Violence perpetrated in the name of religion was highlighted as “a defining issue of our generation” by Canon David Porter when he spoke to members of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA) of the World Council of Churches (WCC).
Porter, appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury as director for reconciliation at Lambeth Palace in London, joined the WCC meeting via Skype on 17 February. The meeting has brought together CCIA members who will set directions for the work of the Commission in coming years.
At the meeting, Porter said that religiously sanctified violence is a global challenge, and not just an issue of the Arab world. “The reality is that those promoting such violence are looking deep into their own religious traditions and are attempting to find justifications for their actions,” he said.
“It isn’t just a façade; for many it comes with a deep ideological commitment from their tradition, as they understand it. Therefore the challenge for us is to look again into all religious traditions and see how traditions and texts are used to justify violence,” Porter added.
Porter stressed the need to delve deeper into what instigates young people to be attracted to the views articulated by extremists. He said for many young people this is an ideological issue with several economic and socio-political reasons behind much of their anger and violence.
Porter stressed the need for a safe space for religious leaders, where they can openly and honestly address the question of why people are seduced by extremist narratives.
Audeh B. Quawas, a member of the CCIA from Jordan, noted that religion is not the sole reason behind violence rampant around the world. “Injustice, corruption and dictatorships are major reasons that incite violence in communities and societies,” he said.
Rev. Elenie Poulos from Australia, another member of the CCIA, identified religiously motivated violence as one of the key priorities for the work of the Commission. “Churches need to come up with a new language to deal with religiously motivated violence, especially in the Middle East,” she said.
“We have to address these complex issues carefully, taking into consideration all aspects, as they are not black and white in nature. It is also important that we speak about the rights of the children caught in conflict zones,” Poulos added.
Among other issues during the session, Holland Sikou, a member of the CCIA from the Solomon Islands, said that it is necessary for the churches and civil society organizations to meet the needs of the communities who are directly affected by climate change.
“Churches need to be trained to address these issues,” he said.
“It is also very important for us to focus more on issues that are of greater concern for women, young people and children,” Sikou added.
Peter Prove, director of the CCIA, highlighted the historical role of the churches in international affairs, as manifested by the work of the CCIA since its foundation in 1946.
“The role of the churches in international affairs has been a significant part of the agenda of the ecumenical movement at least since the 1910 Edinburgh World Mission Conference,” said Prove.
Recognizing this, the International Missionary Council and the WCC in Process of Formation created the CCIA in 1946, two years before the first assembly of the WCC in 1948. “From the outset, CCIA played an important role on behalf of the churches, especially in the formative process of the United Nations and drafting of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights,” Prove explained.
“Our responsibility and privilege is to build on CCIA’s heritage, to grasp these opportunities, and to continue – and enhance – the role and impact of CCIA in guiding and leading the ecumenical response to the threats to justice and peace in our generation,” Prove said.