Working for reconciliation is challenging. I have heard it said that whenever you try and create a bridge between two differing sides, you experience opposition. In our efforts to bridge the gap between people, we have not only found people who oppose us, but those who prevent others from accessing the bridge altogether.
Recently, people have spoken against Musalaha by misquoting us and unfairly criticizing our work. False accusations are often hard to take, especially in the middle of a conflict saturated with radical views, where labelling and blaming others for pretty much anything and everything is commonplace.
What are we to do in these instances? Ignore them? Fight against them? Shrink back into a place of hurt and retreat? It is important for us to deal with accusation openly, asking God for his wisdom and how to respond in love.
One of our staff members who studied Criminology reflected on a term used in the field called “Gatekeepers” to paint a picture of access and control. It has been helpful in understanding how and why people are intent on controlling information and reducing discussion to fit with their own agenda.
“Gatekeepers” are described as a type of thought police who fight against information that threatens their group’s beliefs. They often perceive themselves as key people who control the conversation by countering any new information or blocking it altogether. This is because any challenging information threatens their group identity and therefore questions their leadership, which is based on a certain power structure. But they are only as powerful as perceived by the group.
These types of Gatekeepers not only attempt to control the conversations of those outside of the group, but also from within. If anyone within the group dares to challenge the Gatekeeper, they are corrected and marginalized within the community. The language used is often dramatic and deals in absolutes: Light vs Dark, Good vs Evil, Outsiders vs Us, Enlightened vs Blind.
It is sad to say that these Gatekeepers exist in many communities, and are now abusing their power through social media outlets, reaching more and more people. Anyone who has access to the internet can engage in their content, even if it is fabricated and damaging. This leads to a complete lack of freedom for those involved in communities with Gatekeepers at the helm. Any personal opinions are discouraged and emotional barriers are created where new information is seen as threatening.
As facilitators of reconciliation we are constantly presenting new information to counter racism, enmity, and misperceptions of the other. It is important that we share information and remain open minded in our discussions with people. We need to encourage those who serve as instructors, advisors, and protectors – the youth leaders and church leaders alongside parents and community leaders.
It is important to learn how to listen and understand the other side so that we can pray effectively and love understandingly. Despite the opposition and difficulties, we have to be true to what we believe God is calling us to, with wisdom and without fear.
In I John 4:18, we learn that “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” We have confidence in the Messiah that we can speak up without losing our identity and without shying away from our calling to be salt and light in our communities.
God is the one who enables us to do this, even in the face of opposition or when the way across the bridge seems impossible.
By Salim J. Munayer