Some 25 theologians from all over the world will gather on 5-8 December 2006 in Cret-Berard (near Lausanne, Switzerland), to discuss why and to what extent the persistence of cruelty can be considered as an important theme for theological reflection.
The issue could not be more urgent, say the organisers - representing recognised international Christian bodies. The treatment of political detainees in Iraq and Guantanamo, Lebanon caught between Hezbollah and Israel, current and past genocides, atrocities against the Dalits, the use of rape as a war weapon, various forms of terrorism and counter-terrorism, torture, xenophobia and racism, domestic violence - all are instances where cruelty shows its ugly face.
What is cruelty? Is it a truly new theological issue? What does it do to the humanity of the victim as well as of the perpetrator? How does cruelty make reconciliation a hard and complex process as its "contagious" trauma results in endless cycles of violence? And most important, how can churches respond to the different manifestations of cruelty? These are some of the key questions to be examined.
Organized by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the gathering of theologians will address the issue of cruelty beyond its common portrayal as a mere behavioural trait - a perspective which relegates it to the realm of psychology.
They will also focus on the often ignored fact that cultures, traditions as well as social, economical and political structures have themselves been cruel, as well as creating an ethos that "enables" people to become cruel.
Twelve case studies from different contexts and perspectives will provide the basis for theological debate. The studies are about terrorism and counter-terrorism, torture, genocide, apartheid, racism, rape used as weapon, sex trafficking, military occupation, casteism, and violence against women.
In all these cases, discussion will focus on lessons from communities struggling in and resisting situations of cruelty, in order to explore a new theology of the cross which, overcoming victimhood, encompasses kindness, mercy and forgiveness, and enables churches to respond to the phenomenon with a renewed understanding of reconciliation.
The consultation, A theological reflection on cruelty, the ugly face of violence, is part of WCC Faith and Order work to facilitate theological reflection on peace within the context of its Decade to Overcome Violence.