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Lambeth 2022: Don’t ignore darker side when engaging with other faiths, bishops told

04 August 2022

Richard Washbrooke/Lambeth Conference

The Bishop of Chelmsford, Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, addresses the Conference on Thursday afternoon

The Bishop of Chelmsford, Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, addresses the Conference on Thursday afternoon

THE darker side of religion must not be ignored when engaging in friendly, safe interfaith dialogue, the bishops at the Lambeth Conference heard on Thursday afternoon.

The keynote address in the plenary on interfaith relations was delivered by the Bishop of Chelmsford, Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani. She briefly told the story of her family upbringing in Iran, including the murder of her brother and their exile in England.

Her message was that, when engaging in interfaith relations, it was necessary to hold together contradictory experiences. She had known Islam as a great civilisation that had given the world material, educational, artistic, and spiritual gifts. But, she said: “I have also known Islam as a force that has done my family in Iran great harm.”

In her encounters with Muslims in the safety of England, she said that she sought to be honest, asking gently whether they were willing to condemn this darker element of their faith, just as Christians needed to be willing to condemn such things as the crusades and, in the present day, far-right Christianity.

Her message to those fortunate enough to live in countries where it was possible to engage in dialogue with people of other faiths in safety was: “Do not forget your brothers and sisters around the world who are suffering.”

Christians who live as minorities in place where they are threatened with persecution were often unable to engage in overt dialogue and witness. In Iran, for example, the Christian community was not acknowledged to exist. But the call to witness had “nothing to do with standing on street corners and shouting Bible verses at people passing by”. Christians living under threat were none the less able to exercise hospitality and generosity.

After her address, the bishops heard in turn about a host of successful and thriving encounters between Christians and other faiths.

From Kenya, the allaying of historical suspicion by visits to each other’s places of worship and joint actions between young adherents to Islam and Christianity;

from India, a concerted response to Covid (including the distribution of masks capable of tying round Sikh turbans);

from Canada, the replacement of a prayer for the conversion of the Jews with one that asks forgiveness and reconciliation (“Take away all pride and prejudice in us, and grant that we, together with the people whom thou didst first make thine own, may attain to the fulness of redemption which thou hast promised”);

and from Egypt, a picture of how the Muslim and Christian religions interrelate in an organic way: “My neighbour’s faith and mine do not simply coexist, they interact and corelate,” the Archbishop of Alexandria, Dr Sami Fawsi, said.

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