Bishop John Bryson Chane will appear on Good Morning America on Christmas morning, as he has for the last three or four years. The show airs on ABC stations between 7 and 9 a. m.
After the show, our local ABC station will carry the 9 a. m. Eucharist live from Washington National Cathedral. That broadcast is also available in some other television markets. Check with local stations. In addition, the Cathedral is webcasting many of its services today and tomorrow.
In his interview with GMA anchor Robin Roberts (It looks live, but was actually taped last week.), the bishop mentions his recent trip to Iran. You can learn more about the trip by reading the column he wrote for the January issue of our diocesan newspaper, Washington Window. Just click on the “continue reading” tab.
By John Bryson Chane
The recent victory of reform-minded candidates in Iran’s municipal elections, coming on the heels of the Iranian government’s reprehensible conference for Holocaust deniers, neatly symbolizes that country’s complex and confounding nature. Which event tells us most about that nation’s future course?
I believe Americans and their religious leaders can help shape the answer to this question by establishing relationships with moderate religious leaders in the Islamic Republic. I recently visited Tehran with three other leaders in the Episcopal Church, a trip that deepened my belief that the future of our world hinges on fostering respect and cooperation among the three Abrahamic faiths—Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
We traveled to Tehran at the invitation of former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami and the Organization of Culture and Islamic Relations. President Khatami had spoken amidst some controversy at Washington National Cathedral in September. Before his appearance at the cathedral questions were raised about his human rights record and his country’s nuclear intentions.
At that time, my colleague, the Cathedral’s dean, the Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III noted that Christians are called to a ministry of reconciliation. “If the church is to facilitate healing and transformation,” he said, “it cannot live on the margins of controversy uttering hopeful pieties. Rather it must immerse itself in the struggles that convulse the human family. Reconciliation requires us to seek partners to take risks to hear what these potential partners say and to examine what they do. And requires us to submit ourselves to the same searching scrutiny.”
Over the course of three days in Tehran, we engaged in intense mutual scrutiny. In candid conversations with top religious and political leaders, we discussed the war in Iraq, the unhelpful rhetoric of both of our presidents, the controversy surrounding Iran’s nuclear program and our mutual fears over the volatility of the Middle East. We did not leave these meetings having come to agreement on all of the political issues that divide our two countries, but with the sense that our conversations had been fruitful and friendly, and that we should explore moving beyond dialog and into true partnership.
At the moment, it may be unrealistic to expect that the political leaders of our country to engage in dialog. There is much that divides us, and the political stakes for both nations are frighteningly high. But citizens of these two deeply religious countries may be able to advance the prospects of peace by coming to appreciate the holy books and sacred traditions of the three monotheistic faiths that grew from the soil of the Middle East, with a particular emphasis on how the collective wisdom of these traditions can help us create a more peaceful and secure world.
This endeavor is not without peril. The fragile trust established at the outset of these conversations is easily undermined by events that neither party precipitated, but to which both must respond. The day after I returned from Tehran, news broke about the conference of holocaust deniers. Much as I value the relationships I had begun to cultivate, I was compelled to condemn this conference in the strongest terms. To deny the Holocaust is to demean the memory of the six million who perished, and to belittle the suffering of those who were forever scarred by these deaths. It is to perpetuate the very sort of prejudice that we are attempting to combat in our ongoing interfaith dialog with former President Khatami and others in Tehran.
It was encouraging then, to learn of the strong showing by reformers in this weekend’s elections, news that seemed in keeping with the tenor of recent student demonstrations in that country.
Which way will a country poised between extremism and moderation tilt? Much may depend on relationships between politically and theologically moderate Iranians and their counterparts in the West. Through religious and cultural exchanges, can we create a climate of trust, in which the difficult conversations on geopolitical issues can occur?
Those, like myself, who have resolved to cultivate such exchanges run the risk of appearing naïve, of being maneuvered like pawns by masters of realpolitik. But we put nothing at risk beyond our own reputations. And as a Christian, I follow Jesus, who demonstrated little regard for his good name, eating with ministering not only to outcasts, but to his people’s enemies.
In this holy season, I pray that the children of Abraham can overcome the temptation to view religion either as a call to arms or an invitation to a world apart, and understand it as the arena in which ordinary Jews, Christians and Muslims can pursue mutual understanding and build the foundations of peace. Wary, yet willing, we must begin.
The Rt. Rev John Bryson Chane is the Episcopal bishop of Washington. He traveled to Iran with the Rt. Rev. Pierre Whalen, bishop of the Episcopal Church’s convocation in Europe, Canon John L. Peterson, director the Cathedral College’s Center for Global Justice and Reconciliation, and Evan Anderson, the center’s deputy director.