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Faith

How faith shapes politics

by Bernhard Felmberg

In brief

In Burundi, churches play an important role. Germany’s Civil Peace Service is working with them. The husbands of the widows gathered here in a church in Bujumbura died in the civil war.

In Burundi, churches play an important role. Germany’s Civil Peace Service is working with them. The husbands of the widows gathered here in a church in Bujumbura died in the civil war.

Religious communities have a decisive influence on social attitudes and societal decision-making. Churches and mosques give people a forum to talk about what matters to them: health, family planning, environmental protection, peace. In publications and memoranda, pastorals and encyclicals, religious leaders deal with socio-political challenges and offer solutions.

The best example is the Pope’s recent encyclical on climate change. It not only pointed out the deficits of current climate policy and called for political and economic leaders to rethink their practices, but also offered specific solutions. The head of the Catholic Church thus inspired international debate. His encyclical showed that religious leaders can influence policy makers, development processes and every individual person that belongs to their faith.

Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) is aware of this potential and is seeking out opportunities to cooperate with religious leaders in development contexts. This approach is successful. In Indonesia, for example, setting up an office to register citizens in Aceh only became possible after the Islamic Council of Scholars, in the wake of the 2004 tsunami, published a statement asserting that official registration served the common good. Previously, large numbers of people had rejected registration as a supposedly Christian concept.

In Algeria, imams and government representatives received support in their efforts to draft positions on environmental protection. The resulting manual for the training of imams has the title “The role of mosques in environmental education”. It is used in Koranic schools and, in south-south cooperation, is about to be adapted for use in Pakistan.
Religion can even help achieve peace between warring parties. In many cultures, religious leaders have traditionally served as mediators. In Burundi, Germany’s Civil Peace Service is working with local churches to get opposing groups to sit down at the table. In Nigeria, South Sudan and the Central African Republic, imams and bishops are joining forces to promote dialogue. These examples illustrate the simple but important insight that wherever religion is part of the problem, it should also become part of the solution. (bf)

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