Issues related to religion and violence raised at World Council of Churches

(Photo: REUTERS / Bate Felix Tabi Tabe)The torched remains of a Baptist Church are seen in Mabass, northern Cameroon near the Nigerian border, February 16, 2015. Boko Haram militants kidnapped some 80 people from the village, according to the Cameroon army.

Violence perpetrated in the name of religion was highlighted as "a defining issue of our generation" by Canon David Porter when he spoke at a gathering of a key group in the World Council of Churches.

Porter, a Anglican, spoke to members of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches which met this week in Geneva.

Porter is the Archbishop of Canterbury's director for reconciliation at Lambeth Palace in London and he joined the WCC meeting via Skype on 17 February.

The meeting of the CCIA has brought together members who will set directions for the work of the WCC's 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 noted.

The Church of England priest 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 WCC's international commission 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 WCC commission, identified religiously motivated violence as one of its 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.

Peter Prove, director of the CCIA, highlighted the historical role of the churches in international affairs, since the 1946 foundation of the CCIA.

"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.

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