Issue 44, December 2004
Two years ago, the Programme Committee encouraged the World Council of Churches (WCC) to animate a discussion on religious plurality and Christian self-understanding. It was later affirmed that Faith & Order, the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism and Interreligious Relations and Dialogue together study the appropriate theological approach on the relationship of Christianity and other religions. For two years interested and involved representatives of these three networks worked on a document, to articulate a possible and relevant reflection on how Christians could interpret the reality of religious plurality. This document had a long way to go. It went through a number of discussions in various smaller groups. It became the centre of theological exchange between people of various confessions present in the group: Catholic, Baptist, Orthodox, Pentecostal, Methodist etc. Missionaries, systematic theologians, theological educators, priests and pastors added their particular perspective to the document. It is the hope of those involved that the document becomes a useful tool in the necessary reflection on how we as Christians and Church are to understand ourselves in a world, where the religious manifold is so present.
Considering that the forthcoming ninth assembly of the WCC in Porto Alegre, Brazil, (14-23 February 2006) will provide ample space for issues relating to interreligious relations and dialogue, it is expected that the document will be part of Assembly deliberations. The theme of “hospitality” was chosen to be the leitmotif of the document indicating a welcoming attitude to the other and echoing the biblical experience of Hebrews 13, 2: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Our context is meeting people of other faiths in an attitude of hospitality. There are many similarities between hospitality and dialogue, but hospitality is more than dialogue. While it is true that dialogue signifies openness to listen and to talk, historical and cultural constraints are limiting factors. Hospitality is more; it is allowing the other to enter our home or us to enter the home of the other. Hospitality is offering food to the stranger and a place to rest. Hospitality has therefore to do with ethos. It goes beyond communication in words.
We receive the stranger because, whether host or stranger, we are both part of humanity. Religion is intrinsic with humanity. We cannot drive a wedge between being human and being a person for whom religion matters. When we invite the stranger to sit down with us, we may have in front of us a person for whom truth and wisdom, love and holiness is nourished by a vision or experience of God, which in one or many ways may be totally different from our belief, commitment and devotion. If we want to be truly hospitable, we cannot keep the religion of the other at a distance. We cannot define the other. Hospitality is not to remodel the other in our image. The other defines him or herself. This is the only way we can listen to the other, speak to the other, be encouraged by the other and give support to the other. Hospitality is to allow the other to be true to him/herself.
We will publish the document in the next issue of Current Dialogue.
This issue of Current Dialogue contains articles reflecting activities by the Office, e.g. the report from a multifaith consultation in Addis or Rashied Omar’s presentation at this summer’s Visser’t Hooft Memorial Consultation “Religion, Power and Violence”. We provide space for the General Secretary’s greetings at the Second Forum of the interreligious network Global Network of Religions for Children. The article “Christological and Soteriological Reflections in the Wake of Half a Century of Intense and Improved Jewish-Christian Relations” by Jesper Svartvik was one of the interesting contributions at a consultation organised in co-operation with the International Council of Christians and Jews, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin Center at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago and the Centre for Christian-Jewish Relations in Cambridge (UK). The consultation, which took place in London in December this year, addressed the question on how and whether the Jewish-Christian dialogue has affected Christian self-understanding. The consultation tried to design a process whereby issues in Christian theological exploration such as soteriology and ecclesiology intersect with equivalent findings in Jewish-Christian dialogue.
The year 2005 will find the Office on Interreligious Relations and Dialogue involved in two major endeavours. One major interreligious gathering (7-9 June) when participants will be invited to think together, assess the present and imagine the future of interreligious dialogue. The conversation about the significance of interreligious dialogue and its approaches needs to bring in new voices, including those that express criticism, reservation or scepticism. It is felt by many people concerned that the language, or languages, and methods of work used in dialogue as well as the boundaries they have created need to be redefined.
A second venture is to host an interreligious weekend in Geneva 12-14 November 2005. To further interfaith dialogue and relations as a way to peace and living together in plural societies, the WCC in collaboration with the Interreligious Platform in Geneva will organise a program divided into several parts: a public conference and round table with some religious personalities, a public discussion between generations, an interreligious prayer, an interreligious concert and a colloquium involving representatives of churches and religious communities, the University, UN organisations, NGOs, media, etc.
Hoping that this is issue of Current Dialogue provides interesting material for reflection, it is my pleasure to send you the best wishes of the Office on Interreligious Relations and Dialogue and Season’s Greetings.