This week I visited the local interfaith group in fife. They told me about their activities and we discussed how Interfaith Scotland could support their work. One thing they told me was that they built a peace garden in the large park in Kirkcaldy. The project needed a lot of resources and it took about 4 years until it was finished in 2012. Even if I couldn’t visit the garden it is good to know, that there is a place where all the different religions are calling for peace in the world. Hearing about the peace garden made me think about all the conflicts which have existed and still exists between the different faiths. And I started thinking about how religious groups, which have been enemies for a long time, can become peaceful partners.
I know at least one example where that happened after a nearly 2.000 years history of persecution. I’m from Germany and a protestant Christian, so the example comes from the history of my own faith. In the so called New Testament (a part of the Christian Bible) there are scripture which have very strong anti-Jewish tendencies. From a historical point of view that’s completely understandable because the first Christians split up from the Jewish community and there were a lot of conflicts between both religious groups during the first centuries of their common history. After Christianity became the main religion of the Roman Empire Christians had the possibility to supress Jews and they did it because of the anti-Jewish tendency in the New Testament. Not all Christians did this but over the centuries it became a common sense in Christian theology that Jews were the “enemies of God”. During the middle-ages and the modern times it continuously came to pogroms against Jews in the Christian areas of the world. Even great Christian theologians such as Martin Luther the “founder” of Protestantism had strong anti-Jewish opinions. During the 19th century the theological antijudaism became an important radix for antisemitism. Even if the first Christians and the Christian theologians during 2000 years of Christian history are not directly responsible for the gas chambers in Auschwitz, so have they prepared the way for it. Even if there were Christians in Germany during to Nazi regime who fought against Hitler and the Nazis most of the Christians did not and during the Weimar Republic the most Nazi supporting areas in Germany were those which were traditional protestant. After the war, the protestant church in Germany (and in other western countries as well) started slowly to change their theological thinking about Jews. They remembered all the things these two faiths have in common and the shared believes.
Today in the protestant church in Germany it is a real no-go to say that Jews must become Christians to be in a relationship to god. The Jewish faith is accepted as an equal way to god – not only because of political and historical reasons but even for theological ones too. The most important step on the way from persecuting and killing Jews to accepting them as equal partners was that the Christian churches admitted their guilt for the persecution of Jews. My (regional) church where I am going to work as minister from next summer changed its basic article in 1991. This text is the basis for everything what happens in the church. Every minister in the church is getting ordained on this article. Since 1991 the article ends with two new sentences:
“For blindness and guilt called for repentance, she (the church) again testifies to the permanent election of the Jews and God’s covenant with them. The confession of Jesus Christ includes this testimony.” ( „Aus Blindheit und Schuld zur Umkehr gerufen bezeugt sie (die EKHN) neu die bleibende Erwählung der Juden und Gottes Bund mit ihnen. Das Bekenntnis zu Jesus Christus schließt dieses Zeugnis ein.“)
I think it is not usual that a religious group has the permanent election of another religious group as one of their main articles of believe but it gives me hope. It gives me the hope that the different religious faiths can accept another as equal partners without a repeating of the history between Christians and Jews. It would mean that Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Bahais and all the other faiths would confess everything they done to each other. It would mean that they admit their guilt and that they forgive each other. Maybe it’s idealistic but I hope it will happen. I think this is a task for every believer and everyone can do something for this. The “normal people” can try to build good relationships to their neighbours from different faiths. Have a chat when they meet, ask how they feel, let their children play together… The theologians must rethink their theological positions towards each other. The example of the Christian-Jewish relationship shows me that this is possible, even if it is a long and difficult journey.
What do you think? Is peace and reconciliation between the religions possible?