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12.05.05 08:25 Age: 7 yrs

Global migration challenges faiths, Athens Christian conference told

[ENI] An increasingly globalized world, marked by religious diversity and tensions between faiths means that Christians need to reconsider the way they relate to other believers, a world meeting of Christian leaders in Athens has been told.

"We are living today in a situation of global migration, cutting people off from their religious roots," said Christine Lienemann, a professor at Switzerland's Basel university, speaking on Wednesday at the Conference on World Mission and Evangelism meeting near Athens.

The May 9-16 gathering is sponsored by the Geneva-based World Council of Churches (WCC) which has 347 member churches, mainly Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox. Representatives from Evangelical, Pentecostal and Roman Catholic traditions, which do not belong to the church grouping, are also taking part.

Lienemann introduced a discussion paper on "Religious plurality and Christian self-understanding" drawn up under the auspices of the WCC. The document notes that the "greatest challenge" facing religions is against a background of an "increased polarisation of communities, the prevalent climate of fear, and the culture of violence that has gripped our world."

Citing a term in the document, Lienemann said there was a need for religious "hospitality" as a sign of respect for religious diversity. "Hospitality is the opposite of coercion to convert," she said. "Of course, conversion should not be excluded as an option of the guest out of his or her own decision, but this is definitely not in the focus of hospitality."

Still, noted Veli-Matti Karkkainen, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary in California and a Pentecostal scholar, "Religions need to be given an authentic opportunity to argue for their claims. Christian faith, similar to Islam but unlike Jewish faith, is missionary by nature, a coercion to convert is different from evangelistic outreach."

But the Rev. Hermen Shastri, general secretary of the Council of Churches of Malaysia, warned, "People of other faiths feel threatened by the unbridled and competitive stances of churches when it comes to evangelism." He said Muslims felt "under siege" because of foreign-sponsored evangelistic missions.

In Malaysia, even Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs are beginning to view their own communities as being under siege by an aggressive and impatient Christian evangelism," Shastri asserted. Muslims account for about 60 percent of the 24 million people and Christians are less than 10 percent.

In one of the opening speeches at the conference on Tuesday, the head of the Greek Orthodox church, Archbishop Christodoulos pointed to increased religious diversity in traditionally mono-religious societies.

"Faithful Christians live together with people of other faiths, other races, traditions, languages," he noted in remarks that could be seen as referring to his own country where 98 percent of the people belong to the Orthodox church. "More and more people of other faiths live together with Christians and struggle with the same challenges of atheism, agnosticism and anti-religious secularism."

WCC general secretary, the Rev. Samuel Kobia, said in his speech to the conference: "The dialogue that we have between ourselves as Christians should also be extended to include people of other faiths."


Web link: Document on "Religious plurality and Christian self-understanding"