Lebanon (MNN) – The Arab Baptist Theological Seminary (ABTS) seeks to change discussions between Muslims and Christians in Lebanon. In a country that still feels the effects of a 15-year civil war, people often mistrust those outside their own groups. But the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary and its department, the Institute of Middle East Studies, equips leaders to go back to their communities and build peace in the middle of chaos.
Peace-building and the Gospel
Martin Accad, the Chief Academic Officer at ABTS and the Director of the Institute of Middle East Studies explains the goal of ABTS. “We feel very much that our role is not only to develop theologically-thinking leaders, but to also develop leaders that can do works of transformation in society within the area of reconciliation and restoration of communities.”
These students go back to areas where Christians feel out of place in society. As a minority in their country, Accad says there is a sense that they don’t have a place in their culture. But this is not the message of the Gospel.
Christ calls his people to be peacemakers in whatever place they live.
Accad explains, “Peacemaking or peace-building first of all looks at conflict not necessarily as a problem, but as an opportunity. That would be the first aspect of being a peacemaker, but also peacemaking is something you do proactively rather than reactionary, as peace-keeping sounds.”
ABTS seeks to build peace proactively with five key initiatives, three of which are currently in progress.
Initiative 1: Bread and Salt
This unique program brings together both Christian and Muslim youths between the ages of 14-17 who live in the same neighborhood. Though these young people live close by, they may never have dialogued about their faith. ABTS gives them the tools they need to connect on a deeper level as they talk about their personal beliefs and break down stereotypes.
Initiative 2: The Church/Mosque Network
Rather than focusing just on young people, this initiative gives any church- or mosque-goer the opportunity to reject preconceived ideas of their neighbors. Muslims and Christians are invited to talk with each other and even attend a worship service of the opposite faith. Instead of avoiding one another out of fear, they are encouraged to work together for the good of their communities.
Initiative 3: Forum for Current Affairs
This initiative focuses more on the Christian community. ABTS brings together Christian leaders from around Lebanon to talk about how the Church can be more involved in peace-building in current affairs. What is the role of the Church and believers in the government? How do individuals respond to current events? How do church bodies respond?
Two additional initiatives, slated to begin in about three years, will engage more of the political strata of Lebanese society.
A call to examine and to pray
Accad hopes ABTS’ Institute of Middle East Studies can demonstrate how to build peace among people who believe very differently. For example, he observes that in many countries political leaders use religious affiliations to manipulate voters. How would politics look different if instead of hurrying to party lines, people let Gospel truth inform their thinking?
But this is not easy. It takes work. And transforming the way Christians and Muslims interact in Lebanon requires serious shifts of perspective. So, Accad asks the Church for prayer.
“We need to be courageous. So I would ask the Church globally to pray that as a Church in this region, we would come out of the mentality of being a minority that has no power, that has no influence, cannot have any influence in this part of the world. No, that is not the Church that was born by the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The Church that was born is a Church that can make a difference, that can transform, that can absolutely challenge the status quo. A revolutionary Church that really can transform both the hearts of individuals and communities and the home.”