Peace begins by disarming hearts and hands

LWF General Secretary, Rev. Dr Martin Junge. Photo: LWF/Albin Hillert
LWF General Secretary, Rev. Dr Martin Junge. Photo: LWF/Albin Hillert

LWF General Secretary at Sant’Egidio meeting calls on religious communities to join forces to combat hate speech

(LWI) - History teaches us that when words become “divisive, exclusivist and aggressive, actual violence against people is just around the corner.” Therefore faith communities have a responsibility to call out and combat hate speech before it escalates into full-blown conflict.

That was the message delivered by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge to the annual Sant’Egidio meeting taking place in the Spanish capital Madrid from 15 to 17 September. The encounter, which brings together hundreds of faith leaders from all corners of the globe, is entitled ‘Peace with no Borders: Religions and Cultures in Dialogue’.

Recalling how the Holocaust did not begin with the gas chambers, but “with vulgar jokes, provocations and social exclusion,” Junge reminded religious leaders that they have a duty and a responbility to “interrupt hate speech and inject alternative narratives that can bring healing.” 

Violent words are early warning signs

Speaking as part of a panel presentation, the LWF General Secretary said the experience of a decade dedicated to combatting violence against women has also shown clearly that violent words, coercion, isolation and threats are early warning signs of physical domestic abuse.

“That is why, before saying ‘yes’ to forgiveness and reconciliation, we must first say an uncompromising ‘NO!’ to hate speech - and any form of incitement to hatred against the most vulnerable among us”, he said. “Words matter,” he insisted, and we must recognize that “disarming hearts and hands goes together with strengthening legal instruments and political will, as part of the larger agenda of disarmament”.

Sharing ecumenical and interfaith resources

Junge told participants from many different faith traditions that however disempowered people may feel, it is important to understand that, collectively, our communities have practical and spiritual resources that can make a difference. “We must reach out and collaborate across religious traditions, to show solidarity in the midst of growing tensions in our societies”, he said.

The General Secretary cited two examples of Lutheran leaders seeking to combat violence and promote practical peace initiatives, despite limited resources. In Latin America, he noted how the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Colombia (IELCO) has spoken out against a call by some members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to return to armed conflict, while continuing to support former combattants seeking to reintegrate into civilian life.

We must not allow “violence and hatred” to be the first word either
Rev. Dr Martin JUNGE, LWF General Secretary

Following the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka, he recalled how he and LWF President, Archbishop Dr Panti Filibus Musa, called on all religious leaders to publicly oppose hate speech and to continue promoting equal protection for all citizens in the country.

While our faith teaches us that hatred and violence will never have the last word, Junge concluded, religious communities must work together to combat fear and social exclusion, ensuring that we do not allow “violence and hatred to be the first word either.”

 

Sant’Egidio