Otago Peace Lecture 2006

Paul Morris

The Role of Interfaith Activities in Building Peace

25 September 2006

I want to begin by thanking the organisers, the chaplains and the Dunedin Abrahamic Interfaith Group for the opportunity to talk about something very close to my heart and my thinking at this time. I have been much exercised by the question of how we can build peace, specifically peace between faith communities, between Christians, Muslim and Jews and between Muslims and Hindus, Buddhists and Hindus, Buddhism and Muslims, and, of course, we need to include peace between secularists and religious adherents. I want to sketch out a programme for discussion rather than deliver an academic paper. The motivating force, the driver as our colleagues in Management say, that underlies interfaith activity is simply the fact of religious diversity or pluralism. The existence itself of different faiths requires an explanation, theological or otherwise. And, in this sense - the recognition of religious pluralism - interfaith activity is not new. However, I want to clearly distinguish the current "best practice" interfaith activities, often undertaken under the rubric of "dialogue" from such activities of the past. Contemporary interfaith dialogue is not primarily about conversion or assertion of my truth and your error but of different religious communities recognising the fact of the other, learning about each other's faiths and pragmatically rather than theologically agreeing to develop strategies to live together not without dissention and disagreement but with limited violence and, hopefully, an absence of bloodshed. I fully support interfaith dialogue understood in this vein in New Zealand. Our children, be they Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh or secularist will have to live together and we need now to build the framework for them to be able to do so in a reasonably peaceful fashion. I will return to what I think that we need to do in order to establish this plan for sustainable religious diversity in New Zealand below. Beyond New Zealand we seemed to have reached new levels of hatred and misunderstanding and the threat of further violence is ever-present.

The history of the contact and encounter, to use a term used by Martin Buber, by different faith communities has largely been a bloody affair of conquest and the exercise of power, of forced conversions, misunderstandings, or at very best of ships passing in the night. But having said that, all the historical religious traditions and indigenous traditions in the aftermath of various imperial colonisations, have developed models of religious pluralism. These traditional models of living together, of accommodation, of the response to the living reality of the existence of religious and cultural others are vital as they are the seeds of our present models of accommodation, dialogue and cooperation. What I want to assert today is that these models are important but inadequate. They are models of what I call "prejudicial pluralism," that is they have the merit of the recognition of others but they do so in a way that is prejudicial to the integrity, humanity, autonomy of other individuals and communities. I say assert because I don't have the time or leisure here to develop this in detail although we can return to this in our discussions. Judaism's Noahite Laws, for example, are essential as a foundation for the Jewish encounter with other faiths but only as a beginning. The same is true, I think, for tradition Muslim, Christian, Buddhist and Hindu models of pluralism. They are plural yes but do they offer full recognition of the other? No. The missionary faiths, Islam, Christianity and Buddhism are more problematic in this regard than the Jewish or Hindu religious traditions or the myriad of tribal religions. Contemporary notions of tolerance, recognition and respect go far beyond the traditional prejudicial models of pluralism.

Let me briefly take three examples of past religious "dialogues". image of Paleologus and Persian debate The first from the Christian side is headline news, the so-called " dialogue" that is held to have taken place around 1391 between the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an unnamed "educated Persian" brought to our attention by Pope Benedict XVI. The text recording this conversation was apparently written down by the Emperor himself and this may well explain why the points made by the Muslim Iranian are so truncated. In the seventh exchange between these two when discussing jihad, the Emperor argued that violence is opposed to God's teachings and condemned Islam accordingly. This is not a dialogue at all but a literary exposition of ones own faith using the other as a didactic foil. Judah ha-Levi's Al Kuzari is similar with a debate before the King of the Khazars involving a Rabbi, a Christian theologian, a Muslim scholar and a philosopher. The text written by a Jew has the Rabbi, of course, with all the best lines and winning arguments and he defeats all the others in the contest over who has the truest faith. Barcelona disputation There are many other examples. In the case of the 1263 Barcelona disputation the Hebrew and Latin versions differ so greatly that it appears as if Rabbi Moses ben Nachman and Father Pablo Christiani were at different disputations. Each side considered the debate a huge victory. We have all created our own straw men of other religions. I recently came across a wonderful text (cited in the Journal Asiatique (1852) quotation from page 93) by the Muslim historian, al-Hum'aydi, writing in and about 10th century Baghdad.

One of the Spanish theologians - ABbu Omar Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Sa-di - visited Baghdad...Upon his return He met the famous scholar of Kairuwan, Abu Muhammad ibn Abi Za'yd, who asked him whether he had an opportunity of attending, during his stay in Baghdad, one of the assemblies of the Kalam. Yes, he answered, I attended twice but refused to go there a third time. - Why? For this simple reason, which you will appreciate: At the first meeting there were present not only people of various (Islamic) sects but also unbelievers, Magians, materialists, atheists, Jews and Christians, in short unbelievers of all kinds. ...One of the unbelievers rose and said to the assembly: we are meeting here for a discussion. It's conditions are known to all. You, Muslims, are not allowed to argue from your books and prophetic traditions since we deny both. Everybody, therefore, has to limit himself to rational arguments. The whole assembly applauded these words. So you can imagine, ibn Sa'di concluded, that after these words I decided to withdraw. They proposed to me that I should attend another meeting in a different hall, but I found the same calamity there.

We cannot afford to be seduced by one-sided pseudo-debates that set up the other faith only to fall nor do we have the luxury of simply refusing to dialogue at all.

Diversity Pie Diagram The world we live in is religiously pluralistic to an unprecedented degree. The last two centuries have witnessed huge migrations, colonial, economic and refugee. Nowhere has a single ethnic and religious population. New Zealand's own religious diversity has greatly increased and this is true for almost all nations. Our new societies are unified not simply by faith - there are many who profess no faith at all - but by citizenship and human rights. It is hard to be quite so certain of the religious identities of nations, except in an historical way. The linkages and relationships between these diverse communities have also intensified and communities are much less likely to exist in cut-off enclaves. My contention is that we need to recognise that our current religious diversity is unprecedented and that our responses too need to be unprecedented. The failure to acknowledge the prejudicial nature of our past models of pluralism is, I consider, the major limitation to our contemporary interfaith efforts.

Before moving on to reflect on my own experience of interfaith activities, I want to establish what the Sorbonne philosopher, Emanuel Levinas, referred to as the first rule of dialogue, the ur-rule, the ground rule: whatever I might say you will not kill me. I have made this assumption here tonight! This deceptively simple but absolutely necessary rule that must be universally agreed upon before any dialogue can take place is a stage that we have yet to reach. We all too often respond to opinions that we disagree with threats of violence, punishment and even death.

I spent the winter months in London and in Paris where one of the central issues of our day is how to think about this new religious diversity. I read the UK Commission for Racial Equality's Islamophobia: issues, challenges and action, (London: CRE, 2004) about the difficulties the authors had in conceptualising the issue as a problem of discrimination and equality. There is much too little in the report about religion. I found talking to think-tankers, academics and commentators that no one has a clear vision of how to acknowledge the right to religion including the right to hold quite different values and worldviews from others and still ensure social integration and a degree of peace. London's one million Muslims are a visual and physical reality alongside large Hindu, Sikh, and Buddhist and, of course, Christian communities and the non-religious from a variety of religious backgrounds. The tensions are real and the lack of trust and enmity are evident. No one is quite sure what needs to be done. In Holland the government has established an imam school to train men to lead prayers and the Muslim community thus ensuring that they are competent in the Dutch language and aware of the Dutch customs and laws. In France, once again Muslims are very visible but ideas about religious freedom and the limits to those freedoms have resulted in prescriptive laws about the wearing of the Hijab and other religious signs and symbolic garments. There was a major English court case on this issue too. On one level, Islamic culture is being incorporated into mainstream European culture, so that I visited the Louve Museum, which has a new Islamic arts gallery, as does that grand edifice of empire, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. There is much French debate about the integration of the country's five to seven million Muslims but again little of this appears to be focused on religious differences. These discussions are, of course, taking place in the context of "the war on terror" in a climate of increasing fear and distrust. Our migrant religious communities are linked and very sensitive to world events, so that Danish cartoons and the latest Middle East/West Asian war impacted on religious communities across the world.

During the first part of the northern hemisphere Summer I spent a month in Colorado Springs, home to more than fifteen hundred Christian organisations. It is a rapidly growing city, in part due to Christian families moving to a city already replete with Christian families. I was researching links with New Zealand and attended the New Life Church and others, which have been influential in some circles here and organisations such as Focus on the Family, which now has an Auckland office. I met Ted Haggard, one of George Bush's spiritual advisors and gained some insight into the growth of the mega-church movement and the appeal of American style Evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity. The levels of genuine practical help ('healing') given to congregants links New Life to Hezbollah and Hamas. Pastor Haggard sees three levels of Christian life, the personal authority of Jesus in your life, the Christian authority of your pastor in your community, and the authority of your Christian government at the national level. The necessity of a political dimension to ones faith is thus not limited to any one religion. Ted preached a strange lesson. He linked spiritual insecurity to Homeland security -where faith meets politics. Ted's team are just back from China saving new souls and the plans for Kazakhstan are well underway. There is no room for non-Christians in these worlds. When I asked the international director of missions at Focus on the Family where they stood on Jews (I was thinking of the recent Fallwell debate over the necessity of Jews being saved through Jesus), he replied, "we don't have nothing to do with Jews'. The hostility towards Muslims and Jews and homosexuals and all other outsiders is fostered by well meaning people whose response to pluralism and diversity is prejudicial -convert them. Interfaith dialogue isn't big in Colorado Springs.

The week before last I was in Malaysia where I return to tomorrow to meet with the head of the Malaysian ASEAN-Pacific Regional Interfaith delegation and attend the Malaysian Interfaith Council (a group made up of representatives of Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism). I was privileged to attend a conference at the International Islamic University Malaysia. The vast majority of the conferees were Muslims from many countries (UAE, Malaysia Lebanon, Palestine, Macedonia, Kosovo, Pakistan, Iran, Syria, Morocco, Tunisia, Denmark, Holland, Germany, Oman, Jordan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, the US and the UK), mainly from Saudi Arabia and Malaysia, although many of those than lived in Malaysia were originally from other places. The conference title was "The Muslim World and the West: Barriers and Bridges".The emphasis was very much more on the barriers than the bridges. I was horrified at the vitriol and hostility directed at the West, in particular at America, Britain and Israel. Many of the participants shared an angry ideology consisting of third worldism (resource disparities), post-colonialism and revivalist Islam. Speaker after speaker condemned the West as morally bankrupt and doomed to extinction. Many of the speakers recited lists of shared grievances dating back to crusades and continuing until today. Some spoke of a Western plot to destroy Islam and others of the destruction of Israel and the humbling of America as the precursors of any dialogue at all. When I was told that New Zealand was a part of the wicked West, I explained that our population is a quarter indigenous and nearly a fifth Polynesian and Asian and that we did not join the "coalition of the willing". I was told that we are still part of the West! It was all very sobering and while it makes interfaith dialogue even more necessary and urgent it will all be much harder than I had ever imagined. On a personal level the people at the conference were hospitable and charming, well meaning people whose response to religious pluralism is conversion and "religious freedom" under the rule of Islam, or in my terms, prejudicial pluralism.

Is the situation different in New Zealand? Well our non-Christian religious communities are in comparison small. We have a recent history of tolerance and openness to difference and our bi-cultural experience has created a climate where difference is respected and accommodated. Are we going to be able to avoid the riots, clashes, court and legislative battles and bloodshed? I like to think so but we will need to work as faith communities, interfaith groups with government to create a framework for peaceful co-existence. We need to do more than have cups of tea with each other and reiterate our prejudicial past models of plurality.

In this vein at the Interfaith Forum at the National Diversity Conference in Wellington, last month (22 August 2006) I organised a day conference to explore some of the issues generated by our increasing religious diversity. The focus was the role of government, national and local, in developing positive interfaith relationships in New Zealand. The appropriate cabinet minister introduced each of the sessions. Officials and faith community responses and then an open discussion followed them.

The first session, Education: Building Tolerance and Understanding, and Values in New Zealand's Secular Education Framework, was introduced by the Hon. Steve Maharey, Minister of Education, who acknowledged the government's commitment to interfaith and to the recognition of religious diversity in New Zealand. He considered the release of the new draft curriculum guidelines to be a good opportunity for faith communities to be involved and religious diversity education to be integrated into the national curriculum. He also fully recognised the vital role that education plays in fostering tolerance and promoting understanding but also that government could not do this without the input and support of the faith groups. Howard Fancy, the Chief Executive of the Ministry outlined the new curriculum guidelines, Pat Lynch, an experienced Catholic educator and proponent of values education, considered that all New Zealand students should learn values and the tenets of the major religions, Pushpa Wood and Anjam Raman from the Muslim communities, followed him. The two faith responses were concerned that religion and religious identity was subsumed under cultural identity and that religious dimensions should be made explicit. They were both positive about the possibilities of religious communal involvement in consultation but also potentially as resources to schools on religious diversity. In response, Fancy emphasised that diversity was one of the values to be imparted and that faith communities had the opportunity of responding to the draft. He gave his person assurance that his staff were open to such responses and encouraged faith communities to contact the Ministry. The open discussion was lively with wide support for the opportunity for diversity education. Other issues raised were about school ethos being as important as the curriculum in fostering diversity and the concern about professional teacher education in this area.

The second session, the Minister of Ethnic Affairs, Hon. Chris Carter, introduced The Community: Building Positive Local Diversity. He illustrated his address with examples of communities coming together formally and informally and introduced a number of Office of Ethnic Affairs initiatives. Case studies of current projects included: Auckland City Councils interfaith project (John Hinchcliffe and Abigael Vogt) involving community meetings, strategies for fighting prejudice and developing a database of religious groups; The Office of Ethnic Affairs Building Bridges project (Fezeela Raza) to resource and foster Muslim community development; Ministry of Social Development's strong family project (Ann Dysart) and HRC's interfaith network (Joris de Bres). This was followed by a wide-ranging discussion involving Anglicans, Humanists, and the Exclusive Brethren representatives. There was generally agreement that excellent projects were underway and that they should communicate with each other and that there was still more to do.

The Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector, Hon. Winnie Laban, introduced the third and final session, Developing a National Statement on Religious Diversity. I then outlined ten principles for discussion that might underlay a National Statement, together with the outlines of a consultation and endorsement process by faith groups and government. Martin Wevers, the Chief Executive of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet stressed the Prime Minister's commitment to the government's promotion of interfaith at the national and regional international levels. He also discussed refinements to the government consultation process. Archbishop John Dew supported the proposed National Statement adding that every human being had the right to pursue his or her own spirituality. Bishop Richard Randerson also strongly supported the National Statement proposal stressing the importance of leadership in the process and the need to recognise the significant role that religion played in the lives of many New Zealanders. Rehana Ali supported the National Statement and advocated full Muslim involvement in the process. There was wide agreement that a National Statement should be developed, a Working Group established with terms of reference to manage the consultation process and that a progress report should come back to next year's National Interfaith Forum in Hamilton in February and a further report to the regional Interfaith Dialogue later in the year. Since then a Working Group has been established, regional discussions, and a ministerial group is being developed.

At the very first session of the New Zealand parliament in 1854, the House of Representatives debated the motion by one Mr MacAndrew that this "first embodiment of New Zealand identity" be 'consecrated' and by a local clergyman. While the consecration, making sacred, marking off, had considerable support it was noted that as the Constitution of the House raised "no hindrance" to members being "of the Hebrew faith" or even "Unitarians" and that it would be a "monstrous mockery" to have a member of the Church of England lead the prayers. Mr Gibbon Wakefield was deeply angered and insisted that "for the sake of decency" New Zealand should take its place among the "Christian countries of the earth" by having clergy-led prayers. The final resolution passed was, "The House distinctly asserts the privilege of a perfect political equality in all religious denominations" and that the "faith of members does not confer or admit any pre-eminence" to the church or group "to which he may belong" . A year later the House refused to pay Church of England Bishop Selwyn's salary! (NZDP, First Parliament, 1854-55, Wellington, 1855, pp.4-6, House of Representatives, 26 May 1854)

There are a number of things to note here for our purposes. First, the admission of non-Christians predated the House of Commons by four years, acknowledging the religious diversity in the colony. Secondly, the House was to open with prayers but not those of any one church or denomination. Finally, and most significantly, there was to be no established church in New Zealand, the religious adherence of its members was a private affair, and all faiths would be recognised as equal. This particular model of New Zealand public secularity has characterised parliament and New Zealand public life in general for the last 152 years.

Secularism was historically the result of clashes between secular and religious authority, finally won by secular power and imposed on the churches. This process led to the reduction of the public and institutional significance of the churches. We are clear about our version of secularism the separation of state and religion but less clear on the role and place or religion in our society.

An appreciation of the values of religious diversity- this entails getting to know our different neighbours or fellow New Zealand citizens and their families who are religiously and cultural differ from us. Education in religious diversity is an investment in our futures together. The implications of the fact of our increasing religious diversity have to be considered.

The statement is to affirm the values and experience of New Zealanders that have created and maintained positive religious diversity and relationships between faiths and between faith groups and government. We already have a strong foundation and a history of stability to build on. Our concern is not with religious tolerance for religious belief - this is the language of religions entirely privatised and such tolerance too often is base don an uncritical relativism, uncritical because nothing of substance rides on it, or worse an indifference or disdain towards religions. Nor is the focus exclusively on non-discrimination. Our concerns are positive rather than negative and the emphasis is on religious freedom, the freedom of groups to practice their religions within the existing frameworks of New Zealand law, in particular the Human Rights Act and the Bill of Rights Act. The statement is also a reminder that more needs to be done to increase inclusivity and develop robust relationships between faiths and between them and government.

The value of the Statement will be based on the extent of consultation. Archbishop Brian Tamaki announced on Radio NZ last week that he has not been consulted - no one has yet - but he will be included, as will as many faith groups and government agencies as is feasible within the timeframe.

It is proposed that a Working Group be established to undertake the consultative process by listing the major faith groups in New Zealand - churches and representatives of church groups other faiths and so on. One member of the group might have responsibility for smaller faith groups. The group would develop a draft statement (perhaps with different language versions) to be discussed with interfaith groups, each major religious group and within these faiths groups at the grass-roots level. It is important that the consultation process be located in a specific ministry. We hope this will be the Ministry of Social Development.

Draft Principles of Religious Diversity

  1. New Zealand is a country of many faiths and our increasing religious diversity is a significant dimension of our public life. Forging our national identity amid diversity each of us should recognise our integral part in our inclusive and diverse society. We acknowledge the significance of the Treaty of Waitangi and Tangata Whenua for our nation and the role that Christianity has played, and plays, in our national life.
  2. Having no established or official religion, New Zealand is, in this sense, a secular state. The State is committed to dealing with all religions with equal recognition and respect.
  3. All New Zealand religious communities have a right to safety and security.
  4. Government and faith groups need to build and sustain good relationships with and between faith groups within the framework of democratic processes, the rule of law, and human rights legislation. These relationships are indispensable for peace, stability, and resolution of conflicts and will allow for collaborative working together.
  5. New Zealand is a signatory to international conventions that safeguard the freedom of religious belief and expression, at the individual and communal levels, and the rights of not being discriminated against on religious grounds. New Zealand legislation also affirms these rights. (UDHR, Article 18; The Elimination of all Forms of Religious Intolerance 1995, New Zealand Human Rights Act, New Zealand Bill of Rights Act). The State is thus obliged to respect religious freedom and religious dissent.
  6. The State and the religious communities have the responsibility to extend this right the freedom of religion to all others, including the recognition of diversity within faiths, and to include the right not to subscribe to any religion. New Zealanders, secular and religious, united by the desire for a stable and peaceful future need to develop a shared a commitment to respect the faith and beliefs of their fellow citizens.
  7. The reality of our religious diversity is that people differ, sometimes, dramatically , in their beliefs about the world and the values they hold dear. Debate and disagreement are inevitability. It is essential that such public debates and differences be conducted without violence, within the law and in an environment of mutual respect. This environment needs to be developed and fostered.
  8. The differences branches of government (police, internal affairs, health, and so on) at national and local levels need to develop religious diversity policies. (Good examples underway Coroners Act, Police, Internal Affairs funerary rites and of course the Office of Ethnic Affairs).
  9. The principal avenue for successfully achieving these aims is education at the school and public levels. Diversity education will promote awareness and sensitivity, mutual reference, friendship and develop a sense of inclusive community and solidarity. Reasonable steps must be taken to accommodate student's different beliefs and practices, dress codes and the wearing and use of religious symbols. The teaching about religion in schools must be non-denominational and conform to the current educational standards. Education and the dispelling of ignorance is a powerful antidote to litigation and contention.
  10. Religious diversity needs to be recognised in the workplace where the increasing diversity of workforce can be a challenge for New Zealand employers. For example , Muslims require a suitable place to pray up to five times daily. There are dietary issues and different festival calendars. "Religion in the workplace" , including meditation sessions, yoga, prayer, and discussion, must be conducted acknowledging religious diversity. Both public and private employers must reasonably accommodate religious requests as part of being a "good employer", and, of course, the right not to have a religion must equally be respected. There must also be non-discrimination in hiring, mission statements and policies need to acknowledge diversity, creating inclusive work environments, training for staff, and accommodation for prayers, clothing, alternatives to alcohol at functions, and so on.

I now must return by way of conclusion to our theme. What is the role of interfaith activities in the pursuit of peace? As Minister Steve Maharey right insists, government cannot develop religious diversity education without the involvement of the religious communities. It is vital that religious communities put interfaith activities on their agenda. The Biblical language of peace is of building and construction. We are beset with building metaphors . We're "building peace" and "strengthening spirituality". This language conjures up images of modernity, of reinforcing, and retaining walls! The biblical metaphors are often different and among the verbs linked to shalom - peace - are baqash and radaf - to seek and pursue peace.

book of psalms image one book of psalms image two

Psalm 34: 15 (in Christian Bibles it is Psalm 34:14) reads:

arabic version of text

Sur me-ra', ve-'asah-tov baqash shalom ve-radaphe-u

15 Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.

For let all the peoples walk each one in the name of its god, and we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever. Here the language is dynamic, nomadic, of movement, of leaving and seeking and pursuing. Peace is a journey that you have to look for and then follow rather than a project to be erected. Good is something that we can do but shalom is something we have to seek and pursue. Shalom is a word rich is resonance, from the root, shalam, to complete, finish, be whole, and it connotes completeness, safety, friendship, welfare, health, prosperity, righteousness i and, of course, peace. Shalom is thus not simply the absence of war but a positive quality, a life that is complete and full. The biblical tradition understands this shalom to be a blessing.

Why do we need to seek out peace and pursue it? Peace is elusive and just when we feel we have it in our grasp we discover that it has slipped away. There is precious little of it in the Bible or in our lives. In Hebrew the standard greeting is shalom aleihum, peace be upon you and the rabbinic tradition teaches that there is no higher blessing that that of shalom.

Drawing on the reference from the Psalms above, the rabbis understood that all of us were called to be ohve shalom and rodfe shalom, lovers of peace and pursuers of peace ii. This notion is familiar to Christians too from the New Testament iii. Our commentators teach that while it is easy to love shalom and earnestly desire it will not just arrive but has to be actively chased after. Peace requires action. My contention is that all of us here as people of faith must become rodfe shalom, peace pursuers.

We must ensure that this takes place at the grass roots level. We need to ensure that we think through the issues in our religious communities. We need to re-consider some of our traditional teachings about the others. I am cheered that the director of the Vision Network has agreed to be on our Working Group. Each of our tradition s has a set of visions of peace; all too often these are lost or marginalised. It is our task to recover and promote these visions in our religious communities and in interfaith meetings , so that learn of each other's potential, peaceful futures. It is hard to think of secular alternatives to the religious visions of peace. We live in a world dominated by ideologies of conflict, Gnostic heresies that preach that good will come out of evil and violence, or that violence is inevitable and conflict eternal. For example, our two leading ideologies - evolutionary neo-Darwinism and aggressive global capitalism - are both accounts of finally irresolvable violence and conflict. George Bush is reported last week to have spoken of "endless war" against the perpetrators of terrorist acts.

If we explore, for example, the biblical Book of Leviticus, we discover an elaborate and wonderful portrayal of shalom, together with a practical guide to seek peace and how to pursue it. This vision starts from individuals, then to families, extended families, tribes, the nation, the nations. This vision of shalom leads up to all peoples under the mishkan, the protective tabernacle of God.

Augustine, the leading Christian theologian offers us a sublime vision of peace, a peace beyond violence, a pacific vision beyond conflict. There are Islamic and Buddhist versions and Hindu and Sikh versions too. These are startling visions of peace beyond "might is right" and so-called "real politics". Why you might ask do we hear so little of these pacific visions and so much more of conflicts and tensions between religious communities? It is, of course, true that religions both advocate peace, as well as violence in certain circumstances. My view is that this makes the promotion of these visions of peace all the more urgent. We do not seem to have any secular alternatives - the US military commander, General Alexander Haig was reported to have claimed that, "there are just some things that are more important than peace"!

Interfaith activities allow us to meet one another to share our concerns. We need to develop these relationships beyond just periodic meetings and acknowledgement. They have to be robust enough to survive tensions and challenges . My personal view is that we are much too polite to each other and we need to raise our real differences alongside our share concerns if we are to develop the levels of trust necessary for living with our differences. We do share many things but our real and profound differences are just as important part of our faiths. We have the advantage of our small size in New Zealand -so often a factor that disadvantages us - so that we can get to know each other personally, not just locally, but nationally too. Our collective interfaith contribution is to foster debate about peace beyond the discourses of strategic advantage, trade benefits and rational calculation, that it to recognise that there is a possibility of peace at all. Not just the peace we seek - the mere end of hostilities - but to pursue a peace that endures and generates alternative ways of dealing with violence and dissention as they arise. We need to spend time exploring and explicating the religious possibilities of peace and making them known to the wider public. We need to remind each other of our visions of peace.

The last biblical insight that I want to introduce is that of shalom bayit (pursuing peace in the home/family) In Leviticus the claim is that it takes peaceful individuals to create a peaceful home/family (the Hebrew word bayit refers to both), and only peaceful families can create peaceful communities, and in turn only peaceful communities can create peaceful nations, and finally only nations at peace can play their role turning the pacific vision into a peaceful reality. This chain is entirely dependent upon us starting with our own families (and we know how hard that can be!) and in our own religious and local communities. We have to begin at the most practical level with meeting, getting to know each other and our families, sharing, building trust and working together in pursuing our common tasks. It is a life's work. Every little helps. We need to take this message back to our respective communities, mobilise support, seek out each other and work collaboratively. I heard recently of an Indonesian who considered that interfaith was much easier than dialogue with some of his Muslim co-religionists!

Without our religious visions of peace there can only ever be ever-more so-called necessary, pragmatic violence and conflict. Our peaceful visions are necessary to break out of these modernist paradigms and begin the seeking of a peaceful vision to pursue. The significance of interfaith activity is that while we can begin with our own families and communities we cannot pursue peace without the other faith communities and those beyond.

I think that there are hopeful signs. The Danish cartoons were published here but at a meet of editors, religious leaders and Muslim representatives, apologies were made and an agreement made. Yesterday, a statement from the Human Rights Commission by Javed Kahn, the President of Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand and Roman Catholic Archbishop John Dew reported that the Catholic and Muslim communities of New Zealand are committed to ongoing interfaith dialogue. These two have got to know each other in the context of interfaith activities. I hope that those of you here will help in the work towards the national Statement on Religious Diversity and local and national interfaith initiatives.

Let the last word go to the prophet Micah (4:5) - Best we consider that these peaceful visions entail a religious uniformity

michah image arabic text

Ki, kol ha-amim. Ye-lhu, ish be-she-m elohav; ve-anahnu, ne-le-k be-she-m elohe-nu le’olam vaed

5 For let all the peoples walk each one in the name of its god, and we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever.

i See Psalm 72:3; 85:10; Isaiah 32:17; 48:18; 60:17 where righteousness and peace are identified.

ii ...Hillel says: Be from among the students of Aharon; one who loves peace, one who pursues peace, one who loves others ...(Mishnah, Pirke Avot 1:12).

iii See, Romans 9:30, 1 Timothy 6:11, and 2 Timothy 2:22.