The importance of interfaith dialogue in today’s multicultural and multi-faith world was the topic of a seminar by Rev. Sef Carroll at the United Theological College in Sydney on 11 March. What gets picked up by media on how we perceive people of other faiths is not always the real story. There needs to be an affirmative narrative on what relationships with other faiths is about and I think that’s a responsibility for all of us in the Church said Rev. Sef Carroll.
Rev. Carroll spoke to candidates, ministers and staff about what interfaith dialogue looks like and why we should do it.
Census data shows that in 2011, 61.1 per cent of Australians identified as Christians while 7.2 per cent identified as belonging to other faiths. There are 170 different religious groups in Australia with Hinduism the fastest growing religion. With the impact of migration, it is expected that Australia’s religious diversity will continue to grow.
Rev. Carroll spoke about the UCA’s interfaith journey, including the establishing of the Relations with Other Faiths Working Group in 1989 and the theological affirmations on relations with other faiths contained in statement Living with a Neighbour who is Different.
She explained that interfaith relations takes many forms, from dialogue, to action, to sharing each other’s sacred texts or meeting over a meal.
“Our understanding of other faiths and the barriers created by negative stereotypes can be transformed by an interfaith experience,” said Rev. Carroll.
“Dialogue is not the easy option – it is the hard option. We must enter into relations with other faiths with an open mind, ready to listen, ready to give witness to our own beliefs and ready to be open to the ‘other’.”
Third-year Candidate for Ministry, Kodjo (Jo Jo) Nkrumah, originally from Ghana, said he was surprised by the depth of interfaith dialogue taking place but regretted that more Church members were not aware of it.
“Australian has become a village in terms of diversity and religion and it is imperative for me (in my ministry) to have something going on in terms of Relations with Other Faiths,” he said.
At Glenbrook Uniting Church, where he is currently serving, they are running a program to help create dialogue between Islam and Christianity.
“We are bombarded every day with messages about Islam. We need to find a proper way to dialogue so we are not afraid of each other,” he added.
Participant Sally Yabsley-Bell, a deacon candidate, said she was encouraged by the amount of interfaith resources available and the importance the UCA placed on interfaith relations.