UNITED RELIGIONS INITIATIVE Southeast Asia & the Pacific Regional E-Newsletter

EMBRACING DIVERSITY with Mr. Alfred Tay (Orthodox Christian from Singapore)

This is an interview section with practitioners of interfaith dialogue. In this issue we feature Alfred Tay (Orthodox Christian) who is the leader of the IUNUI Cooperation Circle in Singapore.

TCC: What is your faith tradition?

Alfred: I am a newly baptized Eastern Orthodox Christian. I was baptized only last January this year.

TCC: What are your experiences in interfaith dialogue?

Alfred: Since I was young I have always been interfaith because I was brought up in the Buddhist and Taoist tradition. And then in my youth I first studied in a Methodist school, and then later on in a Catholic school. So it’s like I had half of my feet wet in the different religions already. It was only recently when I found out about the Eastern Orthodox Church that I fully embraced Christianity as my religion.

Now I am engaged in interfaith dialogue through the URI. I got to know about URI last year when my ex-boss went back home to Korea. She was involved in working with volunteers of URI for the 2005 Global Assembly in Seoul. As a Baha’i' she was active in encouraging as many people from different faiths to participate and so when I mentioned to her that I was currently in between jobs she suggested that I volunteer for the event. And so I flew over to Korea to volunteer and there I got to know URI.

Meeting the URI for me was like going back home to family because URI’s attitudes have always been exactly my attitudes. I’ve also always been a strong proponent of interfaith dialogue. Most of the time, when it comes to talking about their own religion, people tend to be very defensive and their not so willing to risk the concreteness of their own faith and expose it to attacks or merely to other ideas. For me, I feel that if my own faith and belief is strong enough it doesn’t matter what other people say or how they try to convince me. But if your faith is weak, of course you would be afraid to go out into the wild winds and have attacks coming your way. If you are not be able to withstand such attacks, your faith will break down. This is the difficulty with other people whose faith is not strong enough.

TCC: What are teachings from your faith or some or your personal insights that inspire you to engage in interfaith dialogue?

Alfred: It is probably too early for me to be able to cite the teachings because I’m still very young in my faith. I can share more on insights from personal experiences in the past on interfaith dialogue.

I do believe that interfaith dialogue is the only way to go. People have to understand other people’s perspectives. The more you try to hide or try to defend a position, the more difficult it is to maintain peace. We need to open up in order to see the core of each other, person to person, to be able to clear away any misunderstanding.

People often use religion more as an excuse not to open themselves up. They hide behind the view or shadow of their religion—which offers them security. They are not open to expose their own religion out into the world, such that when people criticize their religion, they get angry or defensive about the whole thing or the other. But as a true practitioner of faith, such anger or defensiveness should not creep in. We should be tolerant of other people no matter what they throw at us. We should welcome them with open arms at the same time that we are standing firm to what we believe in.

I think it is best and most beneficial when people openly talk to one another—not only to know something from the other but also to discover more about themselves. Some people think they believe in something when deep at its core they actually don’t. Sometimes they are not aware of this aspect of themselves. It is when they encounter questions from others or criticisms that their belief is tested and the truth will be revealed. If they are not truly deeply rooted in their faith, it may easily crumble as they encounter challenges. But if people have strong faith they can never be affected by whatever anyone else says or does. They can never be afraid to face others however different they are. Sometimes when we talk to others who are of different faith, we gain a deeper understanding of our own. This is how meaningful interfaith dialogue is not only as a social approach to peacebuilding but also as an inner process of self-awareness and personal transformation.

URI Statement on the Crisis in the Middle East

(Approved by the Standing Committee on behalf of the Global Council of
the United Religions Initiative)

As trustees of the Global Council of the United Religions Initiative, we write to urge an immediate and complete ceasefire of violence that is currently happening in the Middle East, and a commitment by all parties, including the international community and the world's religions, to find the will to complete, implement and invest in a comprehensive peace agreement that will allow current and future generations of Palestinians and Israelis to live their lives in peace.

We write as leaders of the URI, a global interfaith organization active in 70 countries, through the work of 400 member Cooperation Circles. URI's purpose is to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence and to create cultures of peace, justice and healing for the Earth and all living beings. We have many members in the Middle East, including Palestinians, Israelis, Jordanians and Egyptians. The URI has consultative status at the UN through ECOSOC.

As leaders of an interfaith organization dedicated to resolving conflict without resorting to violence, we recognize and laud the heroic work of Palestinians, Israelis and peace advocates all over the world who are dedicated to rising above the violence and working for peace, justice and healing.

We believe that a new day is possible when a comprehensive, just peace will allow current and future generations of Palestinians and Israelis to live their lives in peace.

We call on all involved - Israelis and Palestinians, people of other nations, international bodies, religions, and grassroots groups working heroically for peace - to take the following steps to speed the dawning of that day:

* To stop the violence immediately.

* To supply immediate humanitarian aid to address urgent suffering and long-term aid to rebuild.

* To commit to negotiate, invest in and implement a comprehensive peace agreement that will allow current and future generations of Palestinians and Israelis to live their lives in peace.

* To invest in every means possible to weave a fabric of genuine, mutually honoring community among Palestinians and Israelis at the grassroots level.

* To invest less in armaments and more in social and economic infrastructure.

We commit to do all we are able, beginning with support for URI member Cooperation Circles in Israel and Palestine, and engaging our members around the world to help these steps be fulfilled.

And we commit to pray and meditate that violence will cease, peace prevail and a life of hope be restored to the long-suffering people of this region.

URI Global Youth CC Statement on the current situation in Gaza.

We, the members of the Global Youth Cooperation Circle of the United Religions Initiative, wish to express our concern at the current situation in Gaza. Conflict creates hardship and fear for people on both sides and takes its toll on civilians, both young and old, and the livelihood of communities and economies.

As a youth network we sympathise with our fellows, the young people who are caught up in the crisis, in both Gaza and in the Israeli communities that live in fear of rocket attacks. Young people are the future of any community and we feel that they should not have to live amidst a cycle of violence and hardship. In order for young people to make meaningful and healthy contributions to society, it is imperative that they grow and develop within a space of security and integrity.

We are also concerned about those who are vulnerable in these times, such as the elderly and the sick. They need access to medical resources and clean, safe environments. In times of crisis these people suffer the most because basic facilities are less accessible.

They also need to live without the fear created by constant attacks. This situation is robbing people on both sides of basic human rights that are theirs by international law.

We implore both sides to pursue the path of peace and reconciliation and reduce hostilities so that aid and supplies can reach the people of Gaza to alleviate their suffering and so the Israeli people can live without fear. It is our hope that both sides can cooperate in order to achieve a lasting peace and quality of life for all people. Our goal, as members of a global interfaith community, is to achieve this all over the world.