New York, NY – February 5, 2019
WEA Secretary General Says “Forced Religious Belief Is No Belief at All” at Global Conference on Human Fraternity in Abu Dhabi
New York, NY – February 5, 2019
Secretary-General of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), Bp Efraim Tendero, participated in the Global Conference on Human Fraternity in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE), at the invitation of the Emirates-based Muslim Council of Elders. In his presentation to the conference, he spoke of the “powerful contribution to global peace” that Christians could make as those who are called by Jesus Christ to be peacebuilders.
The Conference held on February 3-4, 2019, was attended by several hundred religious and thought leaders from different faith groups. It was organized by the Muslim Council of Elders led by the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmad Al-Tayyeb.
The location of the UAE is significant because of its relative tolerance of other religions in a region that is otherwise mostly not welcoming to Christians and others of non-Muslim faith. With high percentages of foreign workers, many of whom belong to one of the Christian traditions, the UAE allows the building of churches and holding of worship services. It is hoped that inter-faith dialogues such as the Conference on Human Fraternity would contribute to deeper mutual understanding between leaders of different faiths that might also lead to more tolerance and acceptance within the different societies.
“Before becoming Secretary General of the WEA, I led the evangelical alliance in the Philippines for 22 years. In that role, I was deeply involved in building peace between Christians and Muslims,” Bp Tendero shared, after greeting the conference on behalf of the world’s 600 million evangelicals. “What we did in the Philippines can happen elsewhere.”
He then illustrated three reasons why Christians are to seek peace by conviction, saying “being followers of Jesus, we are called to obey his teachings about loving God and loving our neighbours as ourselves. This love is unselfish and sacrificial; it compels us to serve others above ourselves.”
“Secondly, followers of Jesus subscribe to the teaching of the Bible, which says that God created humankind in his own image. Although that image of God has been marred by sin, it has not been eradicated. We still bear the image of God. Therefore, the Bible places a very high premium on the value of every human being.” And thirdly, he added that “the Christian Scriptures command us to be peacebuilders. As Romans 14:19 says, ‘Let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.’”
As a specific example from his own context, Bp Tendero shared that “one of the previous presidents of the Philippines had a policy of all-out war against the Muslim rebels. Under his rule, the military used its full force to capture the rebel camps, destroying the homes of many civilians in the process. In response, the evangelical churches raised funds and mobilized volunteers to rebuild the homes and even the local mosque. The Muslim sultan welcomed the evangelicals and declared their area to be a zone of peace.”
“These are actions that a Christian or Muslim community anywhere in the world could take without compromising their faith in any way. When we build bridges through such acts of kindness, any existing misunderstanding or hatred quickly disappears,” he added.
Bp Tendero concluded by offering three simple practices that – when implemented – would naturally lead to more respect towards and acceptance of people who hold different faith to one’s own by “active listening”, “empathic understanding” and “intentional collaboration”, adding that “there is enormous opportunity for global impact if we stand together in support of mutual respect and peaceful dialogue.”
In relation to religious conversion, a particularly critical and sensitive issue when it comes to believers of different faiths living together, Bp Tendero weighed in: ”At earlier points in history, Christians have sometimes taken harder stances toward people who abandoned the Christian faith, but we have come to realize that forced religious belief is no belief at all.”