Christian Openness to Interreligious Dialogue
by Rev. Dr. Shanta D. Premawardhana
This article was originally published in Winter 2011 by Tikkun.
As an avid reader of Tikkun I am pleased to offer a short reflection from a Christian perspective on the pursuit of just peace, as well as encourage my fellow Christians to read this magazine either in print or online.
The World Council of Churches, a global fellowship of 349 churches belonging to the Orthodox and Protestant families of faith, has throughout its sixty-two-year history worked for peace in many parts of the world. Over the years the churches have come to the firm conviction that without justice there cannot be lasting peace. We have seen how God’s particular concern for those who are poor, dispossessed, and captive to all kinds of forces runs through the Bible. For example, Jesus, echoing Isaiah, announced that he came to proclaim good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the jubilee year when all debts will be cancelled and all slaves released and the world will return to a socially and economically just order. In this we are of one mind with Pope Paul VI, who offered this famous saying: “If you want peace, work for justice!” Indeed, just peace is not something that Christians can engage in if they feel like it. It is not an issue in the margins of our faith, but at its center. Just peace is imperative for Christians.
The World Council of Churches has engaged in interreligious dialogue now for forty years. In that time, churches have substantially progressed in their self-understanding and the methodology of interreligious dialogue. This progress was reflected in March 2009 when the Churches’ Commission on International Affairs, which comprises representatives of churches from many parts of the world, met in Matanzas, Cuba, to consider a response to the global financial crisis. Recognizing “unbridled greed” as one of the key factors that led to this crisis, the commission made two affirmations that give us good direction for the future work of just peace.
First, they acknowledged that Christianity alone does not have the resources to resolve these problems and recognized that other religions, having deeply reflected on the question of greed over the centuries, have significant wisdom to offer. I want to push a bit further and suggest that religious communities cannot afford to do our work for peace in isolation from each other anymore. The oppressive powers have a vested interest in keeping us divided. Each of our traditions must do the necessary theological work to help our communities understand the theological imperative for working together.
Second, they identified the need to listen to the voices of the poor. They acknowledged that those who are in various positions of leadership are not always well-placed to hear the voices of the oppressed, indigenous people, women, those who are disabled, refugees and displaced people, and those who are most silenced. Indeed, we are often missing a great deal of wisdom that those who are poor can teach us. One of the best ways to listen to those voices, I suggest, is through grassroots organizing in our inner-city communities.
These affirmations, I suggest, point to important changes in direction for the future work of just peace.
Published with the author’s permission