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“Religions are suitable partners”

Interview by Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel with “Kirche und Leben” (September edition)

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Minister, you said a few months ago that the peacemaking potential of religions had to be fostered. Which positive qualities can religions use to realise this potential?

Religions have a profound understanding of guilt, forgiveness and reconciliation. Their communities can stand up for equality and justice in their societies. They take a long-term view – something that is needed to foster peace. And they aren’t confined to national borders. They are therefore suitable partners for us.

Religions are often regarded as the cause of conflicts in the world. What do you make of this view?

It’s true that religion polarises and is made responsible for backwardness and fanaticism, for violence and even for terrorism. In reality, however, the situation is much more complex. Economic, social and political motives are often combined with religious identities to produce an explosive mixture. Religion is often exploited to mobilise groups against outsiders. I think it’s worth looking at the constructive potential of religion and not just at its apparently destructive potential, which is currently foremost in our minds.

Does the German Government support the efforts of churches and religious communities to engage in negotiations and dialogue for peace? If it does, can you name concrete examples?

Our Task Force on the Responsibility of the Religions for Peace is currently building up an international network of religious representatives who are working for peace and interfaith dialogue. For instance, we’re already supporting the international work being done by the Catholic lay movement Community of Sant’Egidio. Recently, the organisation played a major role in the negotiation of a peace agreement in the Central African Republic.

Doesn’t the German Government’s approach amount to too much interference in religious matters?

Although we’re a country in which the state maintains neutrality on matters of religion, it isn’t secular. Religion has its place in our country. Cooperation with religious players thus also has a place in German foreign policy. Religious stakeholders are also always political stakeholders in their countries and play a crucial role in dealing with social conflict. The viewpoint of churches and faith communities thus widens our scope for analysing and implementing foreign policy.

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