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A Critical Interfaith Moment: Action and Dialogue

Dr. Tarunjit Singh Butalia, Secretary of the Interfaith Center for Peace in Columbus, Ohio, and Secretary-General of the World Sikh Council - American Region, offers his review of the June 2005 "World Council of Churches' landmark international interfaith conference titled 'Critical Moment in Interreligious Dialogue.'"

By Dr. Tarunjit Singh Butalia
Secretary, Interfaith Center for Peace

In spite of the tremendous efforts and success of the interfaith movement in promoting a multi-faith pluralistic society based on trust and respect, why has the interfaith circle not expanded as much as many of us expected it to? Why have the relationships not deepened as much? Why is that formal interfaith dialogue only occasionally translates into action? And what can the interfaith community do to make dialogue more relevant and effective?

These were some of the key questions that brought many of us involved in interfaith dialogue - more than 100 persons from across the globe, to Geneva, Switzerland in the second week of June 2005 for a World Council of Churches' landmark international interfaith conference titled "Critical Moment in Interreligious Dialogue."

Representatives of virtually all the major world faith communities explored the connections between dialogue and action during the three-day conference. The gathering called for deeper dialogue in common action.

This conference was not an opportunity for people of faith to come together to share once again our common humanity - we have done that too many times before. This conference was an opportunity for those engaged in interreligious dialogue to assess it's achievements of the past, reflect on the relevance and effectiveness of it today, and plan a vision for the future in which dialogue and action will be interlinked.

The gathering was a call to move beyond formal dialogue to being able to work with people of faith across religious boundaries in common action so as to reconcile and heal an imperfect and fragile world. Because without justice, our world will not know peace.

The need for religions to undertake a "critical and realistic self assessment" while making "overcoming violence in all its forms" an "urgent priority" was stressed by the World Council of Churches (WCC) central committee moderator, His Holiness Catholicos Aram I. In a keynote speech, he emphasized that in the midst of the "moral vacuum" of today's globalized world, this common action must be grounded in common values. "Values, not interests, must be the guiding principles of interreligious collaboration", Aram I said.

The need for common action was also stressed by WCC General Secretary Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia in welcoming the conference participants from ten world religions. After almost 35 years of involvement in dialogue, the WCC has "come to realize the interreligious truth of an old ecumenical principle: that which we can do together we should not do separately," he said.

The conference opened on June 7 with a Sikh spiritual reflection. The first day of the conference stressed the call for credible dialogue with common action. The second day was devoted to exploring the relationship between dialogue and action. On the last day of the conference, religious leaders from across the world focused on the growing global Christian - Muslim tensions. Discussions were held on the future of interreligious dialogue and initial steps were taken to develop a non-sectarian common declaration that may guide interfaith dialogue in action.

The conference participants agreed that "recasting interreligious dialogue as a practice of humility and hope offers a way of building greater trust… 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."

About 130 participants of diverse faiths and traditions, including academics, religious scholars, humanitarian workers, activists and journalists attended the gathering. The conference program included a series of presentations and dialogue sessions on the themes of "thinking together", "assessing the present", and "imagining the future". More information about the conference can be accessed at www.oikoumene.org/interreligious.html.

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2 Responses to “A Critical Interfaith Moment: Action and Dialogue”

  1. » On December 29th, 2005 at 8:36 pm Peter F Womack Said:


    Greetings Dr Tarunjit Singh Butalia and Friends, respectively,

    May Peace Be With You.

    Dr Tarunjit Singh Butalia, your sharing of your experience at the recent interreligious council facilitated several months ago by the World Council of Churches is valued and appreciated.

    The notion of progressing beyond the pleasantries of polite acknowledgment of each other’s humanity and worthiness is appropriate. One methodology with which to cultivate such progression is through simple pragmatism. It is in this respect that this InterFaith Settlement is offered.

    This InterFaith Settlement is an intentional community that welcomes adherents from the predominant religious traditions of the World, including Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. This InterFaith Settlement also respectfully welcomes adherents from other religious traditions of the World, including Sikhism and the Bahai’i. This InterFaith Settlement is provided as a means of facilitating pragmatic interaction between the respective adherents of the many religious traditions of the World, and to provide the benefit of the learning that results from this pragmatic interaction to the aggregate of the respective adherents of the respective religious traditions of the World and, indeed, to all individuals throughout the Universe.

    More information on this InterFaith Settlement can be found at the InterFaith Forum web log, http://spaces.msn.com/members/interFaithforum. Your suggestions, comments and thoughts pertaining this matter are appreciated.

    With humble and benevolent regards,

    Peter F Womack

    Peace belongs throughout the Universe.

    All Praise Belongs To God.

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