Live together or live not at all
The interfaith path is a wondrous journey to travel.
The great US civil rights leader the Rev. Dr Martin Luther King declared that we learn to live together or we will not live at all.
These words have become even more prescient in a post-9/11 world where tensions built around religious differences have often been cynically exploited, with the temperature sometimes reaching boiling point.
In such a climate, the Uniting Church Synod of New South Wales and the ACT makes a stand for dialogue and understanding from its Christian perspective with its Relations with Other Faith’s Committee.
Chaired by the Rev. John Queripel, the committee sees its role as deepening the understanding and appreciation of Uniting Church members for other faith traditions.
Gone are the days when we could live blissfully unaware of other faiths and cultures. Today we live, wherever we are, in increasingly multi-faith communities and the issue of understanding other faiths is constantly before us.
Christians have not had a happy history of working with other faiths. From early on, even in the biblical period, tensions with, and rejection of, the Jewish community developed.
Later colonial conquest and exploitation — all done in the name of God — went hand-in-hand with subjugation and suppression of other faiths.
The experience of Aboriginal spiritualities in this land was and, unfortunately, still is no exception.
At other times our Christian zeal to spread the “good news of Jesus Christ” has meant that we have lacked sensitivity to other faith traditions and haven’t taken time to learn what they give to their adherents and what they also can give to us.
It may sometimes be that we fear these other traditions and so want to close ourselves off from them or to reduce them to stereotypes.
The Synod’s Interfaith Committee is made up of those who, while deeply affirming their own Christian convictions, seek to develop channels of communication with those of other faiths.
Indeed, a central part of the philosophy behind this is that one’s own faith is deepened and sharpened in communicating with others.
There are, of course, some from within the Christian tradition who, holding that there is no salvation outside of being overtly Christian, see no need for dialogue except that which leads to conversion.
Such understandings at best limit God’s love and at worst would have God condemn all those not Christian, even those who never have had a chance to be Christian.
My understanding of Jesus is that he would reject such a capricious God and stand alongside the condemned. Such was the nature of the Christ.
The Synod Relations with Other Faiths Committee provides Uniting Church members with opportunities to meet those of other faiths and to visit their places of worship.
Recently conversations have been held with Buddhist and Jewish communities while a visit was made this year to the Sri Venkateswara Temple just to the south of Sydney in Helensburgh.
The latter, particularly, was a great occasion with some 40 members from different congregations within the Synod attending. In 2012 a visit will be made to the Baha’i Temple at Ingleside.
The committee is always open to expressions of interest in membership or for having the committee facilitate an interfaith happening in your area.
Interfaith relationships are always a challenge but participants are enriched in the process, discovering not only new insights about other faiths but rediscovering in profound and new ways their own faith tradition.
John Queripel is minister at Chapel by the Sea, Bondi Beach.
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