Living together in diversity and intensifying inter-religious dialogue

At its session in Budapest, the Council of the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe (CPCE) voiced its dismay and extreme concern at the attack launched by gunmen on the staff at French magazine “Charlie Hebdo” in Paris, the shooting of police and deaths of four other victims in a Jewish supermarket. It discussed the atrocities in depth, expressing its deepest sympathy and offering intercession for the families, friends and colleagues of those killed. The attack on “Charlie Hebdo” took human life and scorned freedom of opinion. Yet freedom of expression ranks alongside freedom of thought, conscience and religion at the very heart of our societies and democracy in Europe. The Community of Protestant Churches already explained how the Protestant Church views the relationship between freedom of religion and freedom of opinion when cartoons caused controversy in Denmark in 2006. The Council of the CPCE considers that declaration as pertinent and helpful as ever regarding fundamental rights, freedom and responsibility, the rights of minorities, and peace and reconciliation. We reiterate: “The claim of religions to be able to criticise other religions or social conditions must include a readiness to let themselves be called into question by all permissible means of free expression.” Thus freedom of opinion and freedom of religion stand in direct relation to one another and call for respectful behaviour on both sides. The rule of law in modern-day states limits and restrains both these freedoms under the obligation to respect human dignity and refrain from any form of derogation or discrimination. The attack on the Jewish supermarket specifically targeted the Jews. Its belief in Jesus of Nazareth as Christ leads the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe to feel a special allegiance with the Jewish people. The history of anti-Semitism in Europe and its catastrophic consequences help us appreciate the concern at new threats towards Jews living in Europe. Politics, civil society and religious communities are called upon to resist this force. In the wake of events in France, attacks have been launched against mosques. In some cases, Muslims in Europe are considered general suspects and vilified en masse. To the contrary, we uphold the golden rule of many religions: “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you!” (Matthew 7:12). Dialogue between the religions and with non-believers must be pursued and amplified. Encounters, discussions and debate can help pave a common path towards local and pan-European coexistence. The Council is happy to have heard from so many member churches how they seek and conduct such discussions at the grassroots. The churches are pro-active in their search for religious exchange. Churches and congregations propagate peaceful coexistence between the religions and with people who hold contrasting beliefs at various levels and in many different ways. This offers motivation to continue the work even further in our churches. The Council is very keen to see what can ultimately be learned from the discussions and findings of the CPCE’s current study process “Plurality of the Religions”. The Council is very aware that current events have arisen from very deeply rooted and complex political and social phenomena, as characterised by the emergence of Islamist terrorist groups such as Al Qaida and “Islamic State”. Europe will have to scrutinise the circumstances that led to the appearance of these movements and the motives behind them. The Council of the CPCE genuinely appreciates the massive and moving public demonstrations that we have been held over the past few days in the name of solidarity and the desire for peaceful coexistence. The Council of the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe asks God to bestow His benevolent spirit, which creates and renews diversity and allows it to flourish in coexistence. Council of the CPCE Budapest, 17 January 2015

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