2010, Rights - Religious, Human

Religion in the Public Square: a Muslim Perspective

Religion in the Public Square: a Muslim Perspective

Shenaz Bunglawala

While much of the commentary preceding and subsequent to Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the UK focused on the camps Christian and ‘aggressive secularist’, Muslim reactions to the speeches delivered during his stay have been probed less closely. It’s not that Muslims and the role of Islam in Britain’s public square is of lesser concern to the Catholic community. Dr Azzam of the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts was invited by the Catholic Bishops Conference in England and Wales to follow the speech of Lord Jonathan Sacks with reflections of his own at the Pope’s meeting with faith leaders in the UK held at St Mary’s in Twickenham ahead of the Papal address in Westminster.

Interfaith dialogue and interfaith relations are often seen as little more than men in beards conversing with men in hats (and they are almost invariably men), but Pope Benedict’s ruminations on the necessary interaction and interpenetration of the ‘world of reason’ and the ‘world of faith’; on the ‘legitimate role of religion in the public square’; on the ‘ethical foundations’ that inform our political choices and our search for a moral consensus that animates our pluralist political society, and of course, of the right of the faithful to act in accordance with their conscience – in all of these the Pope will have found a willing Muslim audience lending an attentive ear.

Perhaps in no other section of society today has the Durkheimian instrumentalisation of religion in society been more pervasive than in relation to British Muslims in recent years. It often feels that Islam in Britain is treated and viewed less as a religion informing the spiritual yearnings of individuals submitting to One God and abiding by the prophetic example of Muhammad, the seal of the prophets, than as an instrument through which Governments might attain the desired level of social cohesion – whatever that may be and however it may be measured.

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2010, Latvia, Rural issues

Churches European Rural Network Visit to Latvia

Churches European Rural Network Visit to Latvia
5-9 May 2010

Andrew Bowden

Our visit was organised by Aris Adler of the Rural Forum for Latvia who did a wonderful job on our behalf. We are most grateful to him and his colleagues who gave so freely of their time. Also to Rudi Job who – once again – set up the initial contact and guided us through the programme.

In Riga we visited and heard about Rural Forum Latvia, the Diakonia Centre of the Latvian Lutheran Church and the Latvian YMCA/YWCA. In the area of Sigulda we were deep in the Latvian countryside, and here we met farmers, rural church members and a number of rurally-based voluntary organisations. It was a rich and varied experience. These are my major impressions.


The total population of Latvia is 2.3 million, of whom 850,000 live in Riga. Up to a half of the population is Russian-speaking. There are approx 1.2 children per family only.

A History of Suffering

The Latvian people have suffered throughout their history. Having been fought over and subjugated for centuries, they finally became an independent nation in 1918. There was an immediate flowering of culture – poetry, novels, dance and above all the sumptuous Art Nouveau architecture of Riga that is probably the finest in the world, along with Napier in New Zealand.

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2010, Sweden

Ecumenical Activity in Sweden

Ecumenical Activity in Sweden

William Kenney

There has been no established church in Sweden since 2000, but psychologically this fact hasn’t completely worked itself through: many Lutherans still think of their church as established.

There are three aspects to current ecumenical activity in Sweden: theological, spiritual and diaconal.

The theological dialogue involves the Lutheran and Catholic Churches in Sweden and Finland. It is generally fruitful and successful, but I feel that the tackling of specifically ethical issues has been ducked. And indeed the solution of some dogmatic issues has left these ethical issues more prominent and intractable. In some areas, such as the sanctity of life, sexual ethics and medical ethics, the gap between the churches has been growing wider since 2005. This has had another effect, however, which might be quite positive: it has led to a real explosion of conversations between the Catholics and the Free Churches (for example the Pentecostals) who see eye to eye on certain ethical issues.

The area of spiritual dialogue is much more encouraging. There have been a lot of contacts amongst Lutherans, Catholics, Orthodox and Pentecostals. Ten years ago it would have been unthinkable to have joint services involving Orthodox and Pentecostals; now it happens frequently. The dialogue has also helped to overcome traditional hostility between Orthodox and Catholics. The Dominican sisters run classes in Zen meditation, and people of all churches and denominations take part.

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2010, Finland

Lutherans and Orthodox in Finland: Ecumenical Dialogue and Cooperation between two Established Churches

Lutherans and Orthodox in Finland:
Ecumenical Dialogue and Cooperation between Two Established Churches

Matti Repo

Lutheran and Orthodox Churches in their Relation to the State

I am carrying an Orthodox panagia, an eastern parallel to the western pectoral cross as a symbol of Episcopal ministry. The word panagia refers to the All Holy Mother, the God-bearer Virgin Mary. She is depicted in the centrepiece of the panagia. I received this panagia as a gift from Metropolitan Ambrosius, Orthodox Bishop of Helsinki. He was present at my consecration two years ago and gave it to me as a sign of fellowship and spiritual unity, although there is yet no mutual recognition of ministries between the Lutherans and the Orthodox. This panagia is nevertheless a sign of the wish of both churches to proceed on the way towards full unity with joint celebration of the Holy Eucharist. The wish is also articulated in the ecumenical strategy of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, adopted in 2009. The strategy Our Church: a Community in Search of Unity puts emphasis on the visible unity of the Church as the goal for the ecumenical activities of the Church, and on the consensus in the fundamental truths of faith as a means in achieving sacramental unity. The little strategy booklet exemplifies this wish on its cover, showing the Lutheran and Orthodox churches that stand side by side in Helsinki.

In Finland, the Lutheran Church and the Orthodox Church have a warm and friendly relation. In general, there is an overall uncomplicated ecumenical atmosphere in the country, although the Lutheran Church is a big majority with almost 80 per cent of the total population and some 4.3 million members; the Orthodox Church as the second-largest church has approximately 60,000 members.

The two churches have a rather similar position in relation to the state. For historical reasons, one might call them State Churches; however, this is not an accurate term today. The Republic of Finland does not confess any faith. The state is neutral, but it nevertheless grants to the Lutheran Church and the Orthodox Church a more solid ground in the legislation than to other Christian churches or denominations or any other religion. The Evangelical Lutheran Church is mentioned in the Constitution of Finland, not as the Church of the State, but among the bodies that have their own legislation. Both the Lutheran Church Law and Law on the Orthodox Church are confirmed by the Parliament, but only the churches themselves can make any changes to their canons. In the Law on Religious Freedom, renewed in 2003, these two churches are set in a different group from all other ‘registered religious communities’, as the terminology goes.

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2010, Climate Change

The Threat of Climate Change Demands a New Understanding of Development

The Threat of Climate Change Demands a New Understanding of Development

Ruth Conway

Sustainable Development?

Ever since the Club of Rome report on Limits to Growth in the 1970s, followed by the Brundtland Report in 1987 which defined sustainable development as ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’, and the first Earth Summit on Environment and Development in Rio in 1992, there has been a recognition that ‘development’ and ‘environment’ are inextricably linked. Even so, organisations addressing development and social justice issues have tended to regard concern for the environment as an add-on for those with time and money, while environmental organisations have been slow to show interest in the problems facing the human community. So the question ‘What is development?’ has not been examined in an integrated way, allowing the term ‘sustainable development’ to be used without questioning whether this is a contradiction in terms.

The idea has persisted that development is linked primarily to economic growth and participation in the global market – a market that is linked to a consumer culture that keeps up the demand for more products. Furthermore, the production of more and more products has resulted in the increasing exploitation of the earth’s natural resources, including the use of fossil fuels, with little regard for the limits of those resources or the damage being caused to the finely balanced eco-systems that sustain life.

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2010, Economy

The Economic Crisis and Poor People in ‘the South’

The Economic Crisis and Poor People in ‘the South’

Rob van Drimmelen

I was born and raised in the Netherlands and studied monetary economics at the Free University in Amsterdam. In a previous professional incarnation, I worked in a bank in the USA, well before the present crisis… The mysterious ways of the Lord led me to the World Council of Churches where I worked, in different capacities, for almost 15 years. At present, I am serving as General Secretary of APRODEV, the association of 17 ecumenical development and humanitarian agencies in Europe.

Following what I learnt from the Reformed tradition about good sermons, I have divided my contribution into three parts:

  1. Why should we, as Christians and churches, be concerned about economic issues?
  2. What are the signs of the times? (Matt. 16:3)
  3. Interpreting the signs of the times (Romans 8:31)

In each part, I will try to focus on perspectives which pertain to realities in ‘the South’.

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2010, Economy

The Economic Crisis and the Prospects for the UK

The Economic Crisis and the Prospects for the UK

Simon Braid

I am an accountant, not an economist, but I have done research on the current crisis. I was recently ordained, and it was during my ordination training that the economic crisis gave me a chance for reflection on it and on the ethical issues involved. My presentation will be in four parts:

  1. What happened last year (background)
  2. Where we are today (main part)
  3. Where things might be heading
  4. Some ethical/ theological thoughts from a faith perspective

Background: What Happened

The background in the UK was 15 years of sustained economic expansion. Growth was particularly strong in the financial and housing sectors, which made up 60 per cent of the growth in GDP. But this growth was based on individual and corporate borrowing and easy (though not necessarily cheap) liquidity. It benefited from a benign global economy, and low-priced manufactured goods from countries such as China fed the consumer boom in the West. Commentators looking back now say this was unsustainable: that was not what they were saying at the time! We recall Gordon Brown’s famous statement about the ‘end of boom and bust’.

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2010, Europe, Europe (general)

‘Europe’ in an Era of Bureaucratisation and the Intensification of Identity

‘Europe’ in an Era of Bureaucratisation and the Intensification of Identity

Richard Roberts

Note: this is not the actual text of Richard Roberts’ presentation at the conference, but his own subsequent summary, partly in the light of the discussions at the conference.

The ideas and identities of ‘Europe’ are contested because of their intimate connection with a conflictual religious history1, and this contestation has been expressed in extraordinarily intense ways in the religious history of Scotland, a small nation struggling for centuries to assert itself against a more powerful neighbour. In the course of the past half century since the end of the Second World War what were largely intellectual and ideological issues about belief have become strongly politicised. The most recent manifestation of this transition can be detected in the paradoxical tension that has arisen between demands for fuller integration of the European Union and its ever greater expansion.

The underlying tensions between the integrative ideals of the founding figures in the movement that strove to build the successive associations that now culminate in the EU can be detected in the differences between the European Constitution of 2001 and the Lisbon Treaty of 2007 that is now on the verge of full ratification. The proposed Constitutional Treaty for the European Union of 2001 contained the following stirring declaration in its preamble:

Convinced that, while remaining proud of their own national identities and histories, the people of Europe are determined to transcend their ancient divisions and, united ever more closely, to forge a common destiny…. Convinced that, thus “united in its diversity”, Europe offers them the best chance of pursuing, with due regard for the rights of each individual and in awareness of their responsibilities towards future generations and the Earth, the great venture which makes of it a special area of human hope….   (Draft Constitutional Treaty for the European Union, Preamble (Draft Treaty 2003, p. 10)

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2010, Europe (general)

Summary of the Presentations and Discussions at the Faith in Europe Conference ‘European Identity: Who Do We Think We Are?’

The Presentations at the Conference

  • “It’s your story that’s being told”: Europe our Autobiography
    Alastair Hulbert, former Coordinator of the European Commission initiative ‘A Soul for Europe: Ethics and Spirituality’
  • “Europe” in an Era of the Intensification of Identity
    Richard Roberts, Honorary Professor in Residence in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Stirling
  • Brits or Scots – Who Do You Think You Are?
    John Purvis, Scottish MEP, 1979-1984 and 1999-2009
  • Response to John Purvis
    Matthew Ross, Executive Secretary/ Brussels, CSC/CEC, seconded to CEC by four UK churches
  • Where Next?
    Sheilagh Kesting, Secretary, Church of Scotland Ecumenical Relations; former Moderator

What is ‘Identity’?

Philip Walters

Two of the points we kept on making were that identity is not static but constantly developing, and that it is not single but multiple.

We recognised that identity is always a project in construction. Participants working with young people reported that the young people see it as important to find out where they’ve come from in order to know where they’re going. One Scottish participant said he felt very strongly Scottish, and that this was a necessary precondition for a feeling of belonging to anything else.

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