Symposium focuses on religion, violence and extremism

By agency reporter
February 5, 2016

To promote open discussions on the theological and practical discourse, narrative and experiences on implications for the work of the multi-religious organisations on religion, violence and extremism, the World Council of Churches (WCC), along with the General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church and the General Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists promoted the 2nd Symposium on the Role of Religion and Faith-Based Organisations in International Affairs, under the theme of 'Religion, Violence and Extremism'.

The event took place on 1 February, at the United Nations Secretariat, in New York City and was co-sponsored by the UN Inter-Agency Task Force for Engagement with Faith-based Organisations, Permanent Mission of Finland to the UN and the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers.

Attended by more than 130 participants representing faith-based, UN and civil society organisations, the event addressed key issues on violence, religions and the intersections of religion and violence. Presenters and participants also debated the multi-religious perspectives on violence in the name of religion and the role of religion in countering violence and extremism.

The initiative also aimed to formulate concrete proposals as a contribution to the work of religious, ecumenical and faith-based groups and UN and multilateral organisations.

Dr Clare Amos, WCC’s programme executive for Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation, was one of the keynote speakers of the symposium. She presented reflections on 'the Relationship between Religion and the Public Square: Freedom of Religion in the Public Space.'

Amos emphasised that one of the important aspects to remember in the discussion about freedom of religion and the public space is that “religions don’t have human rights, it is human beings that do.”

She pointed out that some leaders of religious minorities, particularly in the Middle East, “may be more interested in the rights of the religious community they lead, to exist and carry out its official religious practices, than they are in the rights of particular individuals to profess any religious faith – or none.”

Regarding violence and religion, Amos suggested that not all religious traditions find it easy at the moment to acknowledge that their own religion could be complicit in violence.

“There is a tendency to try and protect the religion itself from such an accusation by suggesting that those who commit acts of violence are not really authentic representatives of that particular faith tradition”, she said.

Amos also echoed some other speakers of the event by pointing to the situation of women as both victims of violence or religious oppression and workers for peace.

After eight hours of reflection and discussion on the topics of religion, violence and extremism, Rudelmar Bueno de Faria, head of the WCC UN liaison office in New York, summarised the key issues raised at the event.

“Many participants emphasised the need to take into account the root causes of violence as a way of addressing the problem: economic and social issues; aspects related to marginalisation and exclusion; but also elements related to corruption and impunity”, he said.

Bueno de Faria also emphasised the strong call for a change of narrative on issues related to religion, violence and extremism. “We need to have a perspective of hope as opposite to fear”, he added.

The potential of youth as agents of peace; education systems and families as ways to approach prevention of violence; pluralism and culture were also highlighted by Bueno de Faria as common aspects raised in the discussions.

Bueno de Faria concluded his summary by raising a question brought by several speakers: “What is the convening space for bringing together FBOs, UN agencies and bilateral governments in terms of addressing concrete actions and strategies?”

He proposed that the UN interagency task force for Engagement with faith-based organisations could serve as such space.

Participants in the symposium envisioned that a publication will document their discussion. It will include the final versions of the presentations by speakers and participants, and a summary report will highlight major plenary discussion points and specific recommendations.

* The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical fellowship of churches founded in 1948, by the end of 2012 the WCC had 345 member churches representing more than 500 million Christians from Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other traditions in over 110 countries. The WCC works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church.

* World Council of Churches http://www.oikoumene.org/en

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