The world's great religious traditions should be seen as on the same side fighting for peace and justice, said Bishop Kenneth Fernando of Colombo Sri Lanka, in making his presentation to the ACC on interfaith issues. "We all condemn violence and are striving to remove the causes of terrorism."
The bishop said that interfaith matters need to be part of every Provinces' agenda in the Anglican Communion and that "we should try to become more familiar with the texts of other religions and to learn from them" where appropriate.
He said that the "different religions will each be enriched by finding agendas they can share" and that, "The best way to build relationships with other people of faith is to work with them together" He felt that this did not exclude relevant evangelism which was something we should still support by "setting out the tenets of our faith in ways that are intelligible to hearers in different cultures" and also "by living out our faith as a witness".
The speaker suggested that cultural diversity should always be affirmed, "how rich we shall be if we accept each other". "It is better to have a bouquet of various flowers rather than of the same kind". He said that it was "not the business of Anglicans to promote a particular interfaith theology on which we are not yet agreed but rather a particular practice".
He also spoke of the need to forgive and be forgiven. He noted that "there are feelings of resentment and hostility in parts of the Islamic world that date back to the time of the Crusades." "Even though at the time Franciscans and others were among Christian voices that opposed the crusades."
It was suggested that Christians have to set an example to Islam and overcome relationships of hostility. "We must respect the integrity of all religions, for if we respect them we can hope they will respect us". He stated that "good interfaith relations can open the way to better relations in so many conflicts where religions have played a part" and can assist in "building better ethnic relations and peace".
Mr Ghazi Musharbash, a Palestinian member of the ACC from the Anglican diocese in Jerusalem and the Middle East, gave a presentation outlining the history of the Anglican agency known as NIFCON which had first been mandated but not resourced. He paid tribute to the good work that had been done raising the funding necessary for the creation of half-time post for this work. He also praised the work of the three presidents appointed to spread the news of the work being done, namely Bishop Nazir Ali of Rochester in the United Kingdom. Bishop Kenneth Fernando from Sri Lanka Bishop Ideowo Fearon from Nigeria. Mr. Musharbash outlined the aims of NIFCON and its work as being based upon the sharing of information, stories and resources around the Communion; the promotion of dialogue and friendship; expressing solidarity and prayer in areas where there is conflict and finally theological input of help in sustaining interfaith work.
Archbishop Carey also gave a report of his own work in this area. He said that William Temple in 1944 had said of the Ecumenical movement that it was "the great new fact of our age and if he was alive now he would have said something similar of interfaith dialogue".
The archbishop stressed that Islam itself was not the problem. Christians and Muslims have lived together for many years in peace. "Take the case of Iraq where there has been a Christian community for centuries." But, the fact remained that "Islam can be used by fanatics" even though there were many Muslims now, "worried about how Islam is being used".
He pointed out that the tragic events of September 11th had given added urgency to a matter that was already of the greatest importance. The Archbishop cited the cases of Pakistan where one fatwah had been issued threatening to kill two Christians for every Muslim killed by Americans and not long ago eighteen Christians had been killed in one attack on a church. He also cited Nigeria where many Christians have also been killed.
The Archbishop identified four interfaith initiatives which he had himself undertaken.
After September 11th he had received a call from the British Prime Minister Tony Blair and with his encouragement he had begun a Christian-Muslim dialogue at Lambeth Palace in January this year. "The support of the Prime Minister reflected the seriousness with which politicians are now taking religious issues in conflict resolution." The seminar brought together scholars of both faiths with a view to challenging the roots of religious extremism. It led to the publication of a book entitled "the Road Ahead" and a further seminar is currently being planned for Doha in 2003.
The Archbishop said that his second initiative was a dialogue with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Al-Sharif in Cairo, Dr Tantawi. This parallels a discussion that is also being conducted between the Al Azhar and the Vatican. The group has met several times and an historic agreement setting out guidelines for the dialogue was signed at Lambeth in January and the first full dialogue was held this month in Cairo.
The third initiative focused upon Muslim-Christian relations in England and is led by John Austin the Bishop of Aston. This is aimed at establishing a national framework for dialogue between Christians and Muslims.
The fourth initiative was launched last Autumn when Jews and Muslims jointly asked the Archbishop to bring together the religious leadership of the holy Land with a view to finding a way to promote conversations that might contribute towards a peace settlement. The first meeting, which the Archbishop chaired jointly with Dr Tantawi, brought twenty religious leaders together in Alexandria Egypt for a meeting that was "one of the most tense and difficult I have ever held" yet the meeting "to our great joy led in the end to the Alexandria declaration" the only significant agreement between the three faiths in recent years. Dr Carey said that it is hoped to have a further meeting in October but he feared that "this may be difficult if the Palestinian delegates cannot get out or the Jewish delegates cannot meet because of the suicide bombings".
Archbishop Carey expressed confidence that his successor Archbishop Rowan Williams will be deeply committed to continuing this work.
In subsequent discussion the ACC delegate from Aotearoa, Archdeacon Winston Halapua, applauded the reports he had heard saying that after September 11th "we see the cost of talk without action". He urged that the Communion needed "a mission statement making clear that interfaith dialogue is integral to our faith in Christ."
Archbishop Peter Akinola, Primate of the Church Nigeria commented that often so called religious violence was a product of economic and other social issues. He knew from experience that many "crises can be caused by having many many young people who are unemployed". He urged that interfaith dialogue should involve people on the ground and "not just people from the upper levels of society meeting in nice hotels".
Bishop Michael Ingham, from the diocese of New Westminster in Canada, criticized "those who feel that we cannot engage in Mission if we engage in interfaith dialogue" saying that "we need to be faithful to our Lord's commission and to live peacefully with people of other faiths."
Mr Is-Had Kodi Kodi said that "dialogue is important as it will help to stop the violence" even though he felt that for Muslims " violence is part of the means whereby they are going to convert the world".
In responding to discussion, the Archbishop of Canterbury said that "we need to address what matters to the disadvantaged" in addressing the causes of extremism. He also made it clear that "I have never reneged upon my commitment to the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. We have to dialogue and listen". "I have never reneged upon my commitment of Uniqueness of Jesus Christ. I have to dialogue and listen even though I want to share Him with others."
Nonetheless he recognised that whereas "our faith is personal and can coexist with other faiths Islam is political and when it gets to a critical mass it imposes upon non-Muslims" and "takes a form that can threaten freedom as has happened in Northern Nigeria and in Pakistan."
Bishop Catherine Roskam from New York said that Christians could not be uncritical in response to other faiths pointing to the negative role of caste in Hinduism. She also stressed that she saw interfaith work as part of mission.
Retired Bishop Kenneth Fernando of Colombo told the story of his intervention on behalf of the monks of the Sri Lankan buddhist temple in London as an illustration of what can flow from sincere engagement with goodwill. Upon learning that the temple was too small for the community he had offered to seek help from the Anglican church and diocese of London in seeking a site for a larger place of worship. Later on this had given him such credibility with the Buddhist leaders in Sri Lanka that he was able to be a senior advisor in the peace process in Sri Lanka where interfaith dialogue was a key component in the present peace.
(Alistair Macdonald Radcliffe, ACC12 Communications Team)