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Churches should shun 'mea-culpa business' and join public debate, says European religion writer

[Episcopal News Service]  Secular media are sometimes more courageous in debating religious issues than churches, according to Pieter van der Ven, a Dutch journalist who has just been presented with the 2000 John Templeton European Religion Writer of the Year award.

Speaking at an award ceremony in Geneva on November 30, van der Ven, desk chief for religion and philosophy at the Dutch daily newspaper Trouw, pointed to the response of churches after the events of 11 September.

Many church people, said van der Ven, were ready 'to admit that Christianity and Western arrogance and wealth are much to blame for the wrongs in the world,' and, as a result, were reluctant to sound critical and afraid of appearing superior.

Feeling 'more comfortable in the mea-culpa business,' they tended to 'shun' the debate about Muslim-Western relations, which, as a result, was left to journalists, philosophers and professors, said van der Ven, whose background is Roman Catholic.

But churches could do more, he suggested. 'To begin with they can do more in explaining both the necessity and the danger of the Enlightenment that the churches in the West had to go through and that Islam still has to face.'

He said that his own newspaper was trying to deepen the analysis and the debate about Muslim-Western relations. He hoped the result was neither 'self-righteous' nor 'soft and indulgent' but instead 'a serious and firm approach to Islam and the Muslim world.'

The John Templeton European Religion Writer of the Year award, inaugurated in 1994, is given for excellence, enterprise and versatility in reporting religion in the secular press, and includes a citation and a cash prize of 3500 Swiss francs (US$2,130).