Viewpoint

The Neighbor-Love Week for National Reconciliation

A serious call for love, dialogue, and reconciliation from all major religions could alleviate Ethiopia’s political tension. 

Ethiopia is an overwhelmingly religious country. The Pew Research Center found that 98 percent of Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Christians say that their religion is “very important” to them. This makes them among the most religious people in the world. 

There is little reason to assume that Ethiopian Muslims, Evangelicals, Catholics, and followers of other faiths see their religion as less important to them. Taken together, over 97 percent of Ethiopia’s population holds its religious texts, traditions, and teachers with very high authority. 

The result is profound and should not be ignored. One can travel to the farthest corners of Ethiopia and find a church, mosque, monastery, or other places of religious devotion and education. Spread throughout Ethiopia are physical infrastructures and human networks that ceaselessly flow with religious piety and passion. When these are connected by television channels, radio stations, Facebook pages, Telegram groups, text messages, and webs of real-life gatherings, their reach and influence are astonishing and nearly omnipresent. 

These unique religious traditions share a powerful moral vision that is key to Ethiopia’s present and future: the other is our neighbor. And this moral vision can help in solving Ethiopia’s contemporary crisis of hatred, conflict, and violence, and can prepare the spiritual climate necessary for national healing.   

How is this so? 

The way we see others defines our relationships, and our relationships define our society. When we see others as outsiders or enemies, conflict becomes inevitable. This is what is behind the death and destruction we see exploding today. 

But when we see others as valuable and connected to ourselvesas neighbors—then we can see each other’s dignity. And seeing each other’s dignity motivates us to move towards one another, talk to one another, and rebuild trust and cooperation. These are the practical steps of reconciliation. 

For this purpose, we would like to propose a humble invitation that could contribute to this process of national reconciliation. This invitation is not a quick fix or a magical solution. But it can serve as one initiative among others required to move Ethiopia towards dialogue, reconciliation, and a sustainable future.

We’re naming this invitation the ‘Neighbor-Love Week for National Reconciliation,’ and it goes as follows. What if on the first weekend of May or June (election weekend), every church, every mosque, every monastery, and every other platform of religious devotion and education in Ethiopia would agree to preach the same message? The message would be simple, fundamental, and practical: 

  1. The other is our neighbor, regardless of their ethnic, religious, or political differences. We are not enemies but neighbors. 
  2. God commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Genuine faith requires us to see and treat one another as valuable neighbors. (Signing the Neighbor-Love Covenant is a simple way to make this commitment.) 
  3. True believers must condemn hatred, insults, and violence. And they should work together for our shared flourishing through dialogue, reconciliation, and cooperation. (The Neighbor-Love Movement’s (NLM) seven Practices invite each of us to begin this work with our bodies.)

In the week leading up to this weekend, a national television channel could air a one-hour program each day in which leaders representing Ethiopia’s diverse religious traditions communicate this same message. NLM’s documentary “Our Shared Moral Vision” looks at neighbor-love in five of Ethiopia’s religious traditions and could serve as an inspiring introduction to this week of national television programming.    

This united initiative would not require a relativistic, Western religious pluralism. Instead, each religious community could preach, pray, and practice from the texts that they believe to be God’s revelation. 

Christian clerics could speak from the Holy Bible and sacred traditions: 

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself… Love the foreigner as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18, 34) 

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:43-45)  

[All of God’s commands] are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:9-10) 

Respect others more than yourself, and be the brother of all. Do not be prone to quarrel or to strike anyone… Such a man is like one who takes a bath in a place full of dirt.” (Fetha Negast, Part 1, p. 78)  

Muslim clerics could speak from the Holy Quran and Hadiths: 

People, We created you all from a single man and a single woman, and made you into races and tribes so that you should recognize one another.” (Holy Quran 49:13)

Do good to neighbors near and far.” (Holy Quran 4:36)

None of  you has faith until you love for your neighbor what you love for yourself… He will not enter paradise whose neighbor is not secure from his wrongful conduct.” (Muslim, Kitab al-iman [Book of Faith], Book 1, #72 and #74) 

If anyone kills a person…it is as if they kill all humankind, while if anyone saves a life it is as if they save the lives of all humankind.” (Holy Qur’an 5:32).

The most virtuous behavior is to engage those who break relations, to give to those who withhold from you, and to forgive those who wrong you.” (Hadith al-Tabarani, no. 282)

Baha’i clerics could speak from this summary teaching from Abdul’l-Baha: 

Should any come to blows with you, seek to be friends with him; should any stab you to the heart, be a healing salve for his sores; should any taunt and mock at you, meet him with love… Such is the essence of God’s admonitions; such in sum are the teachings for the Dispensation of Baha.” (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 34) 

The message from all religions will effectively be the same as the Neighbor-Love Week’s message: (1) Each person is our neighbor, (2) God commands us to love our neighbors, and (3) hate and violence must be turned to dialogue and cooperation.

If this message were presented every day for one week on national television and then across our local platforms on the same weekend, it could resound across Ethiopia’s powerful religious networks and communities. Each program could encourage our communities to preach, pray, and practice this same message. Participants could be encouraged to flood social media with this shared moral vision of the other person as our precious neighbor. Perhaps a simple hashtag like #NLMEthiopia could be used to counter the toxic messages we see today.

And perhaps a miracle would actually happen: the whole country would hear a non-political but authoritatively religious and robustly moral call to see the precious value of the other across every boundary and to seek reconciled relationships. As the federal election approaches, this initiative could be a profoundly practical way to promote peace, especially if the Neighbor-Love Week is held in June—just before and after the election. 

The practical implications are obvious:

  1. Enemy-making words must be washed from our mouths and communities as sins against God and our neighbors. 
  2. Enemy-making images must be washed from our minds and media as sins against God and our neighbors.
  3. Law-breaking acts of violence that harm our neighbors must be opposed as offenses to God’s will for our shared dignity, justice, and peace. 

In this way, the Neighbor-Love Week for National Reconciliation would serve as a public moment of shared conviction, clarity, and commitment. When we face challenges and conflicts moving forward, we can say to each other, “Do we have no fear of God? We have heard God’s word to us. If we continue like this, we have betrayed what we claim to value most. Let us do better in God’s name.” 

Imagine the positive aftershocks in communities across the country: “Let us abandon dehumanizing language, because that person or group is still our neighbor! Let us speak new words of respect and reconciliation.” “Let us abandon violent tactics to achieve our goals, because that person or group is still our neighbor! Let us find better strategies of dialogue and cooperation.” “If we do speak and act with hate, we have no business stepping into our church or mosque or temple, because we have rebelled against God.” 

In summary, what if the Inter-Religious Council of Ethiopia mobilizes the Orthodox Patriarchate, the Islamic Affairs Supreme Council, the Evangelical Churches Fellowship, and all other religious bodies for a Neighbor-Love Week at the beginning of May or June? What if a national television channel would sponsor a week of daily programs to promote this initiative? And what if our local religious communities and social media platforms got behind it with their own preaching, prayer, and practice?

 For one week, the entire country would resound with the same message: “The other is our precious neighbor, simply because they are God’s creation. Even the person we’re tempted to hate in our hearts, to curse with our words, to attack with our actions is our God-created neighbor. Whether we like it or not, we must love across boundaries.”

Ethiopia is a rich country. Among Ethiopia’s greatest riches is its people’s faith in God. Unlike many materialistic, individualistic societies, almost ten out of ten Ethiopians claim to look beyond themselves to God and God’s will as the compass for their life’s meaning. 

So why not engage this rich national resource with its almost omnipresent infrastructures and powerful networks in this urgent moment of crisis? Why not mass-proclaim on national television and our grassroots communities the message that all our religions agree upon: the other is our neighbor in God’s eyes; hateful words and actions have no place in a true believer’s life; faith in God demands love, respect, and peaceful solutions to our conflicts for our shared flourishing. 

No one would be asked to preach anything that they don’t already believe in. This Neighbor-Love Week would simply re-centralize what is already central to all religions and proclaim it together for one week during a time when it is urgently needed. 

Every day is an election, and our choices are our votes. When we choose to love our neighbors as ourselves, our shared dignity is rediscovered. Dialogue becomes possible; trust begins to heal; cooperation and innovation flourish; reconciliation becomes our way of life. And this reconciliation starts with each one of us, with our bodies and local communities, and the way we choose to see and treat the other across boundaries.  

Please help us make the Neighbor-Love Week for National Reconciliation a reality. 

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About the author

Andrew DeCort

Andrew holds a Ph.D. in Religious and Political Ethics from the University of Chicago and has taught at Wheaton College, the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology, and the University of Bonn. He co-directs Balinjeraye: The Neighbor-Love Movement and is the author of Bonhoeffer’s New Beginning: Ethics After Devastation (Fortress Academic, 2018). Contact him at andrew@nlmglobal.org.

About the author

Tekalign Nega

Tekalign co-directs Balinjeraye: the Neighbor-Love Movement and is the author of Balinjeraye (Rohobot, 2020). He has a Ph.D. in Cultural Studies from Tilburg University and serves as Assistant Professor of Accounting and Finance at Addis Ababa University.

8 Comments

  • Insightful and timely article. I would like to thank the authors. Let’s all take a step back pause and recognize that we are all brothers and sister, fathers and mothers, friends and neighbors. We have a lot in common that can unite us if we can pause and put aside the hatred suspicion and animosity that seem overwhelming. I have hope for all of Ethiopians. This crisis too shall pass.

  • All initiatives for ‘peace’ and reconciliation are obviously welcome everywhere. I speak from a place where we sadly see tensions and violence emerging again from two ‘Christian’ communities who have been at each other for over three hundred years and where politics and poverty consistently drives all tensions and mutates them into weaponized religiosity. The problem is how to avoid the ways in which good sacred sentiments common to all get weaponized e.g the aggressive use of religious symbols to demarcate difference and certain political positions….. to ‘perform’ loudly through personal adornment their political ethnicity etc. This is not conducive to ‘brotherhood’ and neighborliness..it becomes ‘fake faith’ . All Faith leaders need to call this out. Anyway good luck in your endeavors, dig deeper, look wider, every one of the 8O+ languages in Ethiopia has
    words, proverbs and saying for love, reciprocity, working and eating together, protecting the vulnerable, respect, dignity, humanity, personhood etc Also for practices of making safe places to discuss and listen. Safety being the most important. Its good to remind everyone.

  • If not naive, a very simplistic view. After all, simpletons messed up the second most populous country in Africa.

  • I was sincerely devout even when weakly religious.
    This appeal to love thy neighbor, it does stir me to dare.
    Then again, I sense a deep distaste engulf me, and even as I know not against whom my grievance is directed, I refuse to forgive; nor do I wish to indulge any devotion, to strangers whom the Lord may afford the appellation of neighbors.
    Let my anger subside with time.
    May be then I shall not recoil as much from strangers.
    May be then I shall seek them, even to befriend.
    May be then I shall try, and may even love them as my neighbors.

    • Hi Tsedeke, thank you for your honest comment. The struggle you described between daring to love and the distaste of doing so is real. Perhaps facing this struggle within ourselves is the first step toward forgiving, healing anger, and moving toward others. I wish we humans spent more time asking the difficult questions your comment suggested: “Against whom is my grievance directed? How can I begin to forgive? What is the first step I can take toward those I resist seeing as my neighbor? How might my courage to do so contribute to the society I desire?” Thanks again for reading and commenting.

      • Yes, courage. That is what I need most. Courage for the first step.
        Thank you, Andrew.
        Soon.
        Else in another life.

  • Please Ethiopian are religious people??Is that why they are killing and supporting #Tigray genocide??But let me put it this way for you…they pretend they are religious but they don’t even know what they believe as a result they don’t have any moral compass to guide or control them.

  • Forgiveness is a powerful virtue that exists in Christianity, Islam, Baha’I faith and more. It is a great initiative.

    Include Desmond Tutu’s Truth and Reconciliation model. It has worked in other African countries. Truth is important in the healing process.

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