If religion can and does fuel conflict, globalization driven by non-religious forces also contributes a great deal to the emergence of new ethno-religious conflicts says World Council of Churches' (WCC) general secretary Rev Dr Samuel Kobia.
Delivering a keynote lecture yesterday at the 'Kirchentag', the largest Protestant gathering in Germany, Dr Kobia affirmed that in such conflicts, Christians are called by the gospel to work towards healing and reconciliation - but he was forthright about the way both diseased religion and other malign ideologies can lead to death and destruction.
The Kirchentag is held every two years; the current (6-10 June 2007) event has drawn some 100,000 participants to Cologne - making it, once more, one of the largest regular gatherings in Europe.
In his lecture on 'How can religions live together?' Dr Kobia cited studies indicating that a large share of world conflicts during the second half of the 20th century could be traced back to ethno-religious causes. But, he added, "attributing outbursts of violence only to religion," even where it plays a role in the conflict, "is not correct," since "causes of violent conflicts are usually more complex".
The current upsurge of new forms of religious fundamentalism "is probably most adequately interpreted as a form of collective resistance against cultural hegemony in the context of globalization," Dr Kobia explained.
The available evidence suggests, he said, that "social, economic, political and cultural consequences of the accelerated process of globalization significantly contribute to the emergence of new ethno-religious conflicts".
The WCC general secretary acknowledged the ambivalence of religion, which "can be both a source of division and hatred and a liberating force contributing to life in dignity in just and sustainable communities".
What it is required if people of different faiths are to be able to live together not as enemies but as neighbours who share the planet as a common home, is to "overcome histories of domination and oppression". For Christians, this includes the need to come to terms with "sad chapters of Christian mission history," in which other religions were "oppressed in often violent ways".
"If we do not own up to this history, turn around and repent, this part of our past will always haunt the relationships among us and with people of other faiths," said Kobia.
The gospel imperative "to affirm justice and to honour the dignity of the other" compels Christians to work for healing and reconciliation, something that "often requires healing of memories that are deeply hurt".
For this to happen, to acknowledge "atrocities and crimes committed in the past" is indispensable, as is providing for "restitution and, in some cases [...] reparations in order to arrive at a situation where justice rules the relationships and all can live in dignity".