Sacks tells Lambeth bishops that all society needs religion

Jews and Christians have done more than any religions to "mend their relationship", Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks said in the first address by a rabbi to the Anglican Lambeth Conference in its 140-year history.

Speaking in Canterbury on Monday to around 650 bishops from across the globe, the Chief Rabbi recalled the progress made towards reconciliation.

"As I prepared this lecture, within my soul were the tears of my ancestors," he said. "We may have forgotten this but, for 1,000 years, between the First Crusade and the Holocaust, the word ‘Christian' struck fear into Jewish hearts.

"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."

But since the founding of the Council of Christian and Jews in 1942, the past was "being redeemed", he said. "Jews and Christians have done more to mend their relationship than any other two religions on earth, so that today we meet as beloved friends."

Whereas religion too often presented the face of conflict, he said, Jews and Christians "must show the world another way: honouring humanity as God's image, protecting the environment as God's work, respecting diversity as God's will".

Sir Jonathan had taken part the previous week in the Lambeth Interfaith Walk along with other religious leaders including Reform movement head Rabbi Dr Tony Bayfield and Liberal Judaism chief executive Rabbi Danny Rich. Its purpose was to remind world leaders of their "Millennium Goals" pledges to tackle poverty and other ills.

Rabbi Bayfield later gave a paper on Christian-Jewish relations to a seminar at the Lambeth Conference.
In his plenary address, Rabbi Sacks focused on the idea of covenant - the shared hopes and ideals that bind a society together. When religion wanes and "there is nothing covenantal to take its place", Dr Sacks warned: "Relationships break down. Marriage grows weak. Families become fragile. Communities atrophy. And the result is that people feel vulnerable and alone.

"If they turn those feelings outward, the result is often anger turning to violence. If they turn them inward, the result is depression, stress, eating disorders, drug and alcohol abuse. Either way, there is spiritual poverty in the midst of material affluence."

    Last updated: 1:01pm, July 31 2008