Protestant Christian and Muslim leaders in Germany have held their first meeting since an inter-faith encounter planned for February 2007 was cancelled by Muslim representatives because of a church document from late 2006 on Christian-Islamic relations.
Muslim groups accused the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), the country's main Protestant umbrella group, of promoting prejudice and stereotypes about Muslims through the position paper, "Clarity and being good neighbours".
Speaking after their 30 May meeting in Mannheim, in western Germany, Protestant and Muslim leaders acknowledged they had not been able to clear up all their disagreements but said they wanted to continue their dialogue.
"We do not wish to confirm the prejudices of those human beings for whom religions are a danger to world peace," said Ayyub Axel Köhler, the spokesperson of Germany's Muslim Coordination Council.
"The differences remain," said Jürgen Schmude, a former government minister for Germany's Social Democratic Party and a former EKD synod president, the Protestant news agency epd reported. It was still important to continue the discussions, he said.
The Protestant document places greater stress than previous church documents on distinctions between Christianity and Islam, such as different views about God, mission and common prayer.
It also highlights issues such as religious conversion, the role of women, and religiously-motivated violence. It states that cultural identity should not take priority over human rights, and that the systematic unequal treatment of men and women, so-called "honour killings", female circumcision, and forced marriages cannot be tolerated in a democracy.
In a 24 May statement the Muslim council said the Protestant document seemed to be promoting stereotypes and to be giving "an official church endorsement to prejudices about Islam that already exist".
The head of the EKD, Bishop Wolfgang Huber, however, rejected the Muslim accusations. He said the document offered a nuanced perspective on the situation of Islam in Germany and in the rest of the world.
"The position paper of the Protestant church has served dialogue and not damaged it," Huber said after the May meeting. Dialogue has a future only when it deals openly with critical issues and problems, he said. Prejudices that had no foundation could be best dealt with when developments that created concern were referred to openly.
[With grateful acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches]