WHO IS MY NEIGHBOUR?
Was our country ever a Christian country? I don't know. What is certain is that today, we are a multicultural, multi-faith society. As a Christian, how do you see this?
I have Christian friends who take the words of Jesus in John 14:6 “No one comes to the Father except through me” to mean that you either become a Christian, or are condemned to eternal damnation. From this viewpoint, there can be little possibility of any understanding of non-Christian faiths. Before making judgements, I ask simply for consideration of one or two facts. As Christians, we believe firmly in one God. As Christians, we believe this alongside our brothers and sisters from many other faiths. As Christians, we have some further words from our holy scripture. John 3:17 tells us that Jesus came not to condemn the world, but that through him, all the world (Greek: Cosmos!!!) could (or should) be saved! Not some of the world, but all of it. And at the same time we know that two thirds of the world is non-Christian. This is a paradox – a mystery – and alongside many mysteries of our faith it is best left as such.
If you feel that in the above, I have done no more than muddy the waters, then think on. The situation is neither as clear nor is it as definite as we Westerners would like to have it be.
Let me share with you just a little of my personal experiences of non-Christian faiths during the last ten years or so. I began with study alongside Jews. I went into this expecting to learn more about the faith in which Jesus lived and died. My experience was a long way from my expectations. The faith of Jews today is very different from the Jerusalem temple centred faith of the first century. It is older, wiser and in some ways livelier than the faith that Jesus knew. And it is very clearly a faith in which the believers know the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as a personal God and saviour to just the same extent as does any present day Christian. And it ought to come as no surprise that the Jewish faith is no more monolithic than is our present day Christianity. In fact, many of our Christian disputes (women clergy, homosexuality etc.) appear in just the same way across the strands of Judaism ….. but that's another story! And at the heart of any study of the Jews and their faith is the hatred that non-Jews have for their Jewish neighbours.
Some quotations: “And so I believe to-day that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator. In standing guard against the Jew I am defending the handiwork of the Lord.” Adolf Hitler.
“You will not die there of hunger or disease. They will slaughter all of you there, old and young alike; women and children – it is the punishment that you deserve for the death of our Lord and redeemer, Jesus Christ”. This was no fanatic - these were the words of an archbishop of the church at that time.
Of course, these things said were during the second world war. Antisemitism was rife. Things are different today. But are they?
“The Jewish minority within the Polish government cannot be tolerated, because the nation fears it”. Later, challenged about what he had said, the speaker affirmed his statement: “I said aloud what the Polish nation is thinking. Not by mistake, but out of conviction”. A politician? A fanatic from the extreme right? Another wartime example? No – this was a statement by a Christian priest made in 1997. Antisemitism is still around today, and Christianity is there right at the heart of it!
I intend to keep this article brief, so let my just touch on Islam. My favourite piece from the Qur'an goes something like this: “People of the Book …. (if you are in any doubt, 'people of the Book' refers to Christians and Jews) … People of the Book – submit yourselves to God; that is Islam”. (Qur'an 3:64 also 3:19) …. of course, this is only one understanding of the passage. Just as with our own harsher interpretations of the bible, some might use this same verse to require Christians and Jews to convert.
There are currently a number of nasty polemical pieces against Islam that are easily to be found on the internet. They portray Islam as a wholly violent faith, filled with hatred against the infidel. For some extreme Muslims, this may be true. For many extremist Christians the same is true of their brand of Christianity.
I don't need to spell it out. I don't need to preach a sermon on the Good Samaritan. Jesus would not be interested in our doctrinal disputes. Jesus would be interested only in what kind of neighbour we are …. “Didn't someone once say something about “If I lack love, I am nothing?” …. now, where was that?
Interfaith - Who is my neighbour? by Revd Barry Drake is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.