By Marcus Braybrooke
December 15, 2019
Is it really only just over 20 years ago that Religion, the Missing Dimension of Statecraft was published? Now, religion – because sadly it is so often divisive – has become a top priority for many politicians.
I am just back from the recent International Conference on Cohesive Societies held in Singapore. King Abdullah II of Jordan, who initiated the UN World Faiths Harmony Week, in his keynote address stressed the need for interfaith co-operation. “It is urgently needed,” he said, “to tackle the world's single most important threat, the attack on interfaith harmony, mutual respect, and trust … Every global challenge in this 21st century demands that we resist hatred and exclusion … Economic growth, peacemaking, protecting the environment, global security, inclusive opportunity — all these critical goals require that people of faith cooperate and combine our strengths to our common benefit.
“The vast majority of people on earth are members of a spiritual community,” he continued. “Each has its own traditions and convictions. But our world religions also have something profound in common — the commandment to show compassion and respect for others.”
The King denounced those “who preach a hate-filled message about Islam.” Hate speech and violence are a threat to all humanity, he said, and this is why interfaith cooperation should be a top priority.
At the conference, Halimah Yacob, president of Singapore, stressed the importance the Singapore government attaches to social cohesion. The thousand participants from across the world heard many similar examples of collaboration.
Making Conferences Meaningful
Earlier this year, I was invited to a conference in Romania on “The Role of Cultural Diplomacy in Approaching the Protracted Conflicts: Culture of Peace through Understanding the Other,” which was attended by some neighbouring heads of state, as well as representatives of civil society and NGOs and religious dignitaries. The conference’s theme is particularly important in the Balkans, where, with so much bloodshed and violence, the map has been redrawn to create states based on ethnicity, which also means religious identity. Similar initiatives can be found in many parts of the world, including, for example, long-divided Korea.
How do those of us who are people of faith ensure that these gatherings have an impact on the lives of those who suffer discrimination? I often reflect on this question. Certainly, there is never enough practical help for victims of violence. We can join campaigns to try and influence the decisions of governments and back the United Nations. But I believe we also need to look closely at all ‘exclusivism’ in our religious practices and language. Anglicans (Episcopalians for American readers) often use the response “Lord have mercy upon us.” But who do we mean by ‘us?’ If it is anything less than all humanity, our faith is still parochial.
We need also to challenge all that stigmatizes others and seek to heal the deep wounds of conflict. Jakob Finci, the head of the Bosnian Jewish Community is instructive. He was speaking at an interfaith event where particular attention was given to those who had been raped during the Bosnia war. Finci said “to look into each other’s eyes and try to mend the wounds of those who have suffered in war.” The UN estimates that up to 50,000 people were raped during the war, “always by perpetrators who belonged to a different ethnic group or religion than the victim.”
As Pramila Patten, the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, has said, “Rape is a cruel weapon that is as devastating as any bullet or bomb. It ravages victims and their families. It destroys communities and undermines their chances for reconciliation if left unaddressed. It has also been described as the oldest and yet least condemned crime of all.”
Yes, conferences are mostly talk, but if they open our eyes and hearts to those who suffer and inspire our prayers and actions, the time and expense has not been wasted. In words of hymn-writer Graham Kendrick …
Beauty for brokenness
Hope for despair
Lord, in the suffering
This is our prayer.
Original Headline: Religion: Curse or Cure?
Source: The Interfaith Observer