The support offered by different faith communities in response to attacks on icons regarded as sacred, was celebrated at the third national inter-faith forum in Wellington at the end of last month.
Anglican Bishop Richard Randerson summed up the two-day forum saying it was ‘heart-warming’ that such attacks as the recent media incidents relating to the Danish cartoons and South Park as well as the desecration of Jewish graves, the vandalising of mosques, and hate mail sent to Somalis, had drawn support from other faith communities.
‘It is recognised that a hurt sustained by one community is a hurt sustained by all, and we have stood together at such times.’
Bishop Randerson told the forum that he had drawn seven main themes from the many rich contributions shared at the forum.
‘We are living in an age when there is a shifting of tectonic plates in terms of global clashes of civilisations. Such clashes can lead us into conflict and violence, or more positively into a new age of understanding and constructive engagement across the racial, cultural, religious and national boundaries which might otherwise divide us. The choice is ours, both as individuals and as nations, as to which path we take.
‘It is a natural human reality for us to fear the unknown. Such fear can cause us to retreat behind the ramparts, raise the drawbridges and prepare for battle. There is a fear of change, a socio-cultural conservatism, which makes us want to cling to familiar ways. And there is a fear of loss of identity, whereby we fear that encountering the cultures and religions of others might cause our own to be diminished.
‘We should seek to overcome such fears and reach out and engage with others in a way that is open to discovering more of their faith and culture without losing our own. An English bishop once said we need to have a faith which has a firm centre but open edges. The engagement with others is not a threat to our own faith: in fact it can positively enrich it. Many encouraging examples of grassroots engagements have been shared at this forum. They are usually simple first steps that can be taken to meet others in one’s own community. Some of them are set out on the excellent Directory of Interfaith and Ecumenical Activity in New Zealand launched today [28 Feb]. Forum members have also endorsed a proposal that study of other religions should become part of our state school curriculum.
‘I wonder how good we are as New Zealanders in sitting down and talking with those who are different from us, or with whom we disagree. It is often easier to toss missiles at each other by letter, email or public attack and counterattack, setting up enemies, and causing deep personal and cultural divides. Can we train our young, as well as ourselves, in strategies for conversation, dialogue, listening without being defensive, speaking without attacking, being open to new insights so that we build cooperative partnerships in the common challenges which face us?
‘We should encourage the best aspirations we share as human beings. Anjum Rahman said this morning that she believed the natural human inclination was to do good. I believe it is our role to nourish such inclinations and to create a favourable social climate in which they may thrive.
‘Finally, we should celebrate our achievements as a nation in community-building at home, and peace-making abroad. The prime minister said this morning that we are a nation which encompasses all people, languages, cultures and religions. We should work to see that Aotearoa New Zealand grows strongly as a nation where our individual contributions are valued and included, and not diminished.’
For more information about the inter-faith forum, contact Mary Hepburn 496 1701.