Political and faith leaders meet on the role of religion in peace and conflict

By agency reporter
September 30, 2008

The United Nations Liaison Office of the World Council of Churches (WCC) have co-sponsored with a major Mennonite agency an international dialogue between some 300 religious leaders and political figures - including Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The event, on 25 September 2008, aimed at exploring faith perspectives and the role of religion regarding global issues such as poverty, war and prejudice while deepening mutual understanding.

The meeting, called “Has not one God created us? The significance of religious leaders contributing peace” included Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of the United Nations General Assembly the Rev Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, former Norwegian prime minister the Rev Kjell Bondevik, and Jewish Renewal movement leader Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb.

Concerned to explore faith perspectives and the role of religion regarding global issues, “the event demonstrated both the power and potential of religious leaders contributing to peace” said Rev. Christopher Ferguson, WCC Representative to the United Nations.

The evening which brought together religious leaders from Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Zoroastrian, Buddhist and other faith traditions was co-sponsored by the WCC United Nations Liaison Office, Mennonite Central Committee, American Friends Service Committee and Religions for Peace.

Critical questions of how religions inform human rights and concerns over human rights violations, nuclear arms, religious oppression, and environmental abuse, in countries including the United States, Israel, Palestine and Iran, were all part of the evening’s dialogue.

“While there were points of contention and clear disagreements, the event reaffirmed that religious traditions insist on dialogue, respect and love for peace making,” Ferguson said.

Prayers from various faith traditions were offered to begin the discussion. A panel of religious and political leaders, using sacred texts, offered what their respective faith tradition brings to the struggle to eliminate poverty, injustice, global warming and war.

Dr John Brademas, a former US Congressman and President Emeritus of New York University, served as the event moderator. Brademas, along with several of the evening’s speakers, called for direct negotiations between Iran and the United States.

"We believe that war is not the solution to the differences that divide peoples," Brademas said. "Dialogue can make a real difference."

Rabbi Gottlieb spoke of the place of peacemaking and nonviolence in Torah and tradition and her work between Muslims and Jews and Palestinian and Israelis.

“Torah councils us that no matter what problems face us, we are to engage in solutions through dialogue, reconciliation and peace building measures, as it is written, the entire Torah is for the sake of peace,” noted Gottlieb. “Dialogue brings many perspectives together, gives special attention to minority opinions and must be conducted by treating everyone with respect.”

Nihad Awad, Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, emphasized Islamic principles to alleviate poverty, care for the environment, affirm the equality of all human souls, and work for peace and justice.

The Rev Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, President of the UN General Assembly, from Nicaragua, said that love was a guiding principle common to all religions. “When we do not see each others as brothers and sisters, we reject God,” he noted.

President Ahmadinejad spoke of the commonalities of religions, the fundamental place of justice, and the essential role religion plays in the spiritual, moral and legislative fabric of society. He stressed the dire situation facing the world and called with urgency for religious groups to contribute to peace building.

Ferguson, who presented the evening’s summation, noted the commonalities presented by the panel – all affirmed the place of dialogue for engagement, the fundamental place of justice to people of faith, and that our religious traditions direct us to love, dialogue and defend the rights of all persons.

Ferguson also noted that the evening was an example of the place of religion in dialogue and peace building. “In the midst of the current international crisis and tensions it became clear that religious leaders have much to contribute in peace making,” he noted.

This dialogue was the fourth in an ongoing series of bridge-building encounters since 2006, which faith groups are developing with Iranian political, religious and academic leaders to encourage respectful conversation about the need for religious involvement in peacemaking.

The WCC has a long history of dialogue and relationship building with religious, cultural and political leaders in Iran.

Questions and answers on this encounter at co-sponsor Mennonite Central Committee website: http://www.mcc.org/iran/meetings2008/index.html

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