TAO FONG SHAN
8-12 APRIL 2002
Increasingly, communities of faith are being urged to support inter-religious initiatives that address social issues of common concern. International interfaith organizations seek the collaboration of national and international religious organizations in pursuing inter-religious initiatives around the globe. Civil fora call for the support of religious leaders. Governmental and intergovernmental institutions look to religious constituencies for leadership in providing moral education and social services.
At the same time, intolerance and conflict among religious and ethnic communities in many parts of the world are growing, and in more than one country violence is now justified in the name of religion. During this consultation, the news has been preoccupied with accounts of communal violence in India and the escalating violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and participants have mentioned continuing religious strife in the Sudan, Indonesia, Pakistan, and other countries.
The need for religious leaders and their constituencies to promote cooperation among diverse communities of faith has never been greater. Yet, a religious organization such as the World Council of Churches must also counsel its constituency to embrace initiatives that seem most likely to contribute to the peace and greater justice sought by all. Such counsel is especially relevant for the World Council of Churches, as many now consider what "ecumenism" should mean as churches face greater religious pluralism. A well-considered participation of the WCC in inter-religious initiatives is to the benefit of such endeavours.
Therefore, this international consultation, sponsored by the World Council of Churches and hosted by Areopagos at Tao Fong Shan in Hong Kong with Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh participants, humbly offers the following reflections to churches and other communities of faith.
II. Clarification of Purposes
Inter-religious initiatives, which often speak of and promote "interfaith cooperation," have a wide variety of purposes, such as:
* Preventing the manipulation of religious principles for political purposes.
* Increasing tolerance, respect, and cooperation among different religious constituencies.
* Identifying and promoting spiritual values shared by religious traditions.
* Increasing appreciation of religious teachings among members of traditions of faith.
* Encouraging support for freedom of religion under international law.
* Supporting efforts for peace, reconciliation, justice and sustainable development.
* Mobilizing actions to prevent or curtail violence in the name of religion.
* Strengthening the social and legal institutions necessary for civil society.
* Advising the United Nations and engaging in and supporting, as appropriate, UN programs and initiatives.
* Presenting religious values in civil fora that address various social and economic concerns including hunger, poverty, refugees, environmental degradation, gender discrimination, etc.
* Preventing the manipulation of political power for religious purposes.
When considering involvement in an inter-religious initiative, the following questions deserve careful consideration:
* What are the particular purposes of a proposed inter-religious initiative?
* What activities are planned and how are the outcomes of these activities to be evaluated?
* What religious constituencies are to be involved?
* Who are the intended beneficiaries and what will be their expectations?
Culture, language, history, political and social circumstances, economic considerations, and the particular religious constituencies and leaders involved will shape the outcomes of any inter-religious initiative. …