Inter-faith conversation depends on honesty, say WCC leaders

By staff writers
October 2, 2009

The current and incoming General Secretaries of the World Council of Churches have said that honest conversation is the basis of meaningful interfaith encounter and the hopeful collaboration that can spring from it.

"A fruitful mutual understanding [between people of different faiths] depends on honesty", declared the present WCC General Secretary, the Rev Dr Samuel Kobia, speaking at the opening of a conference involving Muslim, Christian and Jewish participants in Geneva from 30 September – 1 October 2009.

Honesty means "both convergences and genuine differences must be recognized and held in a creative tension", added Kobia. "Because we are different, we each have something unique to contribute, and every contribution counts. At the same time, dialogue partners seek to discover and appreciate the common values held by all."

Speaking at one of the conference's panels, the WCC general secretary-elect, the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, declared: "We are one humanity, expressed in different civilizations, sharing the same earth". Against this backdrop he stated: "It is time for dialogue, honest dialogue, about our attitudes to our neighbour, about our common responsibility toward the earth and toward the coming generations."

Kobia and Tveit made their remarks at the conference 'Initiative of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques on dialogue and its impact in disseminating human values', organized by the general secretariat of the Muslim World League. The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques is King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia.

In his intervention, Kobia emphasised that "dialogue is not merely a subject for discussion in conferences or councils, but a way of living out our faith in relation to one another. In loving and serving the God we know, we find our common calling to affirm human dignity, uphold human rights, preserve the environment and bring warfare to an end".

Tveit spoke about his experience of interfaith encounters in Norway, where immigration over recent decades has brought about changes in the religious landscape, incorporating a significant Muslim minority into a traditionally Christian society.

In Norway, said Tveit, Christians and Muslims together have promoted the right for Muslims to express their faith and worship, affirmed the need for freedom of speech to be exercised with wisdom so as not to cause offence to one another, expressed concern for the human rights of Christians attacked in Pakistan and addressed issues of gender and equality, strongly condemning "any misuse of the teachings of our religions in order to legitimize violence within the family or close relationships".

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