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Minute on our religious imperative to foster sensitivity and reconciliation in shifting society

20 February 2008

1. In recent years, there have been intense social upheavals emerging from insult, injury and offence aimed at religious communities. The causes of these conflicts are complex and often result from migration and other effects of globalization. Some, in once stable communities in Europe for instance, view these shifts in cultural and religious identities as a threat, leading to xenophobic reactions.

2. Migrants, quite often deeply rooted in religious traditions and practices, bring new dimensions to public debates that both enrich and challenge established secular patterns of life. These new challenges, including those occasioned by the displacement of traditional religious communities, find expression in intensive debates about the role of religion in the public and political realm, and in particular in the tension between freedom of expression and respect for religious symbols and values.

3. In this context, we echo the concern expressed in the Netherlands and in other parts of the world following rumours of the release of a film against the Qur'an by a Dutch member of parliament.

4. As a fellowship of churches we recall the clear and unequivocal biblical injunction to "love the stranger" in our midst (Deuteronomy 10:19) and that in Jesus' teaching to love our neighbour, the neighbour is often the one we do not recognize (Luke 10:25-37).

5. We affirm that it is imperative that we address the fears and insults that are experienced by all the communities involved in such situations. The "Minute on mutual respect, responsibility and dialogue with people of other faiths," approved at Porto Alegre in 2006, provides a framework for those churches who wish to do so.

Recalling also that some of our churches, particularly those in Asia, Africa and the Middle East have centuries-long experience living in communities of religious and cultural diversity, the central committee of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, 13-20 February 2008:

A. Recommends to churches facing such challenges to seek opportunities for networking to share the expertise and wisdom of the member churches with experience in living in religious and cultural diversity;

B. Encourages member churches to actively generate a climate of deep respect, communication and mutual understanding in the public sphere by engaging opinion leaders, mass media and other community leaders to emphasize the positive contribution that people of religious faith make to national and community life;

C. Affirms the unique and strategic role, as well as the moral responsibility, of religious leaders to work towards reconciliation and healing within their own and between communities, and encourages Christian leaders to initiate and facilitate processes that lead communities not only from hostility to peaceful co-existence but also to celebrations of our common life;

D. Urges Christian leaders to speak directly, consistently and self-critically to their own communities, holding them to the highest ethical standards of loving one's neighbour, and in extending a hand of reconciliation to communities other than one's own, whenever a community, its people and their beliefs have been attacked or insulted;

E. Calls upon Christian communities to seek common cause with other religious communities to respond to crises that occur in such a way as to model a non-violent and respectful solution.