CANTERBURY-Sir Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, gave a stirring address to Anglican bishops gathered under the Big Top tent at the decennial Lambeth Conference Monday evening. He said that Anglicans must come together despite their differences.
Speaking in his main remarks about covenants between God and the people, Rabbi Sir Jonathan discussed the divisions in the Anglican Communion during the question and answer period. “It is the hardest thing in the world to hold the adherents of a faith together,” he said. “The Anglican Communion has held together quite different strands of Christian theology and practice better than any other religion I know, certainly than any other Western religion I know.”
He called on Anglicans to be tolerant of each other, as he had known them to be when he was a student in Anglican schools. “Covenant is predicated on difference,” he said. “Between God and humanity-that is the covenant of ultimate difference.”
Beyond the call to unity in the Anglican Communion, Rabbi Sir Jonathan said that Anglicans can help to unite people across religions. He said that Anglicans can help “to hold us together in a world that is drawing us apart.”
In his main remarks, Rabbi Sir Jonathan said that societies without faith disintegrate. “Relationships break down. Marriage grows weak. Families become fragile. Communities atrophy. And the result is that people feel vulnerable and alone.”
“That is where we are,” he said.
Sir Jonathan said that “covenants of faith are splitting apart”, and called on Christians to walk united with members of other religions in working to solve the world’s problems.
Too often, he said, religion showed a divided face to the world: “Conflict – between faiths, and sometimes within faiths.”
Sir Jonathan said that globalisation had created a “global covenant” but that it was itself in danger.
“The sanctity of human life is being desecrated by terror. The integrity of creation is threatened by environmental catastrophe. Respect for diversity is imperilled by what one writer has called the clash of civilisations.”
He also referred to the long history of Christian antiSemitism that underpinned centuries of persecution of the Jewish people. He said: “Friends, I stand before you as a Jew, which means not as an individual, but as a representative of my people. And as I prepared this lecture, within my soul were the tears of my ancestors. We may have forgotten this but, for a thousand years, between the First Crusade and the Holocaust, the word ‘Christian’ struck fear into Jewish hearts.”
He said he could not have stood “in openness” before a gathering of so many Christian bishops without mentioning this “book of Jewish tears”.
Sir Jonathan said: “Think only of the words the Jewish encounter with Christianity added to the vocabulary of human pain: blood libel, book burnings, disputations, forced conversions, inquisition, auto-da-fé, expulsion, ghetto and pogrom.”
The past could not be rewritten but it could be “redeemed”, he said. Today, more than 60 years after an Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, met a Chief Rabbi, J. H. Hertz, to found the Council of Christians and Jews, the two faith groups could meet as “beloved friends”. That friendship now had to be extended more widely, to Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Zoroastrians and Baha’is.
Sir Jonathan said: “Because though we do not share a faith, we surely share a fate. Religions should not fight each other but work together to face the challenges of poverty, hunger, disease and environmental disaster.”