Peace Week speakers advocate non-violence, forgiveness
March 19, 2013
By Darla Martin Tucker
La Sierra University’s Peace Week held Feb. 22 – March 2, featured several spiritual leaders and peace advocates whose presentations both inspired and provoked.
Among them was international peace activist Azim Khamisa who told his story of great loss and life-changing forgiveness that in turn has positively impacted the lives of thousands.
“Why are we such a violent society? Violence is a learned behavior, and non-violence is a learned behavior,” said Khamisa during his Peace Week presentation on Feb. 27. Khamisa knows too well the trauma of violence and the chaos it can bring into one’s life. In 1995 14-year-old gang member Tony Hicks shot to death Khamisa’s 20-year-old son Tariq, while Tariq was delivering pizzas. Throughout the devastation and profound grief that followed, Khamisa recognized he had the choice to forgive his son’s killer rather than give in to anger and hatred.
Khamisa, a native of Kenya, was a successful international investment banker for 35 years. But nine months after his son’s death he left his lucrative career and established the Tariq Khamisa Foundation over which he presides as chairman and chief executive officer. The foundation offers a Safe School Model program for middle schools, special assembly presentations, classroom curriculum, mentoring and community service activities. Khamisa also offers corporate presentations and workshops on leadership and creating passionate performance. In recognition of his efforts, Khamisa has garnered commendations and awards from national and international figures including former President Bill Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore, the California Wellness Foundation and others.
The teen who shot his son was tried as an adult and convicted. It took Khamisa five years to confront Tony, but eventually he visited his son’s killer in prison. “I was looking for a murderer. I didn’t find a murderer. It was quite a transformative experience for me,” Khamisa said. “He had done a lot of work on himself. He was well mannered and well spoken. He made a bad choice. He’s not a bad kid.”
For Khamisa, true forgiveness brought healing. It also brought an unlikely friendship and partnership with Tony’s grandfather, Ples Hicks. The two have given over 1,000 anti-violence presentations at middle and high schools. They tell the story of heartbreaking loss and of redemption through forgiveness while advocating for peaceful interaction.
During his Peace Week presentation, Khamisa detailed six main points: violence is real and hurts everyone; actions have consequences; we can all make good and non-violent choices; we can offer forgiveness instead of revenge; everyone, including yourself, deserves to be treated well and respected; from conflict can come love and unity exemplified by his relationship with Tony’s grandfather.
Khamisa said two victims resulted from the gun violence that brought Tariq’s death. He decried the widespread use of violence prevalent among entertainment media for the desensitizing experience it provides viewers. “What they don’t show you in movies and video games is the pain that is caused by violence,” he said.
On Feb. 23 Philip Clayton, dean of the Claremont School of Theology and provost of Claremont Lincoln University delivered the annual Paul J. Landa Lecture at the La Sierra University Church for the Peace Week series of events. He spoke on the topic “What Does It Mean to Be a Peacemaker in a Divided World: Reimagining Jesus’ Radical Way of Compassion for the 21st Century.”
To access a video of the full lecture click this link: http://www.lasierra.edu/index.php?id=9349
Clayton described the radical pacifism Jesus taught and lived out and to which He calls His followers. He described the history of the merging of Christian pacifism and compassion with religious dominance through the Roman Emperor Constantine, described the ethos of nonviolence that was adopted and practiced by radical leaders of the Reformation, and referenced Adventism’s deep roots in pacifism, including the 1867 General Conference resolution that stated “the bearing of arms, or engaging in war, is a direct violation of the teachings of our Saviour and the spirit and letter of the law of God.”
“Peacemaking is to emulate in human to human relations what we believe is the very nature of God,” Clayton said. Peacemaking starts with “speaking out. …Think about nonviolence as a daily practice. It doesn’t mean just sitting there and being passive. It is not for wimps. …Nonviolence is activism, Christian activism,” he said. “It means resisting that human temptation to beat up our opponents.”
Anger, violence and revenge are part of the biological makeup of humans, he continued. “How to walk with Jesus’ radical way of compassion …is learned.”
During a question-and-answer session following Clayton’s talk, Wonil Kim, associate professor of Old Testament Studies in La Sierra’s H.M.S. Richards Divinity School described himself as a “wannabe pacifist.” He acknowledged that if a burglar broke into his home he would immediately call police who would most likely not have Bibles when they arrived to confront the suspect. “My survival in this capitalistic society …depends on this structural violence,” he said.
Clayton responded that while he would instinctively protect his family and fight an intruder, he would not be able to justify such action in light of the pacifism he believes Christians are to practice. Said Clayton, “I will not stand before you and God and say I did what Jesus would have done. I will not and cannot justify the action.”
Launched in 2010 by La Sierra University humanities and religion faculty, Peace Week is held every two or three years and features presentations by professors and guest speakers on various aspects of the peace theme. Activities include workshops, poetry readings, art exhibits, and film discussions.
This year’s Peace Week included talks by faculty of La Sierra’s H.M.S. Richards Divinity School, the Zapara School of Business, and the departments of World Languages and Biology. Noted guest speakers included Reverend Alexia Salvatierra who gave a presentation titled “Shalom and the Welcoming Table.” Rev. Salvatierra is an ordained pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church and former Executive Director of Clergy and Laity for Economic Justice for the State of California (CLUE-CA) and one of the most inspiring and effective organizers of faith communities helping them engage their faith on behalf of the poor.
Other on-campus activities during the week included a special First Service on Feb. 22 with Michael B. Kelly II, senior pastor, Mt. Rubidioux Seventh-day Adventist Church and a Martin Luther King Trailblazer Award recipient, and a presentation on March 2 by renowned film producers/directors Michael and Carole Wilson. The couple discussed their documentary, “Reconciliation: Mandela’s Miracle,” which documents the pivotal role Nelson Mandela played in South Africa’s peaceful transition out of apartheid through the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.