Archbishop: Britain is Not Religiously Divided

LONDON - The Government is wrong to think that religion is deeply dividing Britain, says the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Speaking on inter-faith work in the Church of England's national assembly, Thursday, Dr. Rowan Williams said it was a "major fallacy" to think that "somewhere out there Christians and Muslims have to be stopped from killing each other on the streets and the Government has to ride in like the United States cavalry and sort it out."

He continued, "Now you and I know that this is not a particularly accurate perception but it is nonetheless quite deeply entrenched in Government, in parts of the media and therefore in the minds of quite a lot of people who actually know better if they just step out of their front doors."

The Archbishop, who is the spiritual leader of the global Anglican Communion, said that at the grassroots level, the average Christian and Muslim were likely to know each other "as neighbors" and "not as lethal adversaries."

He told the Church to spread the good news of its work with other faith groups and challenge assumptions about "the intrinsically violent, divisive nature of faith."

"We can demonstrate that this is not a deeply religiously divided society. And yet it is a deeply, increasingly religiously diverse society in which the lines of diversity don't simply run between historic confessions," he said.

His comments were made during a debate that focused on the Church of England's interfaith program, Presence and Engagement. The program seeks to help Anglicans share their inter-faith initiatives and create training and theological resources to support their relationships with other faith groups.

The Bishop of Bradford, the Rt. Rev. David James, said the mission of God required Christians "to be present as witnesses and to engage lovingly with those around us in such ways as are attractive and attracting to others."

Anglicans, he said, had a core responsibility to "show to the wider world that we are people of love and not hate and that we wish to make a positive contribution to a healthy and harmonious society by sharing common space and common concerns."

The Ven. Julian Henderson of the Diocese of Guildford said it required "much courage and confidence" in some areas to be truly present and engaged.

"The opportunity to share, to speak, to proclaim the unique Gospel of Christ requires a presence first before there can be a conversation and a real engagement between people and communities is necessary before there can be proper listening."

On Wednesday, the Synod reaffirmed the uniqueness of Christ and the Church's mission to share the Gospel with people of all faiths and of none.

A motion passed by the General Synod, the Church of England's governing body, commits bishops to drawing up new guidelines on the uniqueness of Christ in multi-faith Britain and to offering examples of good practice "in sharing the Gospel of salvation through Christ alone" with people of other faiths and of none.

The motion was put forward by lay member Paul Eddy, who said the measure was not about targeting one particular faith group.

"It is talking about sharing Jesus Christ with people of other faiths and of none, including in this country loads of people who are atheists [and] for whom we need examples of good practice."

The Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu, spoke of the responsibility of Christians to proclaim Christ but stressed sensitivity.

"Because Christ is unique we owe it to our nation that nobody in this land should not hear the gospel of Jesus Christ, should not be invited to share within it, but we do it with great respect."

The General Synod of the Church of England concludes its meeting Friday.