PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil – In final sessions of the World Council of Churches Ninth Assembly Thursday, the 700 delegates agreed by consensus to statements on several issues including terrorism, mutual respect for other faiths, the United Nations and a recognition of water as “a basic necessity for all life on earth.”
Delegates condemned terrorism in all its forms as “abhorrent to all who believe human life is a gift of God.” They also agreed that responding with violence only leads to more violence.
“Acts of terror and some aspects of the so-called ‘war on terror’ have introduced new dimensions of violence,” they said, “threatening long-standing international norms and standards of human rights.”
Recognizing that religion is sometimes a pretext for the use of violence, representatives from churches around the world stated: “Terror, as indiscriminate acts of violence against unarmed civilians for political or religious aims, can never be justified legally, theologically or ethically.”
Viewing terrorism as criminal, the WCC called for addressing each act with national and international “instruments of the rule of law” and for strengthening those instruments, such as the International Criminal Court.
The WCC encouraged interfaith initiatives to develop alternative responses to terrorism and urged that counter-terrorism by states remain within the international rule of law, respecting human rights and humanitarian law.
Spurred by the cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish publication in September and the burning of churches in retaliation in several regions, the delegates urged the international community to nurture “global respect for diversity, culture and religion.” They called on religious communities and leaders to promote tolerance and reduce ignorance through dialogue and cooperation among people of different faiths.
The WCC has, since its inception in 1948, encouraged interfaith dialogue at the local to global levels.
The representatives of 348 churches in 120 countries called for focused effort by Christians and Muslims.
“As people of faith, we understand the pain caused by the disregard of something precious to faith. We deplore the publications of the cartoons,” they said. “We also join with the voices of many Muslim leaders in deploring the violent reactions to the publications.” Along with asserting that freedom of speech is a fundamental human right to be guaranteed and protected, delegates urged that it be used with responsibility – to confront misuse of power, not to cause pain by “ridiculing people’s religion, values and dignity.” Their statement also said there is more behind the tension than religion; the Arab-Israeli conflict, reluctance to accept election results, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan add to historical frustrations from the crusades and colonialism.
The real tensions, delegates said, are not so much among religions as they are among “aggressive, intolerant, manipulative secular and religious ideologies” that are being “used to legitimize violence, exclusion and domination.” In addition, delegates reaffirmed the United Nations’ unique role of bringing international order, its Millennium Development Goals and its efforts to protect human rights.
They made some suggestions for improving the UN’s decision-making processes and responses to vulnerable people and conflicts.
In another statement, delegates recognized water as “a basic necessity for all life on earth,” expressing concern about threats to fresh water supplies and water scarcity as a source of conflict. They supported the Swiss and Brazilian churches’ Joint Ecumenical Declaration on Water as a Human Right and a Common Public Good.