(Photo courtesy of Myron McGhee)

Reflections from Maria Presley, MDiv 2011 (below, left):

It’s not every day that topics like violence in the Sudan, the peace process in the Balkans, and the conflict transformative tools inherent in the world’s religions are topics of casual conversation. However, Dr. Tom Flores’ class, Sacred Ambivalence: Violence, Peacebuilding, and Interfaith Dialogue makes these issues come to life and examines the religious dimensions of personal and international conflict. Class readings include works by peace theorists like John Paul LederachMohammed Abu-Nimer, and the many on-the-ground peacekeepers involved in religion and conflict resolution.

On Wednesday the 12th, our class was host to a surprise guest lecturer who has combined theory, policy, and on-the-ground peacekeeping for over 30 years as both the President of the United States and the founder of an NGO dedicated to election reform and conflict transformation. President Jimmy Carter spoke to our class about his life and experience, including about his personal faith convictions and his break from the Southern Baptist Church; the geographical and physical divide that separates Christians on issues of homosexuality, abortion, and gender; and the separation of church and state as discussed in his book, Our Endangered Values. At the end of his lecture, he took questions from the class and discussed topics ranging from The Camp David Accords to the role of religion in the global community. Throughout the discussion, students engaged President Carter on issues relating to class material, and sat in a state of amazement as one of the top peacemakers of our time intimately discussed the role of faith in his life’s work. In the span of an hour and a half, President Carter summarized many of the religious and political issues the class has grappled with and left us incredibly grateful that he took the time to lead discussion and give us a memory that won’t soon be forgotten.

Reflections from Jojo Ledgister, MDiv 2009 (above, right):

When was the last time you were greeted by secret service officers while going to class? Never? Well until Wednesday, November 12, my answer would have been the same. I was headed to Sacred Ambivalence: Violence, Peacebuilding, and Interfaith Dialogue, a class in which we have been studying violence and peacebuilding, and how religion both fuels and promotes violence and peace. Dr. Tom Flores gave us a vague warning that we would have a guest lecturer in our class, and told us to wear something nicer if we wanted to take pictures with our guest. Considering the amazing faculty at Candler and the wonderful connections we knew Dr. Flores has in the field of interfaith peacebuilding, he could have invited anyone! But no one expected to see President Jimmy Carter, one of the most prominent figures in peacebuilding, standing in our classroom just to give us, a group of seminary students, his perspective on religion and violence. We were thrilled!! President Carter gave us a brief summary of his background, and how his Christian faith has informed and shaped his desire to see peace in the world, and particularly in the Middle East. He kept his talk short to allow us time for questions, and hands eagerly went up. I was amazed at the breadth of questions, and the desire of our class to get clarity on concepts that we had argued over during several lectures.

Although President Carter answered most of our questions to our satisfaction, time flew by and we were left with the feeling that we should have asked so many more questions! However, it was still a valuable experience, and having President Carter in class was truly a demonstration of Dr. Flores’ commitment to grounding the principles we study in class to the realities that are lived out in the world. This lecture is yet another reason why I am so excited and fortunate to be a Candler student!