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Pluralism, Ecumenism Stressed at World Council Assembly

Representatives of the Anglican Communion and Roman Catholic Church urged for theological and pluralistic dialogue at the World Council of Churches 9th Assembly in Brazil.

Christians should solely commit themselves to Jesus, but should be open to pluralistic dialogue when addressing people of other faith, the symbolic head of the world’s Anglican Communion said at the largest ecumenical gathering in a decade.

"We are called to show utter commitment to the God who is revealed in Jesus and to all those to whom His invitation is addressed," the Rev. Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury said Friday during a session on Christian identity and religious plurality at the World Council of Churches 9th Assembly in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

Addressing the struggle of maintaining a Christian identity while reaching out to a world of pluralistic convictions, Williams warned against what he viewed as two approaches to inter-religious dialogue that were unhelpful.

The first approach is to claim an exclusive possession of the truth, while the other is to lose confidence in one’s faith and “slip into a world-view that assumes every religion is as good as another.”

His precautions came amid ongoing violence in the Muslim world over the controversial cartoons depicting Islam’s founder, Muhammad. Religious scholars have long recommended using a pluralistic approach when dealing with such fundamentalists of other faiths.

Williams stressed this open approach to ministry and mission especially in the case of the Middle East, where a Christian minority lives among a Muslim majority.

"This is not the climate of 'dialogue' as it happens in the West or in the comfortable setting of international conferences; it is the painful making and remaking of trust in a deeply unsafe and complex environment,” the archbishop stated.

He therefore said, “When we face radically different notices, strange and complex accounts of a perspective not our own, our perspective must be not, 'How do we convict them of error?’ ‘How do we win the competition of ideas?' but 'What do they actually see?’ and ‘Can what they see be a part of the world that I see?'"

At the same time, the Anglican head urged Council members to maintain its Christian identity and be not apologetic.

"Sometimes when we look at our neighbors of other traditions, it can be as if we see in their eyes a reflection of what we see; they do not have the words we have, but something is deeply recognizable,” Williams said.

Other guests at the plenary sessions included several Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist representatives.

Earlier at the WCC assembly, during a separate press conference, a Roman Catholic representative addressed conflicts that could arise as the world of Christian ecumenism rapidly changes.

Noting the rapid growth of the Pentecostal Church – according to some studies, Pentecostal and Evangelical churches make up a third of the world’s Christians – Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said theological dialogue will be crucial to maintaining a healthy ecumenical spirit.

"With classical Pentecostals, we have good dialogues. With these new churches, it is very difficult, because they have no central organization,” said Kasper on Thursday. "A dialogue of everyday life is possible, but a theological dialogue is not, because they have no unified theology and are often very aggressive.

“The neo-Pentecostal movement is evolving, and we don't see what will be at the end of this development,” he added.

In regards to the Roman Catholic Church’s relation to the World Council of Churches, Kasper said there is “no rivalry or competition, but friendly collaboration.”

The WCC 9th Assembly, which began Wednesday, runs for ten days and concludes next Friday, Feb. 24.

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