A World Council of Churches’ conference
Eckerd College, St. Petersburg, Florida, U.S.A. February 8-12, 2002
members of five religious traditions – Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism,
Islam, and Judaism – came together with deep concern about the growing
violence in the world today. Our own traditions give us our ethical values
and offer us a vision of peaceful co-existence predicated upon justice
and harmony with the earth. We are conscious of the need to be self-critical
and to go beyond a discourse shaped by narrow political, national, economic
or military objectives. We endeavor to go beyond religious idealism and
explore concrete modes of expression and action.
In attempting to identify the many faces of violence, we are conscious
of the complexity of the phenomenon and the need to develop deeper understandings
of it. Identifying the different faces of violence will help us to discover
relevant and effective ways of overcoming them. In accounting for the
sources of violence, some of our traditions see it as an integral part
of nature, while others locate it in human greed, hatred, and ignorance.
The following are some of the faces of violence that we identify:
Physical Violence – Warfare, the use of brute force such
as battering and domestic abuse, terrorism by individuals, groups or states.
Political Violence – Such as when laws are enacted that militate
against the recognition of each person’s dignity, worth and equality
State-sponsored Violence – Such as extra judicial killings,
torture, and detention /incarceration without due legal process.
Structural Violence – Violence that is built into social,
political, and economic structures such as caste, patriarchy, etc.
Ecological Violence - The destruction of environment resulting
from irresponsible use of natural resources.
Liberative Violence – When individuals or groups –
as a last resort – seek recourse to violence to respond to the above
listed forms of violence and achieve liberation from oppression.
Relation between Religion and Violence
traditions can be resources for building peace. At the same time, religious
communities often play a role in advocating and justifying violence. In
the face of structural violence, religious traditions should help us to
overcome the lust for power, control, and possession of material goods
that are the driving impulses of violence and violent systems.
The following are some of the ways in which we characterize the relationship
between violence and religion:
Silence: Religious communities often maintain silence in the face
of violence. There are many reasons for such silence, including, the concern
for the survival of their own communities and structures. Some may also
see their role helping their adherents feel satisfied in the status quo
and in their own material prosperity without a concern for the marginalized.
Sanctification: Religious communities justify the use of violence
by the state or extra state entities or by other agencies. Examples of
this would be when a religious tradition attaches itself to the militaristic
objectives of the state and the textual/canonical legitimization of violence
Expansion: Religious communities use violence for purposes of spreading
themselves or of ensuring their own growth.
Images of God: Some religious traditions have violent images of the Divine,
which may have problematic implications for the self-understanding of
Images of Self: Religious traditions promote violence by framing the worth
of their adherents in terms of the ‘lesser worth’ of others.
While the above list exposes some of the problematic aspects of the relationship
between religion and violence, the following point to constructive forms
Unmasking/Opposing: Religious communities have played a role in
opposing violence both within their own community and when others are
Models of Non-Violence: Each religious tradition has also had significant
individuals and groups that have lived lives testifying to the peaceful
impulses in religion.
Limiting Violence: Religions have often played a role in checking
the levels of violence or ‘humanizing’ it. In most of our
traditions, limited use of violence is permitted for the defense of good
but with the understanding that we are falling short of the ideal and
thus in need of forgiveness.
to Religions by Violence
Our discussion identified some of the challenges that our religious traditions
face in our common struggle to overcome violence.
Critique: To engage in an ongoing critique, from within our own
traditions, of our understandings of mission, chosenness, salvation, and
the relationship between religion and land. Our traditions offer alternative
understandings that promote wholeness, justice for all people, and the
recognition of our responsibility towards all forms of life.
Means and Ends: To challenge our own communities on the link between
violent means and non-violent ends and the way violent means compromise
the value of human life and in the long run promote a culture of violence.
Conversation, Encounter, and Solidarity: To move towards greater
and deeper conversation, encounter and solidarity with people of other
traditions. In our solidarity with the victims of violence and injustice,
the strength and value of our traditions become manifest.
Non-violence as Resistance: To promote discourse on peace that
deals with injustice, and to practice non-violence as an active mode of
Countering Extremism: To counter the disproportionate voices and
influences of extremists within and outside the religious traditions.
Healing of Memories: Many of us have painful memories of victimhood.
These memories at times obscure the reality that victims can themselves
become victimizers. We are challenged to deal with those memories and
try to find other sources for a more positive identity.
Shared Commitment to Peace
Collectively acknowledge that violence is dehumanizing to the perpetrator,
victim and bystander.
invite our religious traditions to:
Revisit the multiplicity of understandings within the core of our traditions
and formulate new understandings that lead to a more inclusive self-identity.
Provide a moral critique of the structures of power within and outside
of our traditions.
Engage in improving a religious literacy that allows for more informed
responses and helps to create a culture of mutual respect, tolerance and
Create educational settings in which one discovers that the stories
and prophetic figures of other traditions sensitize one to ways of reshaping
and renewing one’s own tradition.
Facilitate meaningful healing of past memories in a framework of understanding,
which may include compassion, forgiveness, reconciliation.
Help recover creative alternatives to violence and offer opportunities
for the use of non-violence as a mode of conflict transformation.