Why Interfaith? Stories, reflections and challenges from recent engagements in Northern Europe
Andrew Wingate and Pernilla Myrelid, editors
Church Times Bookshop £11.70
OUR world is in motion, and only verbs can describe it. People are escaping, not least from the horrors of the Middle East. Many, like Abraham long ago, are seeking a better life elsewhere. The asylum-seekers are waiting to be told if they can remain. The undocumented immigrants are fearing the knock on the door. According to the United Nations, more than 65 million people are being forcibly displaced globally — as refugees or within their own countries.
Most of us in the Churches are spared all of this, although we have been greatly enriched in recent years by Christians coming from Africa and the Caribbean. We are more used to staying, even wanting to be returning (as Trump and UKIP would have it). We’re more at home with the Kings of Israel than Abraham, with the Pharisees and Sadducees than the wandering Jesus whose Kingdom is elsewhere.
Why Interfaith? comes out of three interweaving strands. First, there is this movement into Europe which has changed the meeting of people of other faiths from academic dialogue to daily encounter, whether that is in Leicester, with its settled population, now 20 per cent Muslim, or cities in Sweden, which took in 160,000 asylum-seekers or refugees last year.
This book is all about meeting and learning, and often being changed by the experience. So there are stories about Christian and Muslim women in dialogue, Hindus and Christians talking about their spiritual journeys, Christians and Buddhists discussing monasticism. It recognises that the old question of the relationship between diakonia (service) and evangelism can now be much sharper. It is also good that the chapter on Christian-Jewish dialogue does not ignore the issue of the Palestinians.
Second, there is the way in which Churches work with others, especially other faith communities, to respond practically to the needs of refugees, and to the tensions, the fears, but also the potential for good which arise from and within these new communities. The book provides evidence of how the Established Church here, and the Folk Churches in Scandinavia, can be in a position to give enabling leadership.
The third strand is Porvoo, the Communion of Churches of Northern Europe and the British Isles, out of which this book has emerged, which draws together Anglicans and the Lutherans. Sweden, in particular, has shown an openness to refugees which puts the UK to shame, although even there attitudes are beginning to harden.
The strength of the book is the number and diversity of its contributors. The corresponding weakness is some lack of cohesion and direction. But when faith is so often blamed for our current world problems, and recognising that we are now living in what Habermas has called a “post-secular community”, it is good to hear from people of faith who are not the problem, but very much part of the answer. It encourages all of us to be journeying, wherever we live.
The Rt Revd Michael Doe is Preacher to Gray’s Inn, and a former General Secretary of USPG.