Four ways we can use our imagination in peacebuilding

Integral mission and theologyPeacebuilding

In the last post I talked about hospitality as an approach that can contribute towards peace. The second approach that Tearfund uses in its peacebuilding work is the ‘moral imagination’. This is an idea drawn from the work of John Paul Lederach, an experienced peacebuilder who has written about how his faith and theology have shaped his work.

Picture of the word 'Imagine'. Photo by Iñaki del Olmo on Unsplash
Photo by Iñaki del Olmo on Unsplash

In the Bible, imagination is a part of creation. In Genesis 1 and 2 we see God creating the universe according to his imagining of it as a good place. God uses imagination: he gave Moses the vision of a different future for Israel and the confidence to hope that this future could become real. Moses was able to accept this vision and have this hope because he could imagine that God might intervene in human history to save his people.

‘The Christian imagination is driven by the hope, vision and promise of a different future: the coming of the kingdom of God.’

In his book The Moral Imagination, Lederach describes how people can use imagination to see a different, peaceful future. They can then start to bring this vision into reality by allowing it to reshape relationships and create new possibilities through those relationships. 

There are four ways that we can use our imagination as a part of peacebuilding: 

  • We can imagine ourselves living in a network of relationships that includes our current enemies. 
  • We can be curious about the world, embrace its complexity and not think everything has just two sides. Being willing to hear lots of perspectives and ideas gives our imagination more room to come up with new possibilities. 
  • We can believe in and pursue creativity – moving from imagining activities, relationships and futures into playing with them as possibilities, and then starting to turn them into reality. This is where the work becomes real and hard. 
  • We can be willing to take the risk of trying something new as we move from imagination to action. Making peace involves stepping into an unknown future, and it can be scary. 

But why moral imagination? 

In this short clip, Ben Chikan, a Tearfund project officer in Nigeria, and Ramy Taleb, who works with the Foundation for Forgiveness and Reconciliation in Lebanon (FFRL), reflect on the importance of moral imagination in peacebuilding.

Lederach describes the use of imagination in peacebuilding as moral because it can be – should be – shaped by our beliefs. The Christian imagination is driven by the hope, vision and promise of a different future: the coming of the kingdom of God. It is also shaped by the way we understand some of the concepts we have discussed in previous posts: peace, justice, diversity and community.

As we use our imagination in peacebuilding, we can remember the things that God has promised and the things that we know about him and imagine what our broken communities might look like if the kingdom was fully revealed. This is how the hope in things not seen, mentioned in Hebrews 11:1, shapes the way that we live and act in the world, and can transform it.

You can read the latest peacebuilding resources on Tearfund Learn: https://learn.tearfund.org/en/themes/peacebuilding/publication_and_resources/

Hannah Swithinbank
Hannah Swithinbank is Tearfund’s Theology & Network Engagement Manager.