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A CALL TO LATERAL MISSION: Mobilizing Religious Authority Against Ethnic Violence

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This article argues that local religious leaders and particularly missionaries have an important role to play in preventing ethnic violence and that this role constitutes a new form of mission. The article first describes some of the theories of violence and explains how researchers are increasingly focusing on the role of human interpretation. Second, it reviews the etiology of ethnic riots and emphasizes in this etiology the key role of moral consensus in support of violence. Third, it argues that missionaries and other local religious leaders can be influential in questioning and contradicting rumors that exaggerate the threat posed by an incident that may precipitate ethnic violence by exercising moral authority, being timely in responding by virtue of working at a grassroots level, and by being assertive in standing up to bigotry. Fourth, the article outlines five approaches that religious leaders can use in circumventing the social construction towards risk taking and moral vindication that precedes violence. These approaches are gatekeeping, gatekeeping and nudging, theological dueling, relaying and advocating, and safeguarding. Finally, it raises some questions for future consideration in building lateral mission-a role the authors hope will become central for missionaries in the future. As the authors conclude: "We believe that missionaries have a unique contribution to make in the prevention of deadly violence in divided societies. In particular, missionaries have theological/doctrinal and moral authority, work at a grassroots level, and are outsiders. These traits enable them to intervene during a lull at the local level at which the social construction toward violence is developing."

Affiliations: 1: American Refugee Committee; 2: University of Pennsylvania, 3815 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA


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