26.05.17 | News

Kirchentag - A Glimmer of Hope

Education for peace instead of rearmament and arms exports – a panel discussion at the Kirchentag in Berlin dealt with non-violent solutions to conflicts.
Ephraim Kadala speaks on a panel discussion at the Kirchentag in Berlin.

Christian youth become guardian angels for Muslim youth and vice versa - Nigerian Reverend Ephraim Kadala talks about the angel project of his church. (Photo: EMS/Heiligers)

For Ines Pohl, chief editor of Deutsche Welle, church congresses such as the Kirchentag are a chance to gain fresh hope. The panel discussion on the topic of "Non-violence against war and terror – how religions promote peace" gave a glimmer of hope in times when the media is rife with reports on terror and war.

Professor Dr. Mouhanad Khorchide, Islamic scientist in Münster, spoke about the issue of "What role does non-violence play in Islam?". Quoting current examples of new arms deals between Saudi Arabia and the USA, Khorchide pointed out that political and economic interests are often the prime movers behind religious conflicts. "Islam is a power that is easy to manipulate," said the Lebanese-born scholar.  "Today, Islam is a religion of laws and is almost exclusively based on prohibitions, obedience and disobedience. Ethical values have taken a back seat."
Khorchide made it perfectly clear that Islam is not a violent religion in itself by reminding the ladies and gentlemen in the audience of the enormous contribution made to society by the Islamic culture in Spain in the Middle Ages which fostered science and culture. Nowadays, Islamic theology often takes an exclusivist position, revealing a core element of violence. On this matter, new questions must be asked, said the Islam scholar. "Is it really possible that we believe in a God who relativises violence against people of other faiths?" This is where people of pluralistic faith should start to create new approaches.  

Pastor and peace coordinator Ephraim Kadala from the Church of the Brethren (EYN) in Nigeria spoke in his talk on the pacifist approach of his church. Despite the fact that the EYN had been strongly affected by terrorist acts committed by Boko Harem, the EYN still attempts to unite Muslims and Christians and promote interfaith dialogue. Kadala mentioned the Angel Project as one example. As angels are a powerful symbol in both Christianity and Islam, the Church chose this way to approach Christian and Muslim young people. Each girl or boy becomes a guardian angel for a person of the other religion. For a few months, they look after the other person like an angel, protecting and accompanying them. "But nobody knows who his or her angel is," says the Nigerian peace coordinator. Only at the end of the project do the young people find out who their guardian angels were. The results of this interfaith work are plain to see: young Christians and Muslims come closer together; it helps to break down prejudices; and the young people build closer ties to each other, says Kadala.

"The alternative to revenge is love"

African choir at the Kirchentag.
Panel discussion combined with African music at the Kirchentag 2017 in Berlin. (Photo: EMS/Heiligers)

The approach by the Nigerian Church not only inspired those taking part in the panel discussion that followed, it also appealed to many people in the audience. When moderator Ines Pohl asked Kadala whether he would not sometimes prefer to resort to violence and retaliate for the many atrocities, he replied: "Yes, I do. Sometimes I'd like to storm off with a gun and free the kidnapped girls. But revenge is always only a temptation, when you think about it. When you act out of revenge, it is bitter. The alternative to revenge is love. The only way to resolve difficult situations is through love."

Bishop Jochen Cornelius-Bundschuh from the Protestant Church in Baden agreed with the statement made by Islam scientist Khorchide. He shared the opinion that many should rethink their image of God, and here he was not only referring to Muslims but also to Christians. "We are not the ones who make God," said the Vice-President of the Protestant Church in Germany. In debates and disputes, we should ask ourselves how the face of God is filled.

But everyone was unanimous on one thing: education for peace is a decisive factor towards living in peaceful coexistence. And this is where the State and religious communities all play an equally important role. "Many people have realised that military intervention never really resolves conflicts in the long run," said Edelgard Bühlmann, Vice-President of the German Bundestag. And Cornelius-Bundschuh added, "The sooner we recognise conflicts, the more opportunities we have to resolve them without resorting to violence."

Elisa Heiligers