Both the incoming and outgoing heads of the World Council of Churches this week stressed honesty as the basis upon which people of different faiths can have meaningful encounters.
Speaking at a conference on inter-faith relations in Geneva this week, outgoing WCC General Secretary the Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia said that a fruitful understanding between people of faiths depended on honesty and being able to recognize and hold in “creative tensions,” areas of convergence as well as genuine differences.
"Because we are different, we each have something unique to contribute, and every contribution counts. At the same time, dialogue partners seek to discover and appreciate the common values held by all,” he said during the gathering initiated by the Muslim World League and also attended by Jewish leaders.
Kobia went on to stress that dialogue should not be restricted to discussions in conferences and councils, but was rather “a way of living out our faith in relation to one another.”
“In loving and serving the God we know, we find our common calling to affirm human dignity, uphold human rights, preserve the environment and bring warfare to an end,” he said.
Speaking at a conference panel, WCC General Secretary-Elect the Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit shared about the situation in his native country of Norway, where immigration has led to the formation of a significant Muslim minority within a traditionally Christian society.
The ecumenical Lutheran leader said that Christians and Muslims there had spoken up together for freedom of speech to be exercised in a way that did not cause offence to one another and that both had condemned the misuse of the religions’ teachings to legitimize violence.
He said it was time for honest dialogue between faiths.
"We are one humanity, expressed in different civilizations, sharing the same earth,” Tveit said. "It is time for dialogue, honest dialogue, about our attitudes to our neighbor, about our common responsibility toward the earth and toward the coming generations."
Tveit, who was elected this past August to succeed Kobia as WCC’s general secretary, has stressed that fulfilling Jesus’ prayer “that they may be one” remains the global ecumenical body’s primary task.
The Norwegian theologian is expected to officially take office on Jan. 1, 2010.