Saturday, 18 September 2010


This is Bishop Tim Steven's First Person column, published in today's Leicester Mercury:
Proud to live in a city where faith is respected
After a US pastor threatens to burn the Qur'an, the Bishop of Leicester speaks up for religious tolerance
This week was the ninth anniversary of 9/11. The occasion was overshadowed by the furore surrounding the threat by a hitherto anonymous pastor called Terry Jones to burn 200 copies of the Qur'an.
Pastor Jones is the head of a small evangelical Christian church in Florida called the Dove Center and his threats were in response to the plan to build a mosque close to where the Twin Towers once stood. The poet Andrew Motion said that "book-burning is first and foremost a monumental manifestation of intolerance". Pastor Jones' threatened book burning and lack of tolerance has resulted in inflamed emotions and heightened tension across the globe. His actions have been widely condemned by leading Americans from President Obama downwards.
This week's events in America are a far cry from the mood of the nation during President Obama's inauguration in January 2009, the theme of which was 'Hope'. In his augural speech, President Obama urged Americans to acknowledge the power of faith and its diversity as a positive rather than a negative force in shaping people's lives.
This theme was reflected in a statement issued this week by Christians and Muslims in Leicester in response to Pastor Jones' threats. In a joint statement, faith leaders committed themselves to continuing to build strong interfaith relations in the city and county and urged Muslims and Christians to work alongside each other to overcome bigotry and prejudice.
Suleman Nagdi, of the Federation of Muslim Organisations, said that "the burning of any religious scripture is a degrading act which all of us must speak out against''.
This week, civic leaders in Leicester and Leicestershire also committed themselves to 'unity of purpose' when they signed a new charter which expresses a wish for a society where all people can live together in peace and prosperity. By signing the charter, the leaders have committed themselves to the development of "a thriving and cohesive society of many communities, cultures, faiths and beliefs, working together for its continued success for ourselves, our children and for future generations''.
The planned actions of the pastor of the Dove Center do not reflect the true values and beliefs of Christianity whose greatest commandment is that "we love one another''.
I am proud to live and work in a city where faith is respected and where we as Christians are able to live in peace with our friends from other faiths. I hope and pray that in Leicester and Leicestershire we will continue to stand together against hatred and violence and promote harmony in our common life.

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