Saturday, October 02, 2004

Why We Work with Religious Leaders

Dr. Frank Kaufmann
Director of interreligious relations for IIFWP,
Director of IRFWP

Thank you all for coming to the Holy Land. Your commitment to such a high and noble cause is unusual. Do not mistake yourself for being a common person. Your commitment to God is out of the ordinary. I humble myself to you. You left everything behind and trusted your affairs and your family to God. We have to keep each other in our prayers and keep each other healthy and strong. Pray for one another so that as many as possible from us can keep up our work for God here in the Holy Land.I have been asked to speak about why we focus on religious leaders.

Yesterday we went to Al Aqsa Mosque where we were addressed by religious leaders. Before the Imam could start however there was great fuss over how you would stand best for a picture. I am sure the imam was less concerned about your picture than he was about how well you would grasp the beauty of his tradition.

It is not good to miss the sacred or a learning opportunity because we get distracted by getting ourselves into pictures.

We do not work with religious leaders because they are the most entertainingly dressed of all professions. Religious garb is beautiful. Religious leaders wear beautiful robes, golden crosses and pointed hats. This is how it should be. It helps remind people about God. It is also meant to help religious leaders maintain their obligation to be morally exemplary. If you are dressed so conspicuously, it should be harder for you to behave badly. Still some religious leaders manage to misbehave somehow.

We should not concern ourselves primarily with photo opportunities.

There are four main reasons why religious leaders are central in our efforts for peace:

1. The absence of peace comes from our separation from God. If we were not separated from God, we would livein peace with one another. God designed human affairsfor us easily and effortlessly to live harmoniouslywith one another. Tragically, we separated ourselvesfrom God. Every religion has an explanation about howthis happened. Religion came into being to help people reunite with God. When we follow the dictates of our religion we can go back to God, and we can live in peace with one another. The first reason for working with religious leaders in our efforts for peace is that we must reconnect with God, and we need religious leaders to help us with that work.

2. The second reason we work especially with religious and spiritual leaders is that spiritual reality influences contemporary affairs.We are all under spiritual influence.Our parents or grandparents who are now in the spiritual realmlook to us to fulfill some deep longing they desired in their lives. They actively involve themselves in our day to day efforts. Furthermore, great spiritualfounders who gave their lives for the sakeof God also seek people on earth who can carry their sacred missions forward. These people who are presently in the spiritual world are an integral part of the process that will bring peace.

But working with spiritual reality is dangerous and difficult. It is not a simple matter to engage unseen powers and principalities. Without proper guidance and training we can be misled. Some spirits are powerful enough to enrage people to the point of war, and murder. We should not mistake or underestimate the extent of their power. War and peace themselves originate in the realm of the spirit. Some people are clearly under the influence of malevolent powers. There are torrents of spiritual forces all around us at any given time. These form the realm of causality. It is imperative that we know how to remain safely in relationship with beneficent spiritual forces. Here again, the job of teaching us how the spiritual world operates and how we should relate to the spiritual world is one that belongs to religious leaders. This is the second reason we work with religious leaders.

3. The third reason is that religion evokes the most intense forms of attachment, more than money, power, or knowledge! There are people who easily would give up everythingthey own, and even their lives in defense of their religion and faith. History shows us that warsinvolving religion are the most horrendous. Religiouspeople will kill to the very last person if they believe they are protecting the sacred, sacred texts, or holy places where theirfounder sacrificed his life for God. Because religion represents the loadstone of attachment and difference, religious leaders must pioneer the path to peace.

Do Christians and Muslims believe exactly the same thing? [No they do not]. Do Christians and Jews believe just the same thing? [No] From one way of seeing things, the deepest and most irreconcilable differences are in the world of religion. How on earth can we solve this problem? How can we reconcile such profound differences?

We believe reconciliation and harmony is possible because there is something higher than beliefs and doctrine. That is love. There is nothing in any religious teaching which prevents me from loving another person like my own son, my brother, my father and so forth. In fact this is religious teaching. Every religion teaches us tolove one another infinitely and eternally. No religion teaches us to love only Catholics, or only Muslims.

This is why when a priest, a rabbi and an imam hug, cry, and completely blend into one together, the whole world must acknowledge, “nodifference on earth is greater than the power of love.” We witness with our own eyes that love has bridged the greatest of all difference. When religious leaders transcend the greatest of all differences, no one can insist thattheir own differences are too great to resolve, or their walls too high to take down.

Once religious leaders conquer the hardest and most intractable differences, they render moot all arguments for war. When religions truly stand together objections are removed and a wide path to reconciliation and peace are opened.

4. The 4th and final reason we work with religious leaders is that we must solve the problem of church state relations. We must find the true relationship between spiritual andmaterial dimensions of life.

Until now there is a great clash of cultures and civilizations over the question about how much religion should be integrated formally into affairs of the state. In order to achieve peace we must find a way past this age-old impasse and effectively establish conditions leading to peace and cooperation among different cultures in the world today.

The relationship between temporal andspiritual leadership is important. Public leaders need spiritualguidance, but they tend to keep religion at a distancebecause religions often misuse the power of the state toadvance parochial interests and to oppress believers from other faiths. This is a great black mark in religious history. Religions sin when they act for self. Secular leaders shun religious triumphalism. They are correct when they say, “Stay away from me, and stay away from the state if you seek power and tax money for narrow parochial and denominational interests.” This is right, but pushing religion away from the state comes at a great loss. Political and secular leaders need religious and spiritual help. Insight into good political direction requires support from religious leaders, for these are the people whose job it is to know about God and the spiritual world. Ifreligious leaders stand together across religious lines, political leaderscan no longer voice objections of religious opportunism, and then everyone prospers and benefits.

These are the four reasons why the IIFWP places so much emphasis on religious leaders in its pursuit of peace.

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