Unification News for February 2002
Interreligious And International Federation For World Peace - Berlin Seminar The Transcendent Family Unit
by Fritz Piepenburg,
Some one hundred guests met at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Berlin, Feb. 1-3, 2002, to exchange ideas and insights on the topic: "The Significance of the Family in different Religious Traditions and for the Present Time". Karl Meier, President of the German Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace, and Karl-Christian Hausmann, President of the German Family Federation, moderated the program. Both organizations were jointly sponsoring the event.
Meier, who himself has worked for years overseas, at last as UN envoy in the southern part of Sudan, started by introducing a couple of IIFWP reform proposals for improving the impact of the UN. The IIFWP has long proposed the establishment of a bi-cameral system, adding a second chamber besides the existing general assembly for religious and cultural leaders, representing the entire world. The UN, according to Meier, should exert more efforts to strengthen and safeguard family values, which are paramount for values in society at large. "We have to start living more modestly in order to enable other people to live as well, or at least to survive", he stated. Living for the sake of others, or living for the common good is not only mandated by Christian ethics, but becomes the basic formula for a peaceful and just coexistence among the people.
Hausmann welcomed any form of constructive dialogue among religions and cultures, especially concerning questions of education, marriage and family. "We are talking about more than merely raising government financial support for families", he said. Stable families are the solution for many social problems related to question of providing pension to the aged, educating the young and successfully preventing juvenile delinquency. While religion in the past primarily focused on the "salvation for the individual", today we have to think about "saving the family". Ever since God was excluded from the formation of the first family (meaning Adam and Eve and their children), man has been wondering how to bring God back into the family.
The Development of the Family
Prof. Dr. Jürgen Redhard, a Protestant theologian, explained the seven stages of development of the Christian family. The physical family of Jesus himself is full of riddles and unanswered questions. Early Christian documents did describe Joseph's surprise and dismay, when he discovered his fiancée Mary to be pregnant without his involvement. However at the time of the canonization of the Bible, these documents were not included by the Church fathers. Jesus also expressed a very provoking demand to his followers, by saying "however loves his father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me". Even today theology is still wondering how to interpret this radical demand.
Later, St. Paul mainly dealt with families with patriarchal structures and addressed this type of families in his letters. Monogamous families were already by far outnumbering other forms within the Christian Jewish communities of his time, and among the converts with heathen background as well. When Christianity became the foundation for a new culture, this type of family was accepted as the natural social unit for living together as husband and wife, parents and children.
Martin Luther, the great 16th century reformer, lifted the family up to a new level by freeing it from the control of the Catholic church (he called marriage "a mere worldly thing") and putting new emphasis on the partnership between husband and wife (he jokingly call his wife "my Lord Katharina").
Developments during the industrial age turned out to be disastrous for the family. Social circumstances were forcing mothers to work long hours in factories. Even fathers were estranged from their families, because suddenly they had to spend most of their time away from home. When they returned back late in the evening, they were too tired and exhausted to do much for the education of their kids.
The Christian family of today is in a difficult situation. Both mainline churches (the catholic and the Protestant) are offering little vision or guidance. Because of fear of loosing membership, these major churches have met the trends of their time with too much leniency. In fact they have completely capitulated in front of some social challenges. They have no solution to the question, how God can be brought back into the family. The family has to figure it out for itself.
The Family for World Peace
Hildegard Piepenburg, editor in chief of the magazine "Families for Peace", introduced the goals and vision of the Family Federation for World Peace in a well worked out presentation. According to the view of man of the Family Federation, humans are essentially spiritual beings, who are supposed to develop heartistic qualities while living on the earthly plane. These qualities can be developed through the practice of loving relations with other people and with the natural environment.
The family as "school of love" takes on a special significance. "To love is an active verb and takes on an altruistic meaning without putting conditions in its highest stage of development", she said. She explained the various realm of love, such children's love, brother- and sisterly love, marital love and parental love. Each realm represents a further step in the development of heartistic qualities.
Married partnership quite naturally passed through "four seasons", with each season placing challenging in front of the couple, combined with the opportunity of strengthening and deepening marital relationships. It is sad and tragic, if partner can only think of divorce during the first signs of a different season arriving. These partnerships need out help for overcoming these challenges. A quick divorce solves nothing in terms of relationships but entails a host of emotional and economical problems on top of the broken relationship.
Sexuality is of prime importance for bonding in husband and wife partnership, but works only in married life. Sexuality beyond the confines of married life awakens the same expectations of trust and intimacy, but is bound to end in frustration and feelings of guilt.
Finally Piepenburg introduced various activities of the Family Federation, most notably a series of seminars on family values and partnership and parenting. Another project of the Family Federation is the World Peace Blessing, where young (and not so young) couples pledge before God and the world to cherish the best of family values and thus contributing towards world peace.
Family in Jewish Tradition
Dr. Erno Lazarovits, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Budapest, explained marriage and family in Jewish tradition. At the beginning of his talk he reminded the audience about the persecution of Jews during the Third Reich in Germany, when some 600.000 Hungarian Jews fell victim to the Nazi politics. At the same time he expressed is sadness over the many other victims of World War II, where 57 million people, regardless of friend or foe, lost their lives.
When the communists took over Hungary in 1948, a difficult time began for all religious communities in Hungary. The "Office for Religious Affairs", founded in 1950, and under whose jurisdiction all religious communities were placed, aimed at letting religious communities whither away. In 1990 the political climate changed again and the religious communities, among them the Jewish one, experienced a renaissance. Meanwhile the Jewish community of Hungary has grown to 120.000 members and became the third largest one in all of Europe.
Lazarovits then explained about the significance of the family for the Jewish tradition. Marriage, according to Jewish understanding, is holy (according to the Biblical word: "it is not good that man be alone"). Only the woman makes man wholesome and vice versa. Honoring one's parents is comparative to honoring God Himself ("you shall honor your father and mother"). Nearly all Jewish religious feasts take part in the family. Thus the family is a much needed requirement for participating in Jewish religious life.
Family in Islam
Abdulbasit Tariq, Imam of the Muslim Ahmadiyya community in Berlin, spoke about the family from an Islamic perspective. According to the Koran, family is "a sign of Allah". In other words, Allah/God can be perceived and recognized through the family. According to tradition, establishing one's own family means completing one's Islamic faith. Everybody can and should marry. The Koran states that the God created all living beings in a pair system of masculine and feminine, each part finding its fulfillment in the opposite sex.
Marriage partners, but also different generation within one family, have both rights and duties towards each other (and not only rights, which are over emphasized in today's society). Muslim families are, generally speaking, more stable than Christian families, according to Tariq. "Please make your own inquiry among the Christian and the Muslim families of Berlin", he suggested, "then you will quickly realize the truth of my assumptions."
Family in Human History
Prof. Dr. Hubert Mohr, historian at the University of Potsdam, illuminated the significance of the family from an historic perspective. The disintegration of marital bonds and family structure has to be taken as an alarming sign by historians. These signs are visible in all advanced industrial nations. He compared in vivid words the development in our current post-modern times with the development during the post antiquity of the Roman empire.
The end of the Roman empire was heralded by disintegration of the family structure and a steep rise in individualism. Only the East-Roman emperors, mainly Emperor Constantine and Theodosius, were able safe their part of the large Roman empire by accepting the young Christian religion as the new ideological foundation of their state. Christian family ethics, high moral standards and a keen sense for the common good allowed Byzantium, the 2nd Roman Empire, to survive the 1st Empire for over 1000 years, taking on a leading position in all of Europe.
Our own Western society shows signs of a religiosity which is steadily disintegrating, a family which is increasingly marginalized, an erosion of marital bonds and an increase in individualism. The number of inhabitants are steadily decreasing, because people live according to the tune of "less marriage, less children and less future". Responsible people should learn from historic examples and seek for solutions before it is too late.
The Vision of the IIFWP
Fritz Piepenburg, President of the Advisory Council of the German IIFWP, explained the roots and vision of the Federation. Ever since the disastrous event of September 11th 2001, it became clear that no nation, least of all the United States as the most powerful nation of the world, can ignore developments in another country, simply because it happens to be located at the other half of the globe. Mankind symbolically and literally is sitting in "one boat", whose direction and course needs to be clarified by joint effort.
The IIFWP supports the family as the basic unit for establishing social relations among society at large. It encourages all efforts which aim at improving the common good, works to create an harmonious understanding among the world's religions and aims at overcoming barriers of any kind. Another important goal is the support of the United Nations, enabling this world body to fulfill its original aspirations. The presentation ended with an introduction of the idea of Peace Ambassadors, one of the more recent initiatives of the IIFWP. Peace Ambassadors are leading personalities from various fields and cultures, who are capable of transcending their own boundaries and work for the realization of lasting world peace.
A number of high class cultural performances were offered during the evening program. Yukiko Tokizato, a young Japanese piano player from Düsseldorf, played three pieces by Franz Liszt, Maurice Ravel and Johann Sebastian Bach. A Japanese women's choir sang two beautiful traditional songs from their country. In-In Turner surprised the auditorium with two traditional songs from Korea, accompanied by her daughter who played the drums. Margret Staudinger concluded the evening with some of her fine songs. Highlight of the evening program was the appointment of eleven new Peace Ambassadors, who received their certificates from three already established Peace Ambassadors Karl Meier, Jürgen Redhardt and Erno Lazarovits.
Following breakfast in the next morning, many participants used the opportunity to express their impressions and feelings about the conference. A member of the Neuss city council compared the ailments of the family with a sick tree and remarked: "Hopefully we can deal with the disease before it spreads and affects the entire forest". Final remarks by the two Presidents Karl Meier and Karl-Christian Hausmann brought the conference to its successful conclusion.
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