Germany. Under the motto “Peace Responsibility of Religions”, the Federal Foreign Office has launched a new dialogue forum. From 21 to 23 May, more than 100 representatives of religious communities form 50 countries will meet in Berlin. Four questions for Silke Lechner, Deputy Head of the Task Force on Peace Responsibility of Religions in the Federal Foreign Office. Previously, Lechner, a political scientist, served for ten years as Director of Studies of the German Protestant Church Conference.
Mrs Lechner, the major religions claim to contribute to the peaceable and respectful co-existence of people. But at present we increasingly perceive the conflict potential in religions and denominations. Why?
Silke Lechner: As with other topics, bad news is more readily taken up in the media than good. Of course, there are situations in which the role of religions is ambivalent. And there are cases in which religion is misused. It can’t be disputed, however, that everywhere in the world there are religious actors who are strongly committed to peace among societies. We want to highlight these positive examples and make them visible. All the participants in the conference are united in the commitment to the responsibility for peace of their respective religions; this is a potential that should also be used in foreign policy.
In Germany itself there is a very good and cooperative collaboration with the churches and religious communities; these experiences have led to the Federal Foreign Office’s now wanting to establish long-term relations with religious representatives abroad. We see this initiative as part of a strategic re-orientation of foreign cultural and educational policy, as part of a “foreign policy of societies”.
Who has been invited to the conference on “Peace Responsibility of Religions” and what are your expectations of this first meeting?
About 100 religious representatives from 50 countries are taking part, from the Near and Middle East, North and West Africa, and Europe. This results in a focus on the religions of Christianity, Islam, Judaism and some smaller ones such as Yezidism, Bahá’i and Ismailism. The other major religions will join in at a later date.
All the participating religious representatives take responsibility for peace in their countries, whether through educational work at schools and universities, mediation in conflict situations, or inter-religious project work.
With this meeting in Berlin, we want to strengthen cooperation with non-state actors. We want to hear what the participants have to tell about their practical work and we want to develop ideas in discussion with the religious representatives on how we can work further on these issues and what German foreign policy can do.
Do you see a danger that the efforts of German foreign policy to support inter-religious dialogue will be rejected as interference?
The response to the invitation to our meeting in Berlin shows that the religious representatives are extremely interested in exchange with us and are very happy about this initiative of Federal Minister Gabriel. By the way, we don’t support inter-religious dialogue as such; what interests us is when religious actors take up socially and politically committed roles and thus assume responsibility for peace. We believe that the levels of politics and religion can complement one another very well. In a world marked by war and uncertainty, the responsibility of religions for peace is particularly important!
Conference “Peace Responsibility of Religions”, 21 - 23.5., Berlin