashmir in such ways that it respects the Islamic fusion of religion and the state while providing a pluralistic vision of society that engenders compassionate inclusion of all ethnoreligious groups.

o.    Is it possible for Indians, Pakistanis and Kashmiris to creatively explore the issue of sovereignty that addresses both the transcendent/religious aspects of this issue as well as the political/diplomatic aspects of foreign policy, defense, currency and international borders?

4.    Mobilizing Religious Leaders As Peacemaking Assets

a.    One such conflict is Sudan’s bitter civil war which is multidimensional in nature, but which includes a key component of dispute between the Christian and Islamic communities.

b.    While the Sudanese constitution speaks of being a “nation under God’ and avoids any reference to being an Islamic state, the practice “on the ground” is quite different.

c.    While the longstanding civil war has a multitude of factors (such as oil and water supply in the south) religion is a major factor in the conflict.

d.    Christians experience a distinct discrimination and even persecution in the sharing of privilege and also a pressure to conform and even convert to Islam.

e.    In November 2000 an interreligious forum was convened in Khartoum to bring senior level leaders from both the Christian and Islamic communities together to discuss the religious issues of the conflict, including even the apostacy law.

f.    In a sense the forum was a form of faith-based mediation.  There were efforts at relationship building, establishing common ground, discussing perceptions of the conflict and developing creative options for settlement of the religious issues.

g.    Ultimately seventeen recommendations were agreed upon for changes in government policy and institutional practice.

h.    In this instance religious leaders were engaged as assets for peacemaking.

5.    Civilizational Dialogue

a.    Sometimes there is protracted estrangement between two major religious traditions that transcends national borders.

b.    The concept of “civilizational dialogue” was first spoken about by President Khatami of Iran in 1997 and has since gained some currency in the minds of many international relations scholars and practitioners.

c.    President Khatami appeared to be thinking particularly about establishing such a dialogue between the Islamic world and the Christian west.

d.    Many of today’s conflicts that include a religious dimension involve a confrontation between these two missionary faiths.

e.    There are numerous historical and contemporary examples of hostility, misunderstanding and disrespect between these traditions.

f.    At the beginning of the last millennium Christianity and Islam were locked in combat over their mutual claims to the Holy land.

g.    The spiritual core of both traditions would support strong inter-religious cooperation.

h.    Faith-based intermediaries could provide a valuable contribution to international peace and conflict prevention by building bridges of friendship and understanding between leaders at all levels of the various religious traditions.

6.    Trusted Envoys

a.    Faith-based intermediaries can become involved as third party mediators in conflicts where there is no particular religious dimension present.

b.    This role might emerge as a result of having formed relationships of friendship and trust with parties to a conflict.

c.    The role played by the lay Catholic community of St. Egidio in the civil war in Mozambique is an example.

d.    The Quakers and Mennonites, because of their track records as peacemakers are called upon to play this type of role.

III.    Conclusion

A.    Faith-Based Diplomacy seeks to integrate religious faith with the conduct of international peacemaking and statecraft.

B.    Faith-Based Diplomacy is a form of multi-track diplomacy with five characteristics:  dependency on spiritual principles and resources, spiritual authority, pluralistic heart, a transcendent approach and a religious motivation.

C.    The paradigm of reconciliation in international affairs assumes an essential moral vision and is grounded in eight core values.  As such, it is a form of idealpolitik which emanates from the Abrahamic tradition and finds its most profound expression in the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

D.    There are eight modes of intervention by faith-based intermediaries:  imparting vision, building bridges, resolving conflicts, healing wounds, advocacy for social justice, advocacy for religious freedom, negotiating for prisoners and hostages and a go-between messenger.

E.    There are four appropriate situations for faith-based intervention:  ethnoreligious identity, mobilizing religious leaders as peacemaking assets, civilizational dialogue and trusted envoys.


This article was written October 5-6, 2001 by Brian Cox as a part of a Consultation on Faith-Based Diplomacy conducted in Lexington, Kentucky.

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