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D.O. Agyekum: Address to the International Leadership Conference

Address to the International Leadership Conference
“Towards an Era of Interfaith Cooperation and Universal Peace”
Seoul, South Korea, February 6–10, 2011

In spite of all the effort by humanity, absolute consensus and peace appear to elude mankind as a result of religious conflicts. Historically, religious differences and religious bigotry have extended to and fomented political and tribal conflicts. In some African countries, religious tensions and conflicts have characterized and defined relationships, particularly between Christians and Muslims. And even within the same faith such as among the Christian denominations or Muslim sects, tensions and conflicts usually occur as a result of differences in doctrines of the same faith. Some of these religious tensions and conflicts could be bloody and devastating. Indeed available evidence shows that religious differences pose real threats to world peace. From my perspective, interfaith cooperation has become not simply a necessity or a fantasy. In fact, it is an indispensable imperative in our global efforts to pursue and maintain world peace and global stability.

Interfaith cooperation, as a form of raising the level of understanding and positive interactions among peoples of different religious faiths and various humanist beliefs at the individual, institutional, and national levels, has the laudable objective of deriving a common ground in our beliefs through a concentration of similarities between faiths, understanding of values, and commitment.  Effective interfaith cooperation must, in my view, involve the following international, national, and community activities:

  • teachers of religion should strive to teach their followers to maintain a positive attitude of religious tolerance;
  • dialogue should take place among religious bodies; and
  • people must be encouraged to acquire a fair knowledge of other faiths apart from their own.

Let me be clear and be emphatic that respect for religious and cultural diversity in an increasingly globalizing world enriches national identity, contributes to regional and international cooperation, and helps create an environment conducive to the exchange of human experience and the promotion of human rights and human dignity.

What the world should note, I think, is that it does not really matter whether the different religious faiths (Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc.) all directly worship the same God or different gods.  What is, or should be, significant is that individuals and religious groups could best profess and practice their respective faiths under a peaceful atmosphere and not within an environment defined by religious tension and conflicts. And this provides sufficient reason for all and sundry to join hands and hearts in promoting interfaith cooperation in our relentless search for global peace and harmony.

Furthermore, it must be acknowledged that positive support of religious and interfaith dialogue would, to some extent, address the critical issues of poverty and underdevelopment, the widening gap between the rich and the poor, transnational organized crime, infectious diseases, and environmental degradation, which are major challenges of the global community today and threaten our common survival.

On the other hand, we must acknowledge the fact that many religious tensions and conflicts are the direct consequence of religious extremism. In light of this, let me urge religious teachers/leaders, particularly of the same faith as the extremist elements, to constantly condemn such extremism. We all have a duty to make religious extremism unattractive, prevent it, and reject stereotyping of national, religious, or ethnic groups associated with violence while empowering moderates and promoting genuine brotherhood. World leaders should be committed and united in condemning and preventing the use of violence in the name of religious faiths or ideologies, not only within our communities but in the world at large. The temptation to use symbols as well as religious, cultural, or ethnical values to generate wars or justify terrorism should be condemned and resisted.

As people of reconciling and hopeful faiths, be it liberal or evangelical, religious or philosophical, whether we are conservatives or progressives, theists or atheists, all of us who seek to remain true to the vision of faith must learn to tolerate, cooperate, and collaborate with people of different faiths. For our cooperative efforts towards world peace and harmony are much needed now in this era, perhaps more than ever.