Doug Baker to focus on lessons learned from years of conflict
by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE – Anyone who has dealt with conflict that lasts for years knows how difficult it can be to re-establish a bond with “the other side.” Even if that conflict ended a long time ago. That is a challenge faced by the Rev. Doug Baker, one of the 2017 International Peacemakers visiting the U.S. this fall.
For nearly four decades, Baker served as a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission co-worker in Northern Ireland, a country with a rich history of conflict and turmoil. Although he is retired now, Baker still lives there.
“The focus of my ministry has been reconciliation across religious, political and social divisions in this divided society,” he said. “Successively I worked on the staff and/or management groups of The Corrymeela Community, Mediation Northern Ireland, The Irish School of Ecumenics and the Irish Churches Peace Project.”
Over 37 years, Baker organized events that brought together people of diverse backgrounds to explore areas of commonality and difference. He facilitated dialogue and produced resources for and trained others around ministry for reconciliation.
“For the last 20 years, one particular area of emphasis has been encouraging those in leadership roles in the Irish churches to see peace-building and reconciliation as core essentials in the church’s life and witness rather than optional extras for those who happen to be interested in them,” Baker said.
Baker first came to Northern Ireland as part of a summer assignment in 1970 and returned two years later as a young adult in a longer-term capacity.
“From 1994-2016, I was the Northern Ireland site coordinator for the PC(USA) Young Adult Volunteer program,” he said. “During that time, I placed and mentored 133 YAVs, a significant part of whose work was assisting local congregations and community ministries seeking to address the legacy of 40 years of civil strife.”
Baker says there have been challenges, referring to a significant historical level of separation between ethnic, religious and political groups. That separation, he says, has resulted in a lack of personal contact, stereotyping and a fear of each other.
“There is also a fairly widespread and deep-seated theology focused on individual salvation, rather than social and political implications of the gospel,” said Baker. “Hence, many church leaders and members simply do not see peacebuilding or reconciliation as their business.”
Centuries of division and nearly 40 years of open violent conflict have created a deep legacy of hurt in Northern Ireland.
“In recent years, complacency, with the much lower level of violence, now exists,” Baker said. “There is this feeling that the absence of violence is enough and we don’t need to build relationships of mutual understanding and respect to provide a foundation for a long-term stable peace.”
Baker says the people of Northern Ireland have a hard time acknowledging their own share of responsibility for the divisions and hurts in society. He adds that there is an ongoing fear that any gain for “the other side” is a loss for them.
“One of the most helpful ways I have been able to address these issues is providing times when people can hear one another’s stories in ways that lead to building personal relationships, trust and understanding,” he said. “We have used those occasions to help others reflect on the resources of our faith that provide a vision for and insight into what is required to move beyond the past and toward the reconciliation that God intends.”
This fall, Baker says his message to U.S. audiences will not be the Northern Ireland conflict as much as looking at the lessons learned and apply those to conflicts facing the world as a whole.
“In the Great Commission in Matthew 28, Jesus tasks us with teaching others to observe all that he commanded,” said Baker. “When asked ‘What is the greatest commandment in the law?’ Jesus replied to love God and your neighbor as yourself. We need to get to know our neighbors — nearby and far away — and explore what some of the specifics of loving them requires of us today.”
Baker and 15 scheduled peacemakers will be visiting the U.S. between September 22 and October 16.
Since 1984, more than 300 International Peacemakers from 57 countries have been hosted by mid councils, universities and theological institutions. Those interested in applying to host a peacemaker can do so until July 1. Click here for more information.
The International Peacemaking Program is made possible by gifts to the Peace and Global Witness Offering.
You may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.