The need to "re-frame the religious dimensions" of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a key goal of a 4-day international theological conference which began yesterday in the Swiss capital, Bern.
The conference involves some 65 theologians and church leaders from all over the world who are focusing on the issue of "Promised Land".
The actors involved in the Middle East conflict see their positions as having "a divine mandate and polarized as wholly good versus wholly evil," the Rev Dr Samuel Kobia, World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary, told conference participants at the opening ceremony.
However, Dr Kobia added, Christians "must challenge and dismantle ideological attempts to attribute specific political projects and systems to God's will".
The conference is being hosted by the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches and by the Reformed Churches in Bern-Jura-Solothurn. The event is part of the international inter-church advocacy initiative Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum of the WCC.
Kobia acknowledged that churches "are seriously divided on this issue". There are "differences amongst us in our readings of the biblical texts," he said. However, "those differences must not be an obstacle for common action for a just peace."
Recognizing the "crucial importance" of inter-religious dialogue and cooperation, "especially in regards to this situation," the conference amounts to an "intra-Christian theological dialogue where we start amongst ourselves," Kobia said. "We have not spent sufficient time or energy attending to our own perspective and differences within the [Christian] family," he added.
"The churches have a key role in the resolution of this long and bloody tragedy of suffering and struggle," said Kobia, who compared the conflict to "another apartheid situation." They are called "to heal and to bring all sides to reconciliation rooted in the ethical and theological imperative for a just peace."
Also scheduled to speak at the opening ceremony were the Rev Thomas Wipf, president of the Council of the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches and chair of the Swiss Council of Religions; Ambassador Jean-Daniel Ruch, from the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs; the Rev Dr Andreas Zeller, president of the Synodal Council of the Reformed Churches Bern-Jura-Solothurn; and Patriarch Emeritus Michel Sabbah, from the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.