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One God, one humanity

Speech by WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit at a Muslim World League symposium in Geneva entitled “The Role of Religions on the Strengthening of World Peace.”

07 November 2017

Muslim World League symposium “The Role of Religions on the Strengthening of World Peace”

Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit
General secretary, World Council of Churches

Your eminences, your excellencies,

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:8). To make peace is holy work. Everyone who brings peace—real peace, just peace—is serving the will of God. For religious leaders and for faithful believers at the grassroots, peacemaking should therefore be our common agenda and our highest priority.

We are, therefore, as representatives of the World Council of Churches present here, very grateful to those who have organized this conference for this opportunity to gather and affirm our common commitment to work for just peace in our world together.

We meet at a critical time for Europe, the Middle East, and many other regions in the world, where there are signs of division and polarization in peoples and nations. Further, in many places faith itself has become a dividing factor. We see this in many parts of the world. We see also that religious identity and references to religion are being misused for this purpose. Religion is even used to legitimize violence and terror. This is not what our children need in order to live together in peace. This is not what will fulfil the aspirations and hopes of our youth.

What makes for peace?

As people of the Abrahamic family of religions, we believe in one God, who has created one humanity to live together in all its diversity and differences. Tonight we share our reflections and commitment about what we believe this means in practice.  Together we should call for care for the life of everyone created by God. We are accountable to the Creator when we meet one another as God’s creation.

This is our personal responsibility, whoever we are and whatever position we have. Yet as men and women of faith, and specifically as  religious leaders, we have a special responsibility to elevate the sanctity of the lives of all human beings  created by the Holy God. As communities of faith, we are called to demonstrate this love for one another in relations of respect, care, and concern for  everyone.

We acknowledge that we all are vulnerable and that we all have equal needs for protection of our lives and our human rights. Civil authorities are responsible for providing the frameworks for this protection, so that we all are treated with equal rights and given the same responsibilities.

This corresponds in several ways to the concept of “citizenship.” The principle of citizenship is, therefore, in my view, a proper way to express in the realm of politics something that is also important in our faith in God. The principle of citizenship belongs to the realm of politics and legal systems, but it can provide the rights and the protection we need—whoever we are and whatever faith community we belong to. Different people should have the same basis and security for their lives and for their children’s and grandchildren’s lives. In the framework of a state and in the international community of states, we need principles that ensure  justice and peace for  all. We need to give equal protection to all against injustices and violence. We need something solid and clear as a common platform for our lives together.

This is an issue of immediate and critical relevance in several parts of the world.  We need to discuss what it means for people of different religions to live constructively together as common citizens of the same country. This is , as we say, a very “live” issue in parts of the Middle East at the moment. It is, however, also an issue that many nations in the so-called Western world increasingly need to face, particularly in these days of widespread international migration. How can all citizens in every country  both be respected  for the particular and diverse contributions of religion or ethnicity they can offer to the rich fabric of the nation, and be fully integrated and enabled to live together with all as constructive citizens of the country? Such a challenge is one that cannot be ignored. It is a challenge that, of course, also needs to be addressed right here in Switzerland.

We should, furthermore, explore together how religion and the practices of our faith should contribute to our life together in peace and harmony. We should demonstrate what it means to care for and protect one another. We should affirm with one another that we need love and the care. But even more, we need to provide one another the same rights to be citizens, to be neighbours, to be human beings with our basic human needs addressed for food, water, security, health, education, freedom to believe and to share our convictions with one another.

The urgent and basic question

Over the last year, as I have travelled as general secretary in many regions of the world, I have witnessed  striking examples of what this can mean. In Egypt in April, for example, during our discussions with the Grand Imam of Al Azhar we heard of many occasions when  Muslims protected and defended Christian victims of violence. We also heard that Christians in Egypt offer their support to poor people or offer education to anybody, regardless of their religion.  I am also aware of how, here in Europe, Christian religious leaders have taken a leading role in encouraging a positive welcome for refugees coming to Europe. They have done so partly because hospitality is seen as a key virtue in the Abrahamic faiths, one which Abraham himself profoundly demonstrated.

At the World Council of Churches, we took a leading role in welcoming the Muslim document A Common Word, which explores the centrality of the love of God and the love of neighbour in both Islam and Christianity. We need to find concrete expressions of how the love of God can be expressed in our love for one another.

In our Christian faith, we know that the touchstone for whether we truly love God is whether we can show that we love our neighbour.  “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever who does not love does not know God” (1 John 4:7-8).  God calls us to share this love with one another and with the world.

This quest for a concretization of what our faith in the love of the One God means is not an abstract question or a naive wish in face of the hard reality of life. This is indeed an urgent and basic question in a time when different groups and leaders want to use religion as a mean to divide, or polarize, or even to legitimize conflict and war.

Violence in the name of religion cannot be undertaken without violating the values of religion. Violence in the name of God toward those who are created in the image of God becomes violence against God. We are from the beginning to the end accountable to God.

Embracing the other

We have to take another way, a pilgrimage way, searching out justice and peace together with all who are willing to be on this way together. This is the only way that can give us a future of hope. This is the way of real dialogue. For us at the World Council of Churches, these occasions for speaking about dialogue need to bear fruit in future work together in practical ways to build peace in our world.

Being a World Council of Churches, a fellowship of 350 churches, representing 560 million members, we are of course based on an ongoing dialogue with one another. We are “seeing one another in the eye, to see what we have to say together” (as said the late Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras). We believe that as a fellowship of churches we have a call to be one, and we believe that we are called to show this oneness promoting a just peace among peoples, in the marketplace, in communities, and with creation.

As a council of churches, we are in a responsible relationship to one another. We are accountable to each other for what unites us in the basis for our Christian faith and life. This is the faith in the One God, the creator of the one humanity, whom we worship as the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This call to be one is a call to fellowship we in the one human family, with all our gifts of diversity. We are called to embrace the gifts of others, which we can share as we are in council with one another.

There are differences that we have, too—some theological, some sociological or cultural but perhaps stemming from our different religious traditions. These differences are important to us and also, we suspect, to our dialogue partners of other faiths. We do not want to deny them or pretend that they do not exist. But they do not and must not stop us working together for peace.

Solidarity for the human future

This call to be one in diversity we experience in a profound way being a World Council of Churches, with a global reach. We have the privilege of having within our membership churches in all parts of the world.

We share the truth about the love of God and the will of God, as we also search for the truth about the reality in which we live in our different contexts. The reality of the grace of God that we share is mixed with the reality of sin. This calls us to participate in the human family in solidarity with one another, in humility and even with a critical and indeed self-critical approach.

The WCC was established immediately after World War II, that tragedy of humanity that became a disaster for nations and people, some of them victims of some kind of Christian legitimation of their suffering, like the Jewish people. The churches realized in 1948 that they could also be part of the problem, contributing to oppression and conflict. It was time for repentance and reconciliation.

The same self-critical approach was necessary in the following years during the struggles following the de-colonization of many parts of the world. Again Christianity was linked to the tragic history of colonization and slavery, of racism and discrimination.

Today we again have to struggle against racism, exclusion of refugees, division and separation – still in the name of religion, even our Christian faith.

On the other hand, by God’s grace, we have also seen how being in dialogue and council with one another has called us to unity and to order, to repentance, to find other ways forward.

God has called us to Christian solidarity in the cross of Christ. Whenever I travel to parts of the world where Christians are living with difficulty, often as minorities, sometimes in countries which do not allow them to pursue their faith openly and in freedom, I am particularly moved and humbled by the witness of the faithful Christians I meet there. We honour their fidelity at this time, which seems to be especially difficult and dangerous. With the paradox that is at the heart of our Christian faith we bear witness to the fact that in their apparent vulnerability there is great spiritual strength. In their daily lives they are somehow reflecting the mystery of the cross which is central to our faith.

We want to work together and with all human beings and communities of faith for the greater good of our world. This vision of diversity in unity is also a gift that we want to bring to the wider table of interreligious cooperation: of men, women and children of many different religions working together for global peace with justice for all human beings, and indeed for the welfare of the earth itself.

Stand up for peace and for humanity

Therefore, let me conclude:

As religious leaders, gathered today for peace, we have the duty to speak with one voice, particularly against any advocacy of hatred that amounts to inciting violence, discrimination or other violation of the equal dignity that all human beings enjoy regardless of their religion, belief, gender, political or other opinion, national or social origin, or any other status.

We agree as human beings that we are accountable to all human beings in redressing the manner by which religions are portrayed and too often manipulated. We are responsible for our actions but even more responsible if we do not act or do not act properly and timely. While states bear the primary responsibility for promotion and protection of rights for all, individually and collectively, to enjoy a dignified life free from fear, we as religious leaders do bear a distinct responsibility to stand up for our shared humanity and the equal dignity of each human being. We should do it here together, and in our own spheres of preaching, teaching, spiritual guidance and social engagement.

We have a duty to speak in love and of love, to redress hate speech by remedial compassion and solidarity that heals hearts and societies alike. We as religious leaders must assume our respective roles. As believers and ordinary people of our faith communities, too, we can make a real difference in the way we speak, in the way we teach our children, in the way we live together in local communities and show what our faith means as expression of the love of God.

Together we can make a difference. Together we can give hope. In love for the one humanity, let us do so together.

Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit
General secretary
World Council of Churches