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The “Four 3’s” at IGE

  • Chris Seiple
  • July 8, 2012

Seiple expounds upon the four “3’s” at IGE: Our “3M” Mindset; Our “3NP” Manner; Our “3R” Mission; and, Our “3C” Contribution.

The interview ended. As the camera crew started packing up, the reporter made a simple but significant statement about IGE: “I don’t know where to put IGE.” IGE was not easily defined according to the traditional “boxes” of politics and media.

I have heard the same thing many times from almost donors: “IGE just doesn’t fit into any of our categories.” For better or worse, no simple description defines the “IGE-way.”

That “way” has many dimensions. In particular, it is defined by three different perspectives‚Äîeach with three characteristics‚Äîwhich shed light on our mindset, our manner, and our mission. All of which define a fourth perspective regarding our impact. Combined, these four “3’s” make for something quite different; something that the world seems to be asking more about these days.

Our “3M” Mindset: Multi-Faith, Multi-Disciplinary, and Multi-Vocational[1]

“Multi- ” is not “inter.” Inter-faith and inter-disciplinary, for example, suggest a blending that merges clearly defined categories into one.

“Multi-,” on the other hand, suggests that there is an immutable and irreducible core identity to each of the gathered elements. These elements individually possess characteristics and beliefs so indelible that blurring them would mean denying their very identity. In fact, “multi-” argues that naming the sometimes discrete but irreconcilable differences between and among categories can ironically hasten practical action, as each contributes the best of its identity to the common good.

Multi-Faith: This term invites the core of one’s religious beliefs to the table. It makes clear that one can have an exclusive claim to the truth and not be called a bigot. Multi-faith dialogues encourage participants to articulate what is most important about their belief system, including the consequences for those who don’t believe as they do. Dialogues are only honest when real differences are discussed. Dialogues are never practical if there is no honesty.

Multi-Disciplinary: Knowledge is enhanced, even created, when multiple perspectives join the discussion. Religion, law, international relations, and anthropology are necessarily distinct disciplines, each providing a lens through which to understand complicated situations. IGE uses and learns from each of them. To rely on only one discipline is to deny sustainable solutions. People don’t live in disciplines, they live in a complex life that reflects all disciplines.

For example, our multi-faith journal — The Review of Faith & International Affairs, which celebrates its 10th anniversary next year — is also multi-disciplinary. As a think-and-do-tank, a know-and-go-node in a world that demands partnership, there simply is no other approach that IGE can take.

Multi-Vocational: There is no single government, NGO, sector, or vocation that can successfully address our global challenges. It will take everyone. Therefore it is not a question of if but when, you will partner. It will take distinct skill sets from every vocation, partnered together, to engage our most complex issues. At IGE, for example, we have people with graduate degrees in ancient history, sociology, peace-building, security studies, and international relations. Our resulting capacity to relate to people working in those vocations is critical to the impact we seek through local partners.

Our “3NP” Manner: Non-Partisan, Non-Profit, and Non-Proselytizing

In a world where everything is political‚Äîespecially sensitive topics like religion and religious freedom‚Äîit is absolutely imperative to be respected, and received, by those not like you. Respect can certainly result from our above mindset and our mission below, but both mean almost nothing if conducted in a poor manner. It is not what you say, but how you say it. Actions usually speak louder than words. IGE is fiercely “3NP” in its efforts to create a space of mutual respect where people feel they can be honest, and heard. And it begins among us. If we can’t practice what we preach, then why bother?

Non-Partisan: As a global organization in Washington, D.C., sometimes we like to say that we operate in the radical middle: somewhere between the leftover left and the self-righteous right. We do so as a function of our faith, which transcends politics. We do not take political positions save one: we will advocate any policy that encourages and enables the liberty of conscience of each human being to choose what s/he wants to believe. We have found that our thinking and actions are more relevant—and more enduring—when they are not identified with a particular ideology, political or otherwise.

Non-Profit: This term can mean many things, not least the legal registration as 501(c)3 organization that can receive tax-exempt donations (which we are). What it means most, however, especially for a small organization, is that the higher purpose we serve is foremost our compensation for the long hours, and long flights. It also means independence of thought and action, consistently referencing that higher purpose and resulting mission.

Non-Proselytizing: We are an unabashedly Christian organization motivated by the Bible’s commands to love God, neighbor, and enemy. It is also a command of our faith to share it, which we do by helping to create a space where all those who bear the image of God‚Äîwhich is every single human being on the planet‚Äîhave the opportunity to exercise God’s gift to each of them: the freedom of conscience to choose, change, share, or reject any belief, religious or otherwise. If that choice is not made freely, it not only dishonors the intent of God, it is not faith.

Our “3R” Mission: Respect, Reconciliation, and Religious Freedom

Respect: Tolerance is not enough. Tolerance merely allows for the other’s existence. Implicitly, tolerance saves the capacity for dehumanizing stereotypes because it’s simply easier to be defined against the other. Mutual respect, on the other hand, understands that we cannot become fully human unless our identity is rooted in the other, even if that person disagrees with our belief system. That means loving our neighbors in a logic and language such that they want to listen. No one wants to be tolerated, we want to be celebrated.

Reconciliation: It is the ever-maturing awareness that those around us are not made in our image, that they deserve respect, and that we can have conversations with them about our deepest differences. It is almost impossible work…to agree to disagree with someone else’s freedom of conscience…to not call someone a bigot because s/he believes in an exclusive Truth…to encourage diverse and differing perspectives in our personal and professional conversations, and into the public square of our policy discussions about how to do the most good for the most people.

In other words, for such maturity to deepen and expand, we have to be in relationship with each other, and with our governments. At IGE we call what we do “relational diplomacy.” Whether your spouse, a village leader, or a foreign ambassador, there is always a way to develop an authentic relationship, one in which you have earned the right and responsibility to speak with honesty and grace.

Religious Freedom: True religious freedom results from a constant state of reconciliation. It means that we have agreed to live with our deepest differences‚Äîthemselves the result of our freedom of conscience to choose‚Äîand not kill each other. It is a precious commodity that has no status quo. Its stock is either going up, or its going down. And it is the human condition to allow it to go down, as we look to conveniently blame others who don’t look or vote like us. True religious freedom is demanding in both diligence and vigilance.

Our “3C” Contribution: Citizens, Community, and Constitution

Religion and religious freedom remain sensitive topics worldwide, a point of contention between countries and within them, between majority and minority cultures, and between governments and the governed. Yet, if every global challenge requires multiple partners to effectively engage them, it is also true that those partnerships take form in the relationship between governments and grassroots, and vice-versa. There must be mutual respect between the top-down of governments and the bottom-up of grassroots civil society.

Put differently, governments and grassroots can initiate change, but that change is unsustainable without the other, without the good governance that results from including the governed. Sustainability begins with the creation of a space where mutual respect for differing opinions is constantly deepening and expanding multiple stakeholders toward reconciliation, and true religious freedom.

Given the human tendency to focus only on one’s own religion, perhaps politically, even to the detriment of the common good — that is to NOT be 3M, 3NP, and 3R — it is often vital to present one’s mindset, manner, and mission in precisely the context of the common good. In other words, it is necessary to seek an impact that does not self-segregate religion and religious freedom from society (bottom-up) and state (top-down), but as integral to both. In IGE’s experience, one useful framework that is acceptable to all parties is citizenship, community, and constitution.

Citizenship: IGE has found through its global work that “minority” is increasingly regarded as a pejorative term. While statistically accurate, the term nevertheless sets certain groups apart. People want to be equal citizens under the rule of law, free to believe whatever they want to believe…accepted for and proud of the unique characteristics that define their identity (and therefore minority status). The concept of citizenship is a good one: encouraging loyalty to the state, while forcing the state to have a national discussion about the narrative of citizenship, and each groups place therein, as equals. The conversation of citizenship is necessarily one of mutual respect and reconciliation.

Community: Citizenship is not, however, about one person’s rights over someone else’s. Freedom always takes place in the context of community, especially the group-based societies of Asia. Done correctly, the conversation about citizenship enhances community, and therefore builds the stability necessary for mutual respect; and therefore the stability necessary for the attraction of foreign direct investment, and the creation of jobs.

In short, people of faith are citizens too, with strong values to contribute to the flourishing of their society and the stability of their state. If the work of IGE is understood only as “faith-based” or as “religious freedom,” there is the potential to self-segregate‚Äîeven self-ostracize‚Äîfrom the global, national, and local discussion that are now taking place. “Citizens in community” is something everyone can relate to, and something which everyone has an inherent self-interest in.

Constitution: The social ownership of citizenship in community means nothing, however, if it is not legally-and actively protected by a living constitution. If the people of a particular place are free to choose what they believe about the possibility of something greater than themselves, then they are also free to choose the values that inform their common governance.

Accordingly, IGE has held several conferences in East Asia that promote a safe space where all parties can talk about religion and the rule of law. In the same fashion, IGE co-sponsored the August 2008 constitutional conference in Kenya that eventually resulted in the August 2010 constitution.

Conclusion

These four “3’s” are but one way of thinking about a complex and complicated issue. The simple point remains, however: how can one unabashedly build religious freedom in a manner that is received not only as non-threatening, but as critical to both state and society? We pray that IGE’s thoughts and experiences are useful to you.


[1] Kristen Lundquist, our program officer for religion, security, and gender coined this term that names IGE’s longstanding mindset as she tried to relate IGE with the world as it is in order to develop our Women of Faith for Peace & Securityinitiative.

About Chris Seiple

Chris Seiple is Principal Advisor for Templeton Religion Trust’s Covenantal Pluralism Initiative, and President Emeritus of the Institute for Global Engagement. He is widely known and sought after for his decades of experience and expertise regarding issues at the intersection of geopolitics, US foreign policy, Asia, conflict resolution, human rights, and religion. He earned his Ph.D. in International Relations at The Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy at Tufts University. His books include The Routledge Handbook of Religious Literacy, Pluralism, and Global Engagement (Routledge 2023), co-edited with Dennis R. Hoover.

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