Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Interfaith Dialogue Event in Tehran

I am sorry to say that the internet facility in our hotel is very limited. That, in addition to our hectic schedule it is difficult to post as frequently as I like. Which also means that stories about this trip will keep coming even after we return to the US.

L to R: Ron Flaming, the leader of our delegation; Ayatollah Mohammad Araqi, president of the Organization of Culture and Islamic Relations, our sponsor; and Archbishop Sebu Sarkissian of the Armenian Orthodox Church at the Interfaith Dialogue Event.

At the Interfaith Dialogue Event I spoke on behalf of Christians. On my left is Jim Winkler (United Methodist Church)

Ayatollah Araqi the president of the Organization began by welcoming us and laying out what he perceives to be the key issues. The Ayatollah is a leader in interfaith relations. I had previsouly participated with him in interfaith dialogue events organized by the World Council of Churches. Here are his key points.

1. Man (sic) by nature is an advocate of peace. Hence no country should claim to be superior to others.
2. The nations are tired of war and bloodshed for the power-mongers. The displacement of innocent people, the destruction of their houses, and shedding the blood of their children all indicate that we should move towards establishment of peace.
3. The youth today are eager to receive guidelines of th divine religoins. Hence we as religious leaders must play our roles at this stage, otherwise future generations will not forgive us.

From the Muslim side, Dr. Vaziri asked what is the birthplace of peace? Its the creation, he said, and we must do all we can to protect creation or we will not have peace.

Dr. Mohaqqeq Dawad gave an impassioned plea for dialogue. That the only way to save the world form self destruction, he said.

From the Christian side, Dr. Patty Shelly gave a Christian exegetical review of key scriptures that have to do with interfaith peace building.

I spoke of how the dialogue table must move from "tea and sympathy" to the place of tension, to the place of solidarity and work ourselves jointly towards justice.

The following are two press releases:

The delegation met with Ayatollah Imami Keshani

Following the meeting the Ayatollah shook hands with me.

Delegation meets Archbishop and Ayatollah in Iran

February 19, 2007

TEHRAN, Iran -- On the first day after their arrival in Iran, a delegation of U.S. religious leaders met separately with Tehran Friday prayer leader Mohammad Emami Kashani and the Archbishop of the Armenian Orthodox Church in Tehran.

In introductory remarks to both leaders, delegation co-leader Ron Flaming of the Mennonite Central Committee explained that the delegation of Christian leaders feels a calling to visit Iran at a time of great tension between the two nations. He made clear that the delegation believes that this tension is not what God intended.

Flaming said the delegation came to meet with the Iranians to engage in dialogue and hear suggestions on how people in Iran and the U.S. can help reduce the tension.

In an effort to help the group understand the relationship of minorities in Iran, Archbishop Sebu Sarkissian said that although the Armenians living in Iran are a minority faith group, they view themselves as full Iranians. In fact, he added, the Armenian church in Iran is an indigenous community.

He said that religious leaders in the U.S. and Iran have to build trust between each other. “This is not an easy task,” he said.

The Ayatollah began his address to the delegation by revealing that the Holy Kor’an says Christianity is mentioned as the closest religion to Islam. He explained that the two religions are not in conflict and that both want peace, equality and justice.

In a question and answer period with the delegates, the Ayatollah confirmed that the Grand Ayatollahs of Iran have issued a “fatwa” against the development and use of nuclear weapons and all weapons of mass destruction. He said it is forbidden in Islam.

When asked why harsh language is used against the United States in the Friday prayers that he sometimes leads--prayers broadcast across the country-- he replied “What you mention is not against the American people. Our objection is to statements of the American government.”

On his way to evening prayers, the Imam's final statement to the delegation was, “Please consider Iran as your second home for Americans.”

The 13-member U.S. group represents church members from the Mennonite, Quaker, Episcopal, Catholic and United Methodist churches. The group is spending one-week in Iran meeting with religious and political leaders in the country.

More on the dialogue session in the following press release

U.S. and Iranian religious leaders discuss peace

February 20, 2007

TEHRAN, Iran – Religious leaders from the U.S. and Iran met here today to discuss the importance of faith groups finding common ground in peacemaking, particularly in light of the growing political tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

The three-hour meeting--called Quest for Truth--was held in Tehran and sponsored by the Islamic Culture and Religion Organization. It was one of a weeklong series of meetings a delegation of U.S. religious leaders is holding with Iranian religious leaders--both Christian and Muslim--as well as political leaders in Iran.

The delegation arrived early Monday, Feb. 19 and has since met with the Archbishop of the Armenian Church in Iran and the Tehran-based Ayatollah who leads Friday prayers in Tehran and is a member of the Iranian Council of Experts.

The group is expected to meet with others Iranian leaders during the next few days, including Iranian President Ahmadinejad. Their goal is to work with religious leaders in the U.S. and Iran to help ease tensions.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the presentations offered by religious leaders and scholars on both sides agreed that although dialogue is important, now is the time for action.

“We need to go beyond dialogue and establish tangible results,” said Iranian Ayatollah Dr. Monhaghegh Damad of Shahid Behesti University in Tehran. “We need to hold dialogue to eliminate ambiguities and misunderstandings between religions that emerge once in a while and work through them to establish peace.”

“Interfaith dialogue strengthens our own theology,” said Rev. Dr. Shanta Premawardhana of the National Council of Churches and a member of the U.S. delegation. “This is a new paradigm that has arrived out of many years of engaging in dialogue.”

“Peace is the key teaching of Christianity and Islam and this will be realized in our lives,” said Archbishop Sabu Sarkission of the Armenia Orthodox church in Iran. “This is the product of dialogue."

The 13-member U.S. religious leaders group represents church members from the Mennonite, Quaker, Episcopal, Catholic and United Methodist churches.


At 2:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am Mary Ellen McNish's daughter, and just recently found your blog. Thank you for the updates on that work that's being done. If you happen to get this comment while you're in Tehran, please tell my mom that I say hello!

At 5:25 PM, Anonymous Debbie said...

I found more info., about this delegation at

Blessed are the peacemakers!

At 5:56 AM, Blogger naomipaz said...

Yes, it is encouraging whenever dialogue takes
place, especially in the context of escalating

But the Abrahamic traditions can hardly be
thought to be completely represented without
at least a few representatives of the Jewish faith:
including members of Sephardic, Hasidic, Conservative, Reformed and Modern Orthodox traditions.


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