From the Worldwide Faith News archives

[PCUSANEWS] Interfaith cooperation crucial, WCC leader says

Date Tue, 26 Aug 2003 17:04:56 -0500

Note #7897 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:

Interfaith cooperation crucial, WCC leader says
August 26, 2003

Interfaith cooperation crucial, WCC leader says

'Blind' fundamentalism called 'greatest enemy of religion'

By Stephen Brown
Ecumenical News International

GENEVA - Interfaith collaboration must be a central priority of Christian
churches, a top leader of the World Council of Churches (WCC) said on Aug.

"Religions may generate mistrust and intolerance, and even fuel ethnic and
political conflicts, unless a common ground for a harmonious co-existence is
found between them," said Catholicos Aram I, a senior leader of the Armenian
Apostolic Church serving as moderator of the WCC's central committee.

"Inter-religious dialogue, relations and collaboration must occupy a high
priority in the Council's ecumenical witness," Aram said at the start of a
meeting of the committee, which is the WCC's main governing body.

The council, which has 342 member churches, was founded in 1948 to promote
unity and common action by churches.

But Aram said in his report that collaboration between Christians and
followers of other faiths is "imperative and urgent" today, when "a revival
of religiosity" in the world is sometimes accompanied by "blind conservatism
and militant fundamentalism."

In many parts of the world, the co-existence of religions is becoming shaky,
he said, describing religious fundamentalism as "the greatest enemy of
religion and the most dangerous force of our times."

As far as relations between Christians and Muslims are concerned, Aram said
in his report, "global realities are producing new tensions that need to be
addressed with urgency and determination."

Aram, who is from Lebanon, insisted during a press conference that disputes
in the Middle East are not "religious conflicts." He noted that believers
from a variety of religions in the region have been "co-existing for

He said the three "monotheistic religions" - Judaism, Christianity and Islam
- have common values and common traditions, and "the great challenge to the
religions is to play what I called in my report 'a prophetic role.'"

Most WCC churches, Aram told the committee, are poorly prepared to engage in
inter-religious dialogue, which is often controversial because leaders of
some religion question the validity of other faiths.

He acknowledged that there are "limits" to dialogue, saying that he believes
Christians cannot "pray together" with members of other religions.

Still, in parts of the world, interest in interfaith dialogue is so intense
"that some may even interpret it as a shift from inter-church ecumenism to
inter-religious ecumenism," Aram said.

Although there has been a proliferation of inter-religious initiatives in
recent years in response to "ethnic conflicts, religious fundamentalism and
their attendant violence," he said, most such ventures are "one-time events,
lack focus and have only a short-term impact."

He said many churches, non-governmental organizations, other faiths and
governments are looking to the WCC to take a lead in promoting interfaith
dialogue and to see that such dialogues are not just "one-time events."

However, the Rev. Hector Mendez, a Presbyterian from Cuba, said the WCC must
be "very, very careful" to ensure that its work with people of other faiths
does not "marginalize or displace our ecumenical agenda," including dialogue
between Christian denominations.

Carmencita Karagdag, of the Philippine Independent Church, said Aram's
message has "a very special relevance for us in Asia, given our context of
religious pluralism," but warned that religious dialogue alone cannot solve
all the "social (and) economic conflicts that are rocking the world today."

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