The Power of Religion to Turn People to Goodness

In 1990, Iraq President Saddam Hussein staged an armed invasion of Kuwait It was the beginning of war in the Persian Gulf, one of the world's tinder boxes. As the world was about to be swept up in the vortex of war, I came to the conclusion that Christian and Muslim leaders should meet and stop this conflict, and immediately began contacting people on the two sides. Even though the land being fought over had no direct connection to Korea, it was my responsibility to do everything I could to stop a war in which innocent people were sure to die.

As soon as Iraq's invasion began, I sent members of our church to the Middle East and gathered the representatives of various religious bodies to propose a conference on the Middle East. Some may wonder why I, a person with no apparent relationship with the Middle East, would propose such a conference. I believe that every religion should seek ways it can contribute to world peace. The conflict between Christianity and Islam is far worse than the conflict between democracy and Communism. There is nothing more fearful than a religious war. I implored President George H.W. Bush not to start a war with the Arab world. In the mind of President Bush, he was going to war against Iraq, but in the mind of Muslims, religion exists in a higher position than the nation state. I was concerned that if Iraq were attacked, the Arab world would come together in opposition to the United States. Soon after Iraq's invasion, our church gathered religious leaders from Syria and Yemen and held an emergency conference calling on the Arab world not to go to war against President Bush. Whether the United States won or Iraq won, what good would it do, what value would it have, if it meant that bombs were rained down to destroy houses, fields and hills and precious lives were lost?

Every time the signs of crisis are seen in the Middle East, our members have risked their lives to work with major NGOs of the world to visit Israel and Palestine. I was not comfortable sending our members to places where their lives could be at risk at any time. Whether I was in Brazil tilling the soil or visiting a refugee camp in Africa, my heart was always with the members who had worked quickly to go into the Middle East tender box. I would pray that peace would come to the world quickly so that I would no longer need to send our members to such places of death.

In 2001, we all felt as though we had been hit by a bolt from the blue when the World Trade Center twin towers in New York City came crashing down. Some people saw that and described it as the inevitable dash of civilizations between Islam and Christianity. Islam and Christianity, however, are not religions of conflict and confrontation. These are religions that put importance on peace. It is prejudice to say that Islam is radical, as it is prejudice to say that Islam and Christianity are fundamentally different. Religions are identical at their essence.

We brought together some 40 religious scholars and, in 1991, published World Scripture: A Comparative Anthology of Sacred Texts.

This volume came as the result of comparing and studying the terms that appear in the sacred texts of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and other major world religions. What we found was that the sacred texts use the same or similar terms 73 percent of the time. The remaining 27 percent are terms that represent the unique points of each religion. This means that 73 percent of the teachings of the major world religions are the same. On the surface, some may wear turbans, others may wear prayer beads around their neck, and others may carry the cross, but they all are seeking for the fundamental truths of the universe and trying to understand the will of the Creator.

People often become friends even if all they have in common is the same particular hobby. When two strangers meet and find they share the same hometown, they can immediately communicate with each other as if they had known each other for decades. So it is truly tragic that religions, which share the same teachings 73 percent of the time, are not able to communicate with each other. They could talk about the things they have in common and take each other by the hand. Instead, they emphasize their differences and criticize each other. All religions in the world talk about peace and love. Yet, they fight each other over peace and love.

Judaism, the religion of Israel, is also a religion of peace. The same is true with Islam. From our experience in the compiling World Scripture, we came to the conclusion that it is not the religions of the world that are in error, but the ways the faiths are taught that is in error. Erroneous faith brings prejudice, and prejudice leads to conflict.

I first set foot in Jerusalem in 1965. This was before the Six Day War, and Jerusalem was still under Jordan's territorial control. I went to the Mount of Olives, where Jesus shed tears of blood as he prayed just prior to being taken to the court of Pontius Pilot. Already then, there was the Church on the Mount of Olives. I put my hand on a 2,000-year-old olive tree that would have witnessed Jesus praying on that night. I put three nails in that tree, one each for Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and prayed for the day when these three would become one. We cannot hope to bring about a world of peace unless Judaism, Christianity and Islam become one. Those three nails are still there, and the world of peace is still far distant Judaism, Islam and Christianity are sharply divided against each other in today's world, but they share a common root. The issue that keeps them divided is the understanding of Jesus. To address this problem, on May 19,2003,1 asked that we de-emphasize the cross in relations among the Abrahamic faiths. Thus, we enacted a ceremony of taking down the cross. We then buried the cross where Jesus had been crucified in the Field of Blood, land that Judas Iscariot is said to have purchased with the 30 pieces of silver he received for betraying Jesus. Then, on December 23 of that year, some 3,000 Ambassadors for Peace from around the world, transcending differences in religion, together with 17,000 Israelis and Palestinians, gathered in Jerusalem's Independence Park to symbolically remove the crown of thorns from the head of Jesus and replaced it with a crown of peace. Together with the some 20,000 people who gathered there, we held a march for peace. Through that march, which was broadcast live through the Internet to the entire world, I proclaimed that Jesus had his authority as King of Peace restored to him. After centuries of misunderstanding and division, an opportunity was created for Christianity, Judaism and Islam to reconcile with one another.

Al-Aksa Mosque, the third holiest mosque in Islam after those in Mecca and Medina, is in Jerusalem. It is the spot where Mohamed is said to have ascended into heaven. The leaders of the mosque guided the Christian and Jewish leaders who had participated in the peace march into the most inner part of the mosque. Islam is also a religion that loves peace. We opened a door that had been closed tightly, and opened the way for many Muslim leaders to communicate at a new level with their Christian and Jewish brothers.

Human beings like peace, but they also like conflict. Human beings will take the most gentle of bulls and make them fight each other. They will have roosters stand their crowns on end and peck each other with their sharp beaks until pieces of soft flesh begin to fall away. Then, they will turn around and tell their children: "Don't fight with your friends. Play nice." Ultimately, the fundamental reason that wars occur is not religion or race. It is the nature of human beings. Human beings are the problem. People today like to place the causes of armed conflicts in such things as science or the economy, but the actual fundamental problem lies with human beings ourselves.

Religion's role is to turn human beings toward goodness, to eliminate the evil nature of human beings that finds enjoyment in fighting. Examine the major religions of the world. They all hold a peaceful world as their ideaL They all want to see a kingdom of heaven, Utopia, or a paradise. The religions have different names for this ideal, but they all are seeking essentially the same kind of world. There are numerous religions in the world, and many of them are divided into numerous factions and denominations, but the essential hope for all of these is one. Their goal is the Kingdom of Heaven and the world of peace. It is the kingdom of love that will heal the human heart.