Religious Voices Needed in Diplomacy, says Bishop

Religious voices should be included in diplomacy, especially in addressing faith-related conflicts, the bishop of the Washington National Cathedral (WNC) said last week.

"As we engage in the challenges of 21st century, we need extraordinary 21st century diplomacy. The diplomacy can no longer be devoid of the voice of religious leaders since religion is the fault line in so many of the conflicts that really challenge the religious communities," said Bishop John Bryson Chane, speaking during an interfaith summit on Wednesday.

Chane was among four religious leaders invited to the WNC's Christian-Muslim Summit, held from Mar. 1-3, which featured a "candid discussion of matters affecting Christian-Muslim relations and peacemaking efforts worldwide," a statement from the WNC said.

Other speakers at the event included Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Ayatollah Ahmad Iravani, president of the Center for the Study of Islam and the Middle East; and Dr. Ahmad Mohamed El Tayeb, president of Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt.

A group of twenty delegates, five from each speaker's faith tradition, were also in attendance, as well as two observers from the Jewish tradition. Washington Post associate editor David Ignatius moderated the summit.

A closing statement authored by the group acknowledged that their peace building efforts come at a time when the world is "threatened by the global economic crisis and inequitable distribution of resources, by humanitarian crisis caused by natural disasters, food, water, and energy shortages, and climate change" and when "new and enduring political and religious conflicts are increasing violence at every level."

"The worship of God who demands serious moral purpose is at the very core of Christianity and Islam; therefore, religious leaders must cooperatively work with each other and the political leaders in their respective countries in response to these crises," the statement reads.

Meanwhile, one D.C.-based expert blasted the summit's focus, saying that human rights violations against Christians in Iran and Egypt -where the two Islamic speakers were from- should have been on the agenda.

"In many Christian-Muslim dialogues, Christians avoid anything contentious, but they have a moral obligation to those oppressed by Islam to talk about everything that is contentious," said Faith J.H. McDonnell, Religious Liberty Director for the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), in a statement.

"The two countries represented by the Muslim Principals, Egypt and Iran, commit egregious human rights violations against Christians, converts from Islam, outspoken democracy and free speech advocates, women, and gays," she added

In detailing the offenses, McDonnell, who is Anglican, made specific note of the 2009 "slaughter of Iranian protestors and dissidents" and the more recent killings of Coptic Christians in Epypt.

The Nagaa Hammadi, Egypt, shootings, which took place during a Christmas Day celebration on Jan. 6, left seven Coptic Christians and one Muslim guard dead.

Three Muslim men are currently on trial for the killings, with all having plead not guilty.

A verdict on the group is scheduled to be rendered later this month.

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