Welcoming the Other through Conflict Prevention and Transformation

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Dr Gunnar Stålsett, Moderator of Religions for Peace Europe (European Commission of Religious Leaders) outlined the five steps to attaining peace and welcoming the other at the 9th World Assembly in Vienna.

Dr. Gunnar Stålsett, Moderator of the European Council of Religious Leaders, is Bishop Emeritus of Oslo, Church of Norway. He serves the Council together with five co-moderators, supported by the secretariat, located in Oslo.

Bishop Stålsett is an International President of the World Council of Religions for Peace and a member of its Board.

In his address, Bishop Stålsett told that the focus should be the spiritual motivation, the moral moorings and the emotional dynamics of our work. I believe that we need a self-critical dialogue appreciating our strength and acknowledging our failures. To me religion for peace is religion for change.

In his address, Bishop Stålsett went on to say,”We need to reflect on the place and role of religion in the world today. We need to develop visions for a future of reconciled diversity, tolerance and mutual respect. We need to face these challenges, not with timidity but with determination. We are here to meditate on the transforming power of faith and the frailty of human leadership. We speak to religion and to politics, these two interconnected and mighty forces shaping individual life and human destiny.

Why, we need to ask, why this frequent cry: Keep religion out? Maybe the answer is religious leaders who do not understand the depths of depravity exposed in the name of faith? Indeed we need to wake up to the complicity of religion with oppression. Yes, we need to take seriously the challenge of those who reject religion as a credible source for good. They draw on painful human experience.

Religions for Peace, humbly asserts that religion and peace belong together, that peace is not only a state of mind, but a mind of state- We argue that religion belongs in the secular as well as in the sanctuary, that true spirituality is expressed in personal devotion and in social action.

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Bishop Emeritus Gunnar Stålsett speaks at the Religions for Peace 9th World Assembly

My remarks are informed by my years as a leader of the European Council of Religious Leaders (ECRL) and of the leadership of the world body of Religions for Peace. The European Council of Religious Leaders brings together religious leaders, men and women from all faiths with long historic roots in Europe, the Abrahamic traditions, as well as religions with a shorter presence in this continent. In the spirit of mutual recognition and cooperation we seek to address issues of human rights and human dignity in Europe and beyond.

ECRL has through a number of statements and declarations addressed the particular challenges for Europe of today in welcoming the other. Thus we have issued seminal statements on such topics as culture of peace, tolerance, and human rights. The importance of these statements is of course primarily in their message, but they also carry special weight as consensus documents of a council with broad representations of all major faiths in Europe. We have taken a stance for the right of all religions to be visible in the public square, for the right to displaying religious symbols and building places of worship which conform to each religious tradition.

When Religions for Peace holds its world assembly here in Europe, we are conscious of the heavy burden of history, the horrors of crusades, religious wars, and world wars that have shaped faith and life in this continent. Here at the crossroads of a continent increasingly affected by under currents of intolerance we want to voice a message of mutual respect.

In his address, Bishop Stålsett told, “Let me suggest a few steps in a strategy for conflict prevention and transformation:

  • Firstly, we must continue the interreligious approach of dialogue and common action.
  • Secondly we must face up to the intra religious challenge.
  • Thirdly we must strengthen a comprehensive education for tolerance.
  • Fourthly we need to strengthen our strategy for freedom of religion.
  • Fifthly we need to promote justice, truth and reconciliation, rule of law and respect of human rights.
  • Finally we need to support the agenda of civil society and of organizations promoting international law and global peace.

In his concluding remarks, Bishop Stålsett said that we must keep alive the dream of a transformed humanity.

Download the speech by Dr Gunnar Stålsett, Moderator, ECRL

Dr. Gunnar Stålsett

Dr. Gunnar Stålsett, Moderator of the European Council of Religious Leaders, is Bishop Emeritus of Oslo, Church of Norway. He serves the Council together with five co-moderators, supported by the secretariat, located in Oslo.

Bishop Stålsett is an International President of the World Council of Religions for Peace and a member of its Board.

He served as the co-chair for the XVI International AIDS Conference.

Dr. Stålsett has served i.a. as General Secretary of The Lutheran World Federation (Geneva) from 1984 to 1994. He has also been a member of the Executive Committee of the World Council of Churches. Over a period in the 1970s, he held offices as deputy member of the Norwegian Parliament, State Secretary for Education, Culture and Church Affairs, and member of the City Council of Oslo. He has served as an advisor to the Norwegian government on issues such as arms control, disarmament, and peace and reconciliation. He has participated in numerous Special Assemblies of the United Nations related to disarmament, the rights of children, and AIDS.

Dr. Stålsett has served for 14 years as a member of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee.

Dr. Stålsett has been and is actively engaged in struggles for independence and in peace process efforts, including in Namibia, Guatemala, East-Timor, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kosovo and Iraq. He participates in a number of national and international inter-faith programmes. Additionally, he serves i.a. as a senior advisor to Norwegian Church Aid and a member of the Council of 100 of the World Economic Forum. He actively participates in public debates, both nationally and internationally, for maintaining the role of religion in all spheres of life, and for upholding religious institutions as a unique dimension of civil society.

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Ninth World Assembly, Religions for Peace, Vienna 2013

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