I am a parliamentarian in two senses of the word. Firstly, as a Member of the German Bundestag, I am committed to my country. And secondly, as a member of the synod, the parliament of the Protestant Church of Kurhessen‑Waldeck, I assume responsibility for my church. While the state and the church and politics and religion have traditionally been separate areas of life in Germany, there are many relationships and links between them that also have a bearing on our foreign policy.
At a time when the world is undergoing dramatic upheaval, orders are crumbling and conflicts have pseudo‑religious undertones, religious communities are gaining in importance as non‑state actors. While secularisation may be a trend in Germany, indeed in the Western world, the political influence of religion in general is growing – particularly outside Europe. More than 80 percent of people around the world are members of a church or religious community. At a time when civil society is becoming an increasingly important partner in foreign policy, religious representatives are indispensable points of contact for us.
This is why we have made the social responsibility of religions a key focus of our foreign policy in recent years. After all, all of the world’s major religious communities claim to be a force for peace. Religions convey important values such as reconciliation, humanity and justice, values that also guide us in our foreign policy. We want to use and strengthen this constructive and unifying potential of religions by approaching religious representatives around the world and encouraging them to take their responsibility for peace and stability seriously.
As a politician in Germany, I have often found that our churches and religious communities have very specific expectations of the political realm. By the same token, we politicians also have very specific expectations of churches and religious communities. We want to get religious representatives on board as strategic partners and to work together with those who are committed to reconciliation and justice in their societies and who oppose hatred and violence.
What we mean by “cultural intelligence”
Last but not least, we want to use our interfaith network to better understand social and cultural developments and thereby to improve our ability to analyse developments and act within the framework of our foreign policy. This is precisely what we mean by “cultural intelligence”.
Following our most promising first conference with religious representatives from North and West Africa, the Middle East and Europe in May 2017, we are expanding our horizons this week with participants from South, South East and East Asia. We want to bring together those bridge‑builders and “ambassadors for peace” who are engaged in conflicts as mediators, who work in the area of religious peace education or who strengthen the role of women in peace processes. In so doing, we have deliberately placed our focus on Asia for this conference in order to expand our network in the region in a systematic way. Asia is home to all of the world’s major religions, and many countries have a long tradition of interfaith tolerance. However, we are observing here too with great concern how religion is being instrumentalised to an increasing degree. A traditionally peaceful and tolerant understanding of Islam is coming under ever‑greater pressure, for example.
We are extending invitations to our Asia conference together with the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, which has focused on the responsibility of religions for peace for many years. This conference shows how well we in Europe are able to learn from and with each other. As a politician who cherishes both our country and my faith, I believe in the potential of religions to strengthen peace and social cohesion.