Issue 45, July 2005
This issue of Current Dialogue follows in the wake of the Critical Moment conference, an interreligious event, which the World Council of Churches (WCC) organised between June 7-9, 2005 involving some 130 participants of different faiths. It was the first time that the WCC manifested its commitment to be involved in the present and future of interreligious relations and dialogue in this way.
It may have been presumptuous to call it Critical Moment. Who decides when the time is ripe? Participants of major religious traditions, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, indigenous religions, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Yoruba and Zoroastrians, were all involved in various dimensions of interreligious dialogue. There were scholars, clergy, educators, people involved in interreligious actions for peace and justice, hunger and development, poverty and the debt-crisis. Many of them agreed with the WCC that interreligious dialogue is no longer a marginal issue. It has become the way we must relate to each other. It has become a way whereby people together in all humility should offer religious resources to address issues of common concern. Participants proposed reshaping the approach to global interreligious dialogue to face threats posed by the current world context more effectively. The report, which is still a draft report concluded that "recasting interreligious dialogue as a practice of humility and hope offers a way of building greater trust,” and continued "together may we seize this critical moment and help transform its perils into a pilgrimage of faith that will guide us to a more just, compassionate and peaceful future." I myself think that this event was unique because it really sought to assess dialogue, and looked at ways of fostering relations which are more realistic and less idealistic. We confirmed the commitment of those involved, and this adds impetus to a Christian engagement in dialogue.
There is much more to say about this interreligious gathering. The secretariat is now working on compiling the contributions into a book, which we hope will serve as a “multiplicator” for those who were not present but who share with participants the concern for how we as religious people can walk and talk and act together. While this book is still in process, we invite those of you with access to the Internet to visit our web pages on the Critical Moment conference, where you can find some of the presentations, relevant documents and photos: http://www.oikoumene.org/index.php?id=931&L=0
This issue of Current Dialogue contains the document, already referred to in the previous issue, which is the result of a two-year process between staff and networks in the Conference on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME), Faith & Order and the Office on Interreligious Relations and Dialogue (IRRD). The intention of this document was to explore Christian considerations on religious plurality: "Religious Plurality and Christian Self-understanding." There were hopes that it would be received or adopted by the WCC Central Committee and given the backing it needed to become a formal document for deliberations at the forthcoming Assembly, where there will be a plenary on the very issue. This was not the case. The document was discussed in the commissions of Faith & Order and CWME and will now surface in the Assembly as a background paper. After the Assembly, those of us involved with the document will pick up on the comments we have received and continue working on the document so that one day it could represent the thinking of the WCC constituency. We present the document here and welcome your comments.
Other contributions in this issue of Current Dialogue feature “God’s October surprise”. There are many religious festivals and holy days in October. How could we make interreligious use of this fact?
We have a couple of important reflections from Muslim friends. The following sentences by Ataullah Siddiqui in his article “Believing and Belonging in a Pluralist Society: Exploring Resources in Islamic Traditions” are very important in the discussions today about the role of religious traditions and the obligation to interpret what we have received: “If a clear direction is not found in the Qur’an, Muslims are encouraged to look into the practices of the Prophet. If nothing is found there, the Muslim community – through their learned scholars – is encouraged to reach a consensus which is nearest to the spirit of Islam.
In this process any attempt to freeze the society in the norms of the past is not acceptable nor is to drag the society back to the past tolerable. What is required is to look back, keep the connection and not lose track. A keen eye is required to differentiate between what is central and what is peripheral.”
Ali ÿsra Güngör writes in his article in the same vein: “Although Muslims take … Qur'anic criteria as basis in general, they can find support for their approach towards Jews and Christians considering other sources of Islam as well. It is important that practitioners of religions understand and construe their own sources correctly.”
Swami Agnivesh, one of the speakers at the Critical Moment conference, contributes a provocative article, which is a challenge to all religionists. I quote: “Religious experience” and not exclusively the hegemonic power of institutionalised religion needs to comprise the matrix of our inter-faith encounters. We therefore need to come to some understanding as to what may constitute this religious experience.”
This issue contains also an important contribution by Rabbi Arthur Waskow on “Violence & Non-violence in Jewish Thought and Practice”. In these days we witness a flare up on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where the risk of civil war both in Israel and Palestine is not to be underestimated.
A report on conversion and religious identity in Buddhism and Christianity touches upon an issue that most likely will occupy the IRRD in different ways. We envisage a project with our counterpart, the Pontifical Council on Interreligious Dialogue (PCID), which right now is entitled “Interreligious Reflection on Conversion: From Controversy to a Shared Code of Conduct”. It is also foreseen that the small interreligious think-tank “Thinking Together” called by the WCC will work on this issue.
As we write this editorial, we are in mid-summer. In the months to come we will be even more involved with Assembly preparations. The Assembly, to be held in Porto Alegre in Brazil between 14-23 February 2006, will explore various issues in interreligious relations and dialogue in different ways, through plenaries, workshops (mutirão) and ecumenical conversations.
I think this issue of Current Dialogue provides good material for consideration.