Phil Jones, director of the Brethren Witness/Washington Office of the Church of the Brethren General Board, has participated in the VIIIth World Assembly of Religions for Peace in Kyoto, Japan, on Aug. 26-29. The assembly met on the theme “Confronting Violence and Advancing Shared Security.”
More than 800 representatives of all the major world religions, from more than 100 countries, participated in the gathering that is held every five to seven years by the World Conference of Religions for Peace, according to a report from the Brethren Witness/Washington Office. The conference is the world’s largest coalition of religious representatives and their communities working together for peace.
Jones attended as an observer representing the historic peace church tradition that includes the Church of the Brethren, the Mennonites, and the Quakers. He also serves as a member of the Executive Council of Religions for Peace-USA.
The opening ceremony of the assembly was addressed by Japan’s Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Other notable speakers at the opening ceremony were Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan, former President of Iran Mohammed Khatami, and the conference’s secretary general William Vendley.
The event included plenary sessions, workshops, and commission meetings. Plenary panel discussions featured prominent international figures such as Prince El Hassan and former President Khatami, along with Archbishop John Odama of Uganda, Bishop Victoria Cortez of Nicaragua, Kenneth Hackett of Catholic Relief Services, Rabbi David Rosen, Cardinal Terraz of Bolivia, Beatrice Schulthess of Costa Rica, and others.
The world faith leaders meeting at the assembly issued a “Kyoto protocol” for religions calling on people of religious conviction to assume responsibility for confronting violence in their own communities through what it calls “shared security,” according to a report from Ecumenical News International and Ekklesia, an online peace news service. The delegates endorsed the “Kyoto Declaration on Confronting Violence and Advancing Shared Security.”
“The Kyoto Declaration offers a new vision of shared security that properly places religious communities at the center of efforts to confront violence in all its forms,” said Vendley, a Roman Catholic from the US. The declaration states, “As people of religious conviction, we hold the responsibility to confront violence within our own communities whenever religion is misused as a justification or excuse for violence. Religious communities need to express their opposition whenever religion and its sacred principles are distorted in the service of violence.”
Jones participated on the Peace Building Commission, giving leadership in the peace education component of that commission. He reported on the work of the Church of the Brethren and other US denominations in regards to the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations. He also highlighted the recent resolution passed by the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference in support of the Millennium Development Goals.
A statement coming from the Peace Building Commission emphasized the need for continued action for peace education. “Being rooted in an ultimate concern for peace and justice, religions can give the strength to work in the long, not only in the short term, and this should become a familiar part of all religious educational endeavors,” the statement said. The statement echoed both the theme paper of the assembly and Vendley’s opening remarks. “Here, together, we will discern major forms of violence that afflict our human family: war, poverty, and the destruction of our earth,” Vendley said. “We need to confront this violence together as a global multi-religious alliance.”
“Perhaps so much of the real work of the World Assemblies is what goes on in private conversations or behind closed doors,” said the report from the Brethren Witness/Washington office. “This assembly provides opportunities for religious leaders from broad perspectives and often very differing opinions politically and theologically to sit and discuss the issues that most affect their regions and their religious communities.” Leaders from Israel and Palestine, Sudan, Iran, Korea, Sri Lanka, Lebanon, and other places touched by violence were given avenues for conversation and discourse. Some of this conversation was shared from the assembly podium through official reports from regional caucuses, while many such conversations transpired privately.
The closing ceremony of the assembly on Aug. 29 included a rousing thank you to the hundreds of Japanese volunteers, and an artistic and emotional cultural presentation, and ended with a closing video including selected comments and interviews from the event.
The Church of the Brethren is a member of Religions for Peace-USA, the national chapter of the World Assembly of Religions for Peace in the United States. Stan Noffsinger, general secretary of the Church of the Brethren General Board, sits on the Council of Presidents for Religions for Peace-USA. More information about the World Assembly of Religions for Peace is at http://www.wcrp.org/, and information about Religions for Peace-USA is at http://www.rfpusa.org/. More information about the Brethren Witness/Washington Office is at www.brethren.org/genbd/WitnessWashOffice.html.