I and my colleagues in the WCC look forward to further reflection on and integration of the insights of the document and this new book into our deliberations, planning, and daily work in the World Council of Churches.
In my brief remarks, I wish to elaborate on a few of the points made and questions posed by our WCC general secretary, Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca, about the practical and strategic relevance of the Christian Witness document for our future work in the fields of Christian mission and evangelism, on the one hand, and interreligious dialogue and cooperation on the other.
I think that, because of its broad ecumenical participation and reception, the 2011 document captured a new ecumenical consensus, putatively encompassing 90 percent of all Christians. It not only offered a rebuke to proselytism, to Western cultural domination, and to religious exclusivism. It also articulated a new baseline consensus from which we can address the new, rapidly evolving context of our times and the truly perilous crises we face now.
What are the features of interreligious dialogue and cooperation in this new era? I see four dimensions that can be further developed.
First, we must transcend traditional boundaries. In the Christian Witness document and its reception we glimpse the power of a broad Christian ecumenical base, overcoming or even overlooking the usual denominational divides, schools of biblical interpretation, and competing interests of groups, agencies, and organizations. But we also must explore more fluid boundaries between the normal fields—and fiefdoms—of the churches’ whole Christian endeavour. Here mission meets interreligious dialogue, which in turn affects our approaches to diakonia and even public witness. The foundational commitment to the gospel and to witnessing with integrity unifies us in so many ways.
Second, our interreligious focus going forward must be unabashedly on our one humanity, sharing a commitment to fostering abundant life for all. Our affirmation might be, One God, One Humanity, One Mission for Life. This is not to marginalize theology or spirituality but to put them plainly in the service of the survival and sustainability of our highly jeopardized human life and God’s creation on this planet. Such a focus necessitates rethinking basic assumptions about such fundamental concepts as being human, religion itself (and categories in the study of religion), and salvation, which have been too influenced by Western anthropological assumptions and its colonial legacies.
Third, in view of our contemporary crises, dramatized by the suffering inflicted by the pandemic, interreligious solidarity should perhaps be our new watchword. After all, such steep challenges as presented by global health, migration, violent conflict, gender injustice, climate change, economic inequality all have an interreligious dimension and often an interreligious root or key. The recent publication of Serving a Wounded World in Interreligious Solidarity, published jointly by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the World Council of Churches, models the kind of thinking and positioning that is needed. Such solidarity can not only issue in collaborative interreligious efforts for the greater human good, but also forge permanent relations of respect and dialogue that prevent or defuse conflict and can influence attitudes of the next generation.
An excellent example of this solidarity is the work of the International Centre for Inter-Faith Peace and Harmony, in Kaduna, Nigeria. A collaborative project of the WCC with Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad and the Royal Jordanian Aal Al Bayt Institute, the centre documents interreligious conflict and violence in Nigeria, educates pastors and imams in the fundaments of each other’s tradition, and fosters interreligious youth groups.
Fourth, in light of the consensus forged in Christian Witness, we can envision increased active interreligious interventions, both local and global, that build up or augment real, practical interreligious networks for shared diaconal work, public witness, and peacekeeping. Religious commitment, whether Christian or Jewish, Hindu or Buddhist, sees the spiritual roots of human dignity and human rights, fuels engagement for social justice, and can enable tireless work to make provision for meeting basic human needs.
Here I think, for example, of the recent joint efforts between the WCC and the Jewish World Congress to oppose global vaccine inequities or the Vatican’s commitment to interfaith work through the Human Fraternity initiative with Prof. Dr Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar.
I hope that these four ideas and examples, projecting the vectors from Christian Witness into the future, provide some indication of promising directions that interreligious dialogue and cooperation might explore for our churches, our interreligious interlocutors and partners, and the world.