Speech by Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit
General Secretary-elect
World Council of Churches

at the Conference of the Initiative of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques on dialogue and its impact in disseminating human values

Geneva, Switzerland
30 September, 2009


Honoured leaders in the search for proper attitudes of dialogue across religious and cultural boundaries!

Ladies and gentlemen!

I am honoured by your invitation to speak to you here today as General Secretary-elect of the World Council of Churches. The work to foster proper relations between peoples of different faiths will be high on my agenda as I enter office in January 2010.

We live in a time when we as religious leaders all over the world confront great challenges and great opportunities to contribute to better relations between peoples: in our neighbourhoods, in our nations and in different parts of the world, at the local and the global levels. We are living in different civilizations, whatever the definition of that term may be. We find that we both share a great deal yet that we are in, some respect, quite different. This does not have to be a problem; diversity in creation and culture is first of all a gift that we should celebrate.

We, as religious leaders are accountable for what we present as the core values of our faith. Our religions can contribute to peace and justice for all peoples, locally as well as globally. We all are custodians of our heritage of values given in our faiths. We have to be aware of the great potential we are stewarding in our positions. We also have to be aware of how our legacy of faith can be used and abused and become sources of confrontations, discrimination and even war. This is why I highly appreciate this initiative of dialogue, and wish the organizers well in the important work of following up this initiative in dialogue with other partners.

As Christians we are called to love our neighbours as ourselves. This great commandment is one that we share with other peoples of faith. This has been formulated so well in the Open Letter by Muslim leaders, A Common Word, and it has been confirmed in many responses to that letter from Christian leaders. This great commandment is an expression of our most noble value: loved by God, each of us is called to love our neighbour as a person of equal value, equal dignity and having equal rights as we ourselves.

To love my neighbour is a matter of attitude, not only a matter of feelings. My attitudes are perceived in my positions, in how I greet you and behave in our meeting, in what kind of relationship I establish with you, in the sincerity with which I communicate my own positions to you with regard to certain matters that are important to both of us.

I find it quite appropriate and very interesting, indeed, that the concept of attitude is promoted so clearly in the the Mecca Appeal for Interfaith Dialogue issued by The International Islamic Conference for Dialogue. Organized by the Muslim World League in Mecca in 2008, under the Patronage of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz, the appeal includes the following words in section 3 under the heading “With Whom Will We Hold Dialogue?”:

“The conference has thoroughly discussed the past experiments in dialogue among Muslims during the past five decades and looks forward to future dialogue with various followers of divine messages, sects and cultures, and adopted the following:

“First - to observe openness in dialogue on all attitudes influential in contemporary life, whether political, academic or related to media, and not to confine such matters to religious leaders.

“The conference reaffirmed the need for further dialogue in order to achieve understanding and agreement on a formula that prevents the clash of civilizations.”

The kinds of attitudes that are most influential in contemporary life is idenitified as the basic ethical question to be raised in our dialogue. If we develop our theories out of the external problems and possibilities in daily life, whether we are living in the small village or have global responsibilities, we can miss the most important point for coexistence and peace in this world. What is your attitude to me? What is my attitude to you? Or to speak even more clearly and directly: Do you love your neighbour? We find neighbour in many circumstances, as a person living next to you, or a person you encounter in a global conference, or a person you see on television who is in desperate need of basic assistance, or a person celebrating his or her religious feasts.

Let me give you a couple of examples from my experience as a Christian leader in Norway, where we have seen a rapid change in the composition of our citizenship, and of the civilization we share, due to immigration over recent decades. Many immigrants are Muslims, which means that the predominant Christian population of Norway feel that the newcomers represent something very different, maybe even something to fear, as representatives of other civilizations in our own traditional civilization.

In our permanent joint committee between the Church of Norway and the Islamic Council of Norway (CoN/IRN), we have discussed several issues related to this situation.

Since 1993, we have met regularly to discuss various issues relevant to religion and society. The group works for greater understanding between Christians and Muslims. It aims to further the contribution of these great religions to the community at large.

We have done this by promoting statements on the right for Muslims in Norway to express their faith and to worship, insisting that they have the same rights as do we members of the majority religion. We also have issued a joint statement with our Muslim partners regarding the debate on publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed, in which we said together that freedom of speech must be exercised with wisdom so as not to cause offence to one another.

Together as Christians and Muslims, we also expressed our concerns for the human rights situation and the attacks on Christians in Pakistan.

We have also addressed the daily life of our civilization, in which we self-critical reflection also see that even our own noble faiths can be misused. We accept that we do not succeed in loving our neighbour, nor even family members, as we love ourselves.

Our dialogue is based on a perception of universal human dignity and the potential for personal integrity. Through this dialogue, our conviction that both Christians and Muslims regard human integrity, freedom and non-violence as indispensable has increased. This is especially so in issues related to gender and equality. We have expressed this commitment in a joint statement. The statement reads: 

“Violence in families and close relationships is a major social problem in Norway, which occurs at all levels of society and within all religious and cultural communities.

As Christians and Muslims, we believe that man and woman are created equal, and that none of them has a right to exercise violence against the other. In unambiguous terms we especially denounce violence against women since women are most exposed to domestic violence. We believe that both of our religions can provide sources of inspiration and counsel that can lead to a better life filled with love and mutual respect. We believe that the home should be a safe and pleasant place for children to grow up – without violence. Last but not the least, we strongly condemn any misuse of the teachings of our religions in order to legitimize violence within the family or close relationships.”

These and similar problems are not to be hidden away, whether in our close relations nor in our global relations. We are called – together – to show one another our attitudes shaped by the noble values that our religions teach us. We are called to love – and to be responsible to and for each other.

We are one humanity, expressed in different civilizations, sharing the same earth. How do we share, in love and justice, the same earth we all are given to live on?

It is time for dialogue, honest dialogue, about our attitudes to our neighbour, about our common responsibility toward the earth and toward the coming generations. 

May God bless us all, and make us all humble and hopeful.

Thank you.