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Graz - Final Message - Background to the Recommendations for Action - Dialogue with other religions and cultures


God's universal revelation and dialogue

(B11) We Christians believe in a God who wants to be known to every human being. We confess that in Jesus Christ God's love was revealed in perfect purity and clarity, but God is also mysteriously present in all of creation and speaks to all people who want to hear, especially through the voice of conscience. Therefore God is always coming to us Christians also through other people, their cultures and their religions. Although we believe that we have received the incomparable revelation of God in Jesus Christ, which is offered to all human beings of every culture, we will be enriched by dialogue with others, for it will show us a new side of the inexhaustible abundance of God.

Diversity as the heritage and enduring feature of Europe

(B12) But there are also other reasons to seek dialogue with other cultures and religions. The First Ecumenical Assembly in Basel spoke of dialogue in connection with the transformation of the common European home, which must be seen "as part of the transformation of the global village" (cf. No. 89) and derived from this the necessity of dialogue "with other religions, cultures and world views" (cf. No. 90). To this we add that Europe itself has always been a site of changing, tense and conflicted relations between different peoples and religions, and today is a pluralistic region with an even much greater multiplicity of cultures, religions and beliefs. Such pluralistic societies need mutual respect, trust and understanding to be able to survive. Respect and trust contribute to the success of dialogue in bringing about understanding and agreement. It is indeed the shadow side of European history which teaches what terrible failures can result from lack of respect, trust and understanding. Thus we seldom enter into such conversations free of burdens, but rather carry with us experiences which may have been traumatic, and which can still have influence even when they seem to have been long forgotten. Sometimes in such cases it only takes a slight incident to reawaken old fears and prejudices we had left behind. More serious events contribute even more to raising the ghosts of the past which disturb or even destroy our shared life. When memories divide individuals and peoples, more is needed than sensitivity and tact. It is not rare for an almost superhuman power of self-control to be needed to tie the broken thread of the conversation back together. Therefore we Christians must continually look to our Saviour and brother Jesus Christ and ask for God's Spirit to restore, comfort and strengthen us.

Our relationship with Judaism

(B13) Jesus of Nazareth, whom we confess to be the Christ, was born a Jew and lived as a human being within his Jewish faith. As Christ he revealed to us Christians the God of Israel, who has never renounced the covenant with his people. We also share in the same Word of God in the Old Testament, in the faith in God who created us in his own image and delivered us from slavery and oppression. The common prayer of the Psalms and the words of the prophets have moulded us spiritually as Christians. All of this explains Christianity's roots in Judaism (Rom 11.17f). In comparison with other religious traditions, our links with Judaism are unmistakable. The Jewish heritage has made such a decisive contribution to European culture in so many spheres that we could not list them all individually. The crime of the murder and expulsion of the majority of European Jews is a loss for which the European culture will never be able to compensate. The guilt for this rests particularly with the inhuman National Socialist regime, which attempted to exterminate them completely, and with Germans, Austrians and others, to the extent that they supported this regime and offered no adequate resistance to its crimes. Some churches also failed to do so. We must confess to our shame that anti-Semitism was widespread in Europe and still breaks out from time to time. The racist and social Darwinist anti-Semitism which since the 19th century has even appeared clothed as enlightened science harked back to a long anti-Jewish tradition within Christianity, indeed to the very beginnings of the Christian churches. This tradition did not affect all of Christianity nor all phases of Christian history. There were and are examples of another kind of relationship with Jews. Still, the burden is depressingly great. We are thankful that discussion has intensified between Christians and churches and Judaism and is giving rise to a new departure in theological teaching and church practice, as a number of recent church documents show. We are also thankful that the number of Jewish congregations is gradually rising again in many countries of Europe, and that Christians again have the chance to live together with Jews and to discover an d understand their common heritage.

The shape of European pluralism today

(B14) Jews and Muslims have lived for centuries on European soil, and in many countries constituted significant minorities. As consequences of the Enlightenment and of secularisation, the numbers of people have continually grown who reject the Christian faith, are indifferent or espouse other views. In the areas ruled by Communism religion was suppressed, despite official freedom of religion, in favour of the atheistic world view of Marxism-Leninism. People of faith were often brutally persecuted. Today, many different groups appear in these countries and attempt to spread their message there, often with questionable methods. In Western and Northern Europe, migrants seeking work, streams of refugees, settlers leaving their country for another, and even the greater mobility of today have contributed not only to Christian confessional diversity but also to the strengthening of the presence of non-Christ ian world religions. This applies especially to Islam, which has shown the most developmental dynamism, but we must not overlook the East Asian religions either.

Religious openness

(B15) Finally, our so-called post-modern period seems to be characterised by a new enthusiasm for experimentation, including the religious dimension of life. Sometimes we even observe a hunger for religious or spiritual experience. Many "prophets" offer their answers, not always in pursuit of religious goals. Old religious traditions are resurrected, religions from afar find a home in Europe. Even within the Christian churches, interest is growing in non-Christian religions, which sometimes seem even to have a considerable power of attraction. We need to agree on criteria for the discerning of spirits. The prognosis of advancing secularisation, to the point of our becoming a religionless age, has not been clearly confirmed either in Europe or in other parts of the world. The actual pi cture is much more complex, and one can only come to the conclusion that plurality of beliefs and ways of life will remain a lasting feature of European culture. Every consideration of the prospects for Christianity in the next millennium must start from this basic fact.

Tolerance and reconciliation

(B16) We consider it important to be clear among ourselves that this situation demands tolerance from all inhabitants of our common European home. Tolerance is the minimal condition for a peaceful life together. But just as peace means more than the mere absence of war, a fruitful life together requires more than simply tolerating the differences in other people. If the fact of difference is to be a source of enrichment from which everyone benefits, then the opposing views which it conceals, or which come out openly, must be reconciled with one another. This is particularly true when these opposing views have been expressed violently in the past, or when their sharp edges are st ill felt in the present. Unreconciled differences split communities, and the remembrance of past injustice and suffering poisons human relationships, as long as healing does not follow. Time does not heal wounds, at best it only lets scar tissue grow over them, so that when new pressures come they quickly begin to hurt again. The process of reconciliation is like a detoxication cure; there are moments when one is exposed, when the pain of being shamed and wounded breaks out again. But this is healing pain, for to finally get over past injustice and suffering, guilt and wounding must be named and admitted. Only then is forgiveness possible. For there is no reconciliation without truth and justice. Although all the violence committed and endured is everyone's tragedy, there must be no blurring of the distinction between the guilty and the victims.

Our relationship with Islam

(B17) Christendom and Christian Europe look back on a long history of relationship with Islam, which today is the strongest non-Christian religion on our continent in terms of numbers. Awareness of the historical influence of Islam on European culture is not very great in Central and Northern Europe. It has been largely forgotten that in other parts of Europe Christians, Jews and Muslims used to live as good neighbours. Thus we must basically think in terms of varied relationships, and cannot even generalise about the period of Ottoman rule in Southeast Europe. On both sides nevertheless, Christian and Muslim, stereotypes have played an enormous role, usually a disastrous one. On each side they were founded on painful experiences which were burned deeply into the memories of the peoples involved, and tended to obscure any experiences to the contrary. In this way a great gulf of mistrust was created, on the Christian side by the Arab, Tartar and Turkish conquests, on Islam's side by the Crusades and colonialism, which was widened anew by every further conflict. For example, Muslims th roughout the world have seen the most recent war in Bosnia in the light of this history and as new proof of the enmity of the West towards Islam. On the Christian and European side, the fate of Christian minorities and the disregard for human rights in a few Islamic states confirmed many people in their fear and conviction that it is not possible to live together with Islam on a basis of equal rights. Fundamentalist groups with their terrorist acts seem to confirm this judgment cruelly. It is not our job to give a final opinion on these difficult historical, moral and legal issues, which must be dealt with in Christian-Muslim dialogue. We would merely like to underline the necessity of this conversation, which in many places has already begun. For us, it must allow a key role to the understanding of human rights. As Christians we stand in solidarity with those of our Christian sisters and brothers who have suffered, and still suffer, under Islamic rule. But we want to avoid a double standard in evaluating past and current injustice.

Mission and dialogue in Europe

(B18) Intense discussion is already under way in some churches as to how church life can be renewed and how Christian witness in Europe can be made more alive and credible. This missionary spirit is not in contradiction to dialogue with those who belong to other faiths. It is the same spirit that seeks to proclaim the good news of God's love to the whole world, which was revealed to us in Christ and which enables us to discern the signs of God's presence in all righteous and holy human beings. The Spirit encourages all people to purify themselves and to help promote life, justice and peace in all societies.

Church and society

(B19) Christ our liberator wants his Gospel to be accepted in freedom, and wants us to respect the conscience of every person, as well as the invisible action of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of people of good will. With regard to institutional relations betwe en religions within any particular society, Christians must also ensure respect for human dignity and all forms of individual and corporate religious freedom. This should be guaranteed by national legislation.

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