Christians need to acknowledge the violence they used in the past in oppressing other faiths, the head of the World Council of Churches has said at Germany's biggest Protestant gathering.
"If we do not own up to this history, turn around and repent, this part of our past will always haunt the relationships among us and with people of other faiths," WCC general secretary, the Rev. Samuel Kobia, said on June 7. He was speaking at the Kirchentag, a Protestant church convention taking place in Cologne from June 6-10.
Kobia, a Methodist from Kenya, was giving a keynote lecture on "Religions living together."
"It is one of the sad chapters of Christian mission history that in the name of Christ the presence of other religions was oppressed in very violent ways," the WCC general secretary said. He added, "Just as the memory of the Crusades is not forgotten in the Middle East so the oppressive side of Christian mission in other regions should also not be forgotten."
He recalled, as one example, how a 19th-century German missionary in present-day Tanzania destroyed the trees of an ancient African shrine in the region of Mount Kilimanjaro. "When they started to cut the trees, an old man stood in their way, asking them, 'What kind of God is this who wants you to destroy the holy places of others?'" Kobia told his audience.
"Living together as people from different faith communities requires that all of us overcome histories of domination and oppression, and learn to live as neighbours and friends who share our lives in our common home," he said.
Upon taking office as WCC general secretary in January 2004, Kobia said that interfaith dialogue would in future be a top priority for the world's biggest church grouping.
In his Cologne speech, Kobia said that since the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, in the United States, the global media had emphasised the tensions between the "Western" and the "Muslim" worlds, and the theory of the "clash of civilisations" had become the framework for interpreting the current situation.
However, he noted, "Attributing outbursts of violence only to religion even where religious symbols accentuate tensions or where religion explains differences among groups of people in a conflict, is not correct. Causes for violent conflicts are usually much more complex."
In many places, such as Indonesia, northern Nigeria, and Lebanon, there were intense efforts to work for peace between religious communities, Kobia said.
In the Horn of Africa, Kobia explained, the WCC was "actively engaging" Christian and Muslim leaders: "As a consequence of the situation in Somalia, which has become a battlefield of the 'war on terror', tensions between Christian and Muslim communities are growing." He also warned, "This is a very dangerous moment not only in Somalia itself but for all the surrounding countries, including my own, Kenya."
The WCC was founded in 1948 and has 347 member churches from virtually all the Christian traditions, including the UCC. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member but has representatives on some WCC bodies and it serves with its churches on national church groupings in many countries.