Conference on Peace and Respect in the Middle East
From 14 to16 December, the Conference of European Churches and Cumberland Lodge held a conference titled “Towards Peaceful co-existence in the Middle East: challenges and opportunities,” which took place at Cumberland Lodge, Windsor Great Park, United Kingdom, and was co-hosted by the Churches Together in Britain and Ireland.
Participants from a broad range of Middle Eastern and European Churches discussed issues such as religious and cultural diversity. A central issue was how states treat people of different religious affiliation, respecting the rights of every person, including their Freedom of Religion or Belief. They emphasised that states need to implement equal status for and treatment of all its citizens, instead of continuing with a system of a majority granting certain minority rights. In order to achieve this, a principle of “moderate secularism” – that is moving towards secular laws and state institutions, not society – might be a way forward, establishing state neutrality towards people and communities of all religions and beliefs.
The President of CEC, Rev. Christian Krieger, stated: “We are aware that in Europe, when we talk about justice for minorities, we also look for everyone to have the status of equal citizens. This point, as our partners in the Middle East have stressed, requires more attention and clarification.”
The conference also addressed other concrete challenges and opportunities in countries such as Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria. Participants expressed a need for churches to continue a peaceful and constructive dialogue amongst themselves and with other faiths. In two days, they reflected on a variety of issues relevant to dialogue, such as language differences and different understandings and concepts.
The contribution of a living Christian presence in the Middle East is important to counter religious hatred, violence and terrorism. Participants stressed that education is one of the key elements in overcoming prejudices. The need to become advocates for each other’s human rights remains a common task for all Christians and people of good will. While the notion of tolerance has different interpretations, an agreement could be reached that people should try to move from mere tolerance to respect, valuing the contribution of everybody.
In his greetings, His Beatitude John X Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, read by Metropolitan Silwan, said, “By the grace of God, we, as Christians, have been living in the East for two thousand years, and we have coexisted with our Muslim brothers and sisters for many centuries. The actions happening today in the East, from intimidation to kidnapping and desacralizing, affects both Muslims and Christians, sheikhs, priests and bishops alike. Differences of religion do not separate us, but rather enrich us in many areas of life.”
The Conference of European Churches will continue its advocacy work to support the needs of Churches in the Middle East, including interfaith dialogue.
This was origally published on the CEC website and the image in Copyright to Cumberland Lodge.