LAMBETH: Interfaith Dialogue "Foundational" to Witness, says Archbishop's Canon
By Hans Zeiger in Canterbury
July 28, 2008
CANTERBURY-The Archbishop of Canterbury's canon for inter-religious dialogue said Monday that conversations with other religious groups are "foundational" to Christian witness, while claims about the exclusive saving work of Christ raise "all kinds of tricky stuff."
The Rev. Canon Guy Wilkinson, Secretary to the Archbishop of Canterbury for Inter-Religious Relations, spoke at a press briefing at the decennial Lambeth Conference about the Anglican Communion's dialogue with other religions. Promoting a new report by the Anglican Communion Network for Inter Faith Concerns (NIFCON) entitled Generous Love: The Truth of the Gospel and the Call to Dialogue, Wilkinson said that "Christ is present in the world, and the churches need to go on being present in the midst of the Other. But being present is not enough. They need to be engaged with the Other."
Wilkinson said that engagement consists both of dialogue and of "doing things together for the common good." When it comes to the Christian mission, "Speaking with the Other is foundational, whoever the Other is. Dialogue, creating a trusting relationship with the Other, is fundamental, because it is from there only that effective witness can come."
When VirtueOnline asked Wilkinson to provide a Scriptural basis for interfaith dialogue, he replied, "That's an interesting question." It comes down to "incarnation," which is "the whole point of the life of Christ. Christ came into this world to engage with people. There were engagements of Jesus with people of another religion-the Samaritan and the Roman centurion." He said that both the Old and New Testaments are set in "multi-religious contexts into which God speaks."
Asked following the press briefing to identify specific mandates for inter-religious dialogue within the Bible, Wilkinson pointed to Genesis 1, which says that man is created in the image and likeness of God, and to John 3:16, which says that God loved the world. For Wilkinson, these passages indicate that God cares about all people and all faiths.
What about the second part of John 3:16, that "whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life?" We asked whether it is necessary to believe in Jesus Christ to be saved. "Well," Wilkinson answered, "you run into all kinds of tricky stuff about what it means to be saved. You run into the question of whose role is it to say who is saved." He added that salvation takes place "outside of time. How do I know what kind of encounter an atheist or a person of another religion may have with God?"
If not to tell others about a saving faith in Jesus Christ, what is the ultimate goal of inter-religious dialogue? To this question, Wilkinson replied, "I suppose at various levels it leads to more trust, to a more peaceful world, to better relationships. Each religious person engaging in dialogue with other faiths may well come to see it as their own ... Witness is displaying in one's life and words something attractive, and different religions have different views."
So we inquired whether the subtitle of the new NIFCON report-which includes The Truth of the Gospel-indicates the church's belief in the exclusivity of the Gospel. "I'm not sure what you'd mean by exclusivity," he said. "There's clearly some overlap. Where you find the fruit of the spirit ... where you find those in the lives of people and communities, there the Spirit of God has been at work."
Asked about the Archbishop of Canterbury's controversial statement in February that adoption of Muslim Sharia law "seems unavoidable" in the UK, Wilkinson replied that the archbishop was actually inquiring about "How does the civil law take account of religious conscience and should it?" He said that there has not been much discussion about the issue at the Lambeth Conference.
But bishops are talking much about inter-religious dialogue. Bishops spent Monday morning in "Indaba" discussion groups focusing on the theme of "Engaging a Multi-Faith World-The Bishop, Christian Witness and other Faiths," and will attend a plenary address in the evening by Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, the top Jewish leader in the UK.
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