Building Interfaith Relationships Crucial, Leaders Say

By Harris, David | Anglican Journal, January 2000 | Go to article overview

Building Interfaith Relationships Crucial, Leaders Say


Harris, David, Anglican Journal


Building relationships among different faiths is going to become increasingly important, especially in a multicultural country like Canada, religious leaders say.

Delegates to two recent international interfaith meetings said the clear message is that peace, justice and environment issues are of mutual concern to people of faith.

"We're never going to get away from living next door to each other," said the Anglican Church's interfaith consultant, Rev. Eric Beresford.

"Our cultures and communities are so mixed up," said Canon Beresford, a delegate to the World Conference on Religion and Peace, held in Amman, Jordan and the Parliament for the World's Religions in Cape Town, South Africa.

Canon Beresford said if Anglicans want to be heard in these areas, they must work with members of other religions to create a stronger voice, a position he will urge on the church.

He said as immigration changes the face of Canada, there is a need to "focus on interfaith co-operation around justice and peace type issues that affect ordinary communities that include people of faith living alongside one another.

"Otherwise," he said, "the religious voice gets completely excluded in secular society. "There are issues shared by a large number of Christians, Muslims and Jews -- that's a large number of Canadians."

Canon Beresford said a practical focus on interfaith relations is more useful than "dogmatic questions like what Muslims think about Jesus."

The Bishop of Blackburn, Rt. Rev. Alan Chesters, takes a similar view. Bishop Chesters, who was in Cape Town representing the Archbishop of Canterbury, said evangelicals are sometimes reticent to be involved in interfaith discussions because they fear compromising their faith.

But he said that shouldn't be the case. His Diocese of Blackburn in northern England has a strong evangelical and charismatic presence as well as several towns with Muslim communities.

He said getting to know one's neighbour is just "common sense." And he said there are many issues of common concern as cities and towns face urban decay.

The fact that Christianity and Islam are both missionary faiths and currently fighting in parts of the world, such as Sudan and Pakistan, is a separate issue, he said.

"Because relations are difficult in other parts of the world doesn't mean that we shouldn't work for peace and harmony and speaking out together on issues where it's appropriate for the faith communities to speak out," he said.

To bishops from dioceses in the world where Christians are being persecuted and even martyred for their faith, he said quiet, understanding persistence is key.

"You have to go on gently saying (to those bishops), `We are not where you are and please allow us to make the gestures of goodwill and progress in a Christian way because ultimately we believe that may help you.'"

The moderator of the United Church, Very Rev. Bill Phipps, agrees finding practical common ground is more important than talking about beliefs.

But he goes even further. For Mr. Phipps, harmonious living is "far more important a question than the individualistic saving of souls.

"That whole issue is secondary to saving the planet and to learning how to live together," he said.

In fact, the United Church has a policy of not trying to convert people of other faiths. Instead, the focus is on developing the faith of churchgoers and those who are seeking faith.

Speaking near the end of the Amman conference, he said, "The beauty of it is that people are free to engage in peace-building without the restrictions of dogmatics. …

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