Monday, February 26, 2007

A Visit to the Local Mosque

On Sunday afternoon, five of us, representing Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and Uniting, met with the Imam and two members of the Marion Mosque. Although we did not formally present a communique to the Imam, the following points which we Christians had agreed on before the meeting, were communicated:

1. We regret the recent insinuations of the Minister for Foreign Affairs reported in the media, later revealed as unsubstantiated, concerning funding for the building of the new Parkholme mosque, and the suspicion such publicity generates in the wider community.
2. We recognise that aspects of international situations place the Muslim community in Australia under suspicion.
3. We want to express our support for efforts to reduce such suspicion in the community.
4. We recognise that there are aspects of Western culture and the behaviour of some individuals within the Christian church which also places the Christian community under suspicion.
5. We seek closer relations between our Christian and Muslim communities encouraging respect and greater understanding.

The meeting helped increase confidence and respect for each other and we plan to meet again in April.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Angels of Other Faith

Muslim praises Christian 'angels' bringing tsunami relief

Edavanakad (ENI). The head of the World Council of Churches, the Rev. Samuel Kobia, has concluded a visit to India by laying the foundations for a disaster shelter and community centre at a Muslim-majority village in southern India hit by the December 2005 tsunami. The multipurpose disaster shelter is being built by the Churches Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA), the social welfare wing of 24 Protestant and Orthodox churches in India.
"God sends his angels in times of disasters. These are the angels God sent to us when we stood stunned unable to decide what to do next," said V. K. Equbal, the Muslim village council president, with his gaze directed towards the Christian dignitaries on the platform. [ Ecumenical News International -07-0150] 21 February 2007

The real test of Christian love is not undertaken with words but in deeds.
Jesus, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, puts up the 'other', the despised Samaritan, as the model showing the love of God - a not-so-subtle rebuke to his questioners who thought they knew all the right, theologically correct answers (in their heads).
Perhaps for followers of Jesus in our age the players are reversed - the wounded one in need of assistance is now the 'other' - the refugee who cannot prove her story, our maligned Muslim community or our indigenous Australians - and the challenge for the follower of Jesus is not to 'pass by on the other side in 'theological correctness', but to stop and lift the 'other' and pay for their recovery. This is the ultimate evangelical act because it reveals the heart of God.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Threat or Opportunity

This morning, the following snippet of news from Ecumenical News International:

Karchi-born bishop warns, Britons must identify with Christian

Canterbury, England (ENI). A senior bishop in the (Anglican)
Church of England has warned that Britain could return to a "kind
of barbarism" if the decline that Christianity is facing
continues. The Bishop of Rochester, the Rev. Michael Nazir-Ali,
in a newspaper interview described Islam as the biggest threat
facing the West since communism and called on British Prime
Minister Tony Blair to stop being embarrassed to identify with
the country's Christian roots. [ENI-07-0125]

There's a hankering there for a time long past when Christianity ruled the roost - both a denial that Christendom is finished, if not in intensive care, yet a recognition, an admission of that fact. So the conservative battle-cry, becoming shriller: "Fight the war, the barbarians are coming!"

There it is in the Bible - the Joshua story of domination by force, the armour metaphor of St Paul in Ephesians 6:10 ff - easy enough to link "fighting against the wicked spiritual forces in the heavenly world, the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of this dark age" with an "axis of evil" in this world.

The reality is that most religions have texts that are either metaphorical, and were never intended for such ideological propaganda, or texts which are inapplicable within our cultural context. But we seem to love a fight!

Religious pluralism in our time need not be a threat, but an opportunity to live out the real gospel imperative to love our neighbour, to see in the Gospels, perhaps for the first time, a Jesus who embraces the one who is "other", not to crush her into an ideological cage, but to set her free to be more truly human, open also to love the other. This is the kind of conversion God yearns.