The Anglican Church of Canada is in a unique position to promote understanding between people of different faiths around the world, says the former secretary general of the Anglican Communion and head of the group that drafted the Lambeth call on interfaith relations. Josiah Idowu-Fearon, who is also a past archbishop of the province of Kaduna in the Anglican Church of Nigeria, says Canada’s position as a hub for immigration from diverse nations, backgrounds and beliefs gives Christians in Canada the opportunity to reach out for meaningful exchanges with people of other religions. And they will then pass their understanding of what Christianity is about on to other members of their faith both in Canada and in their countries of origin, he says.
“Canada is a mission field in terms of interfaith relations. It would be difficult for a Canadian to go to Iran to work there, but you have Iranians with you. It would be difficult for Canadian Anglicans to go to China. You have Chinese [people] living with you,” he says. “So first and foremost, Canadian Anglicans … need to stand up and say, ‘Look, we are Christians. This is our faith tradition and as Christians we love everyone.’”
That’s one of the ways Idowu-Fearon says the Anglican Church of Canada can live up to the call, one of 10 statements presented at the Lambeth Conference in summer 2022 that encourage the Anglican Communion to take collective action on issues of concern to the faith and the world. In some provinces of the communion, the call says, “there is the freedom to call people into baptism and discipleship, and our neighbours of other religious traditions can also become partners in work for the common good, tackling areas of shared concern such as the pandemic or climate change.” Elsewhere, however, “Anglicans face hostility and even persecution.”
In light of that understanding, the call encourages Anglicans around the communion to stand in solidarity with Christians who are persecuted; to seek understanding relationships with people from other faiths that allow them to share the gospel in respectful dialogue; and to stand up for religious freedom for—and reject prejudice against—people of all faiths. A summer 2023 update also foregrounds Christianity’s debt to the Jewish tradition and the shameful history of antisemitism among Christians that has failed to honour that debt.
Canon Scott Sharman, the Anglican Church of Canada’s animator for ecumenical and interfaith relations, says the church is taking a “multifaith engagement 2.0” approach to reaching out to members of other faiths in Canada. It’s about finding ways for faith communities to open up to one another in ways that allow them to be completely themselves. By sitting down together with the belief that what they learn from another faith can make them better Christians, he says, Canadian Anglicans can start to see members of other faiths as real, tangible discussion partners.
As Canada’s religious makeup becomes increasingly diverse, Sharman says, interfaith relations will become more important than ever.
Both Sharman and Idowu-Fearon say it’s important to remember that Christians are not only the victims of interfaith strife, but sometimes the perpetrators. And Sharman notes that while Canada has comparatively high religious freedom compared to some parts of the globe, there are still incidents of religiously motivated violence. Both say it’s important for Christians to know that such violence is in no way compatible with the teachings of the Christian faith or the life of Christ himself.
Idowu-Fearon says he has been unpopular—even the target of violence himself, in Nigeria—for espousing the opinion that violence is never justified, even in defence against persecution by non-Christians.
“My conviction is this, an enemy is a potential brother or sister, and therefore it is in my own interest as a follower of Christ to extend that love to her or to him,” he says. “You cannot, as a follower of Jesus Christ, choose violence. It’s not allowed. It’s not a popular stance to take, but it is Christ-like and it doesn’t have to be popular.