I am glad that the enemies of genuine pluralism have not been able tfrustrate this second meeting of religious leaders with the EU Commission. Thattempt to push faith communities out of the public square not only diminishetheir potential contribution to the debate on the values underlying our commolife, but is also an unwise and risky strategy.
If people of faith are allowed to speak only words of fire among consentinadults, then the result will be an increase in fanaticism. If we wish to buila Europe on the disciplines of rational debate and conversation, then the faitcommunities must have the opportunity of maturing by participation in oupublic life, and the challenge of giving reasons for the faith that is in the
As people of faith, we should not ask for special favours. We should expecto be challenged, but genuine pluralism demands that we, among others, shoulbe heard. So many themes addressed by the EU have a spiritual and moradimension, and it would be good to establish a proper interface between thfaith communities and the institutions of the Union.
In the UK, co-operation between Government and the faith communities habeen fruitful. A joint initiative of the Prime Minister and the Archbishop oCanterbury has resulted in the formation of a national Christian-Muslim Foru
The recent Cabinet reshuffle has also had an impact on the depth of thGovernment's engagement with faith communities. The Cabinet Office's ActivCommunities Unit continues to have responsibility for fostering sociacoherence. There is also a new Communities and Local Government Departmentunder the former Education Secretary Ruth Kelly. The assumption is that thlong-established Interfaith Network will relate to this new department.
Following the London bombings last July, the Foreign Office set up department called "Engaging with the Islamic World", which is charged witliaising with faith communities on foreign-policy issues that might threatesocial cohesion.
Active interfaith contacts have a long history in the UK, and proved theiworth after 7-7. There was a fear that the indiscriminate slaughter woulheighten tension between communities. Thus far, this has not happened, thougthere is no cause for complacency.
There was a huge demonstration in Trafalgar Square, and it is significanthat whereas various political and cultural figures came to the podium to speaone by one, the leaders of the faith communities - the Bishop of London, thCardinal Archbishop of Westminster, the Chief Rabbi, representatives of thMuslim Council, and of the Sikhs, Hindus, and Buddhists - decided to go to thmicrophone together to make a joint appeal, which was then repeated in a commopledge in St Paul's Cathedral.
There is, however, a danger that efforts to deepen mutual respect and sociacohesion can focus excessively on gathering together clubbable religiouleaders - those who might be called the usual suspects. We need to complementhe business of making joint public appeals, which has its value, with learninmethodologies for building new networks and making contact with those who armost exposed to destructive influences.
Merely invoking universal principles and ethical generalities does nogenerate the energy necessary to produce a civilised ethos. Mutual respecneeds more than exhortation, although care about the words we use about othecommunities is a crucial contribution to preventing the development of lethaattitudes. The energy for mutual respect comes by sharing experiences togetherand developing a story rich in common narrative. Energy is generated withirelationships, and all faiths are engaged in this vital work.
One small example is the work being done in the nomad tent we havconstructed in the City of London, at the St Ethelburga's Centre foReconciliation and Peace (it is made of goats' hair and Gore-Tex, in view oour climate<
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Against the horizon framed by common contemporary challenges, notably how ware to live together in the most cosmopolitan city in the world, participantsearch their own scriptures for insight and resources, but the search is icompany with others. This commonly leads not to syncretism, but to aappreciation of common ground - very often with a sharper appreciation of thcontribution of particular religious traditions, but withal a deeper respecfor the experience of others.
The tent is not a neutral space, but a mutual space, where different faithtake it in turns to be the host. We are not waiting for governments to dsomething because we believe that dialogue between faiths is our business.
These are times of promise, but also peril. Social peace in Europe wildepend on how we learn to relate to one another now. I was recently at birthday party that gathered large numbers of what we call in England "grumpold men", including myself - all approaching the age of 60. Being a peacefuperson, I was put at a table with contentious media moguls, mostly from thworld of television.
They all agreed that if anyone had told them when they were 20 that religiowould be significant in the public world of Europe in the 21st-century, thewould have called that prediction crazy. "But now," they said, "for good oill, religion is unignorable."
Faith can be a source of conflict, but it can also be a resource fobuilding mutual respect. The challenge for us is to be humble enough to realisthe complicity of the various parts of the Church in many of the conflicts othe past, and the potential of religious organisations to be part of thproblem, especially when conflicts centre on the identity of particular groupsThis would help to combat any tendency to demonise one another, and it woulhelp to find the positive resources in all our spiritual traditions which arconducive to the well-being of individuals in modern European society.
This is an edited extract from a contribution by the Bishop of London at meeting of religious leaders with the EU Commission and Presidency in Brusselon Tuesday of last week.
For the Bishop's full text, visit www.london.anglican.org.