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Lambeth Conference: Interfaith collaboration a 'dialogue of life'

Rabbi speaks about 'covenant'

[Episcopal News Service, Canterbury] In Eastern Zambia, Muslim and Christian faith communities together have created an advocacy program for those living with HIV/AIDS.

Their collaboration has meant a dramatic improvement in the subsequent quality of life and is one of "the fruits of interfaith dialogue," said Bishop Tom Butler of the South London-based Diocese of Southwark. "It has enabled people suffering from the disease to openly go and get the help that they need," added Butler, who told media on July 28 that he'd learned of the ministry in his morning discussion group.

Anglican bishops attending the 2008 Lambeth Conference addressed issues of interfaith dialogue. The day's theme was: "Engaging with a multi-faith world: the bishop, other religions and Christian witness."

The Rt. Rev. Alexander Malik of Lahore, Pakistan, told the gathering that similar interfaith efforts in his own country, involving education and healthcare initiatives and programs to aid the poor have helped transform society. Malik is moderator of the Church of Pakistan, a united church that is part of the Anglican Communion and a member church of the World Methodist Council.

"Dialogue for us is a daily business," Malik told reporters. "It is a dialogue of life. We run into each other in our offices, while traveling on buses or … trains and ask each other questions about faith."

'Generous love' document aids discussions
Bishops consulted resource documents to facilitate their discussions, including: "Generous Love: the truth of the Gospel and the call to dialogue," which was distributed in February 2008 through the Network of Inter Faith Concerns (NIFCON) across the Anglican Communion.

It drew from Roman Catholic Church and World Council of Churches efforts and represented four years of conversations discerning a distinctively Anglican theology, according to the Rev. Canon Guy Wilkinson, the Archbishop of Canterbury's secretary for interfaith relations.

It reflects on questions such as: "If we proclaim and serve a generous God can we be any less generous in our dealings with our neighbors of other faiths? How does our understanding of the Trinitarian nature of God, a core Christian belief, inform the content and method of our thinking about interfaith relations? How do we affirm the importance of dialogue without compromising our allegiance to the one Lord and Savior?"

Generous Love "is a particularly Anglican way of doing things. Our way is being there, being a presence in every community, of whatever sort … for the long-term but also there to work with others for the common good," Butler told reporters.

The interfaith presence at the July 24 walk of witness in London illustrated that generous love. "All the major faiths and denominations were on that platform. It's a very good example of how interfaith work can work for the common good," he said.

The other document, "A Common Word Between Us and You," was a response from Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to a letter sent by 138 Muslim scholars and religious leaders to the heads of Christian churches in October 2007, Butler said.

Williams' response welcomed the letter as a way to explore commonalities and differences among the faiths. "This time in history is a time to sit down together and wrestle with all the facts in a way without any of us losing our integrity. Hopefully there will be a follow up," Butler added.

Cultivating interfaith relationships is essential because "we're very much living cheek to jowl in a multicultural, multi-faith world," he added. "Because we know one another rather well as faith leaders, we can play our part in being the glue which holds society together for the common good."

People of many faiths, for example, have been working to alleviate tensions after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, and the subsequent Iraqi war.

The theme was continued at an evening plenary session featuring Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. He spoke of two kinds of covenant -- a "covenant of fate," that binds humans through shared suffering, and a "covenant of faith," made by people who share dreams, aspirations and ideals.

He held out hope that "Jews and Christians, who have worked so hard and so effectively at reconciliation, must show the world another way: honoring humanity as God's image, protecting the environment as God's work, respecting diversity as God's will and keeping the covenant as God's world."

After a standing ovation, Sacks took questions and said that the Anglican Communion has held together different stands of practice and theology "more graciously and successfully than any other religion." In terms of the current difficulties over theology and sexuality, he noted that the idea of a covenant stems from differences. "If we were completely different, we couldn't communicate; if we were completely the same, we'd have nothing to say," he said.

-- The Rev. Pat McCaughan is Episcopal Life Media correspondent for the dioceses of Province VIII. She is based in Los Angeles.

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