Respect for other Religions from Christianity Perspective

Speech by CCF CEO Rev Akuila Yabaki at Fazl –e –Umar Mosque,
82 Ratu Mara Road, Samabula,  Suva on 16-17th January, 2010.
Respect for other Religions from Christianity Perspective.

First let me state the issue.

The impact of Fiji Christianity on the non-Christians in Fiji has been minimal despite the presence of Hindu and Muslim Indo-Fijians over a period of over 130 years. The picture is the same world wide. Christians often close their minds to people of other faiths yet live alongside them in their daily life. As Hans Ucko says, “Entering the church I leave my neighbor of another faith behind. I enter another world. When leaving the church, I join the other world again and see my neighbor standing outside. We do not really meet because our worlds do not.” (Hans Ucko Common Roots New Horizons, P.43).

Christian theology has tended to split the world into two, the church and the world, imprisoning God in the one, and preventing us from acknowledging that God’s Spirit is present through out the whole creation. We Christians have to learn that  people of other faiths are not only created by, but also sustained by, God the Creator. The Biblical understanding of God as creator should lead to understand that all people, their cultures and spiritualities are within the sphere of God’s love.  Wesley Arirajah says,“My Hindu and Muslim neighbor, whether I like or dislike the way he or she worships God, is still a child of God”.

If we truly believe that there is only one God, and that God is one, we cannot say that Hindus worship other Gods, or there are other Gods who answer their prayers. Hindus and Muslims have different concepts of God, but there are some commonalities they share with us Christians, and they acknowledge God the Creator. “We cannot set limits to the saving power of God” (Ucko). We cannot fence God in and say ‘If you want to know God, come through this door’, God is not our property, God owns us, and God owns the whole creation.

There is a thread of respect for others that runs through the Bible.

  1. Genesis 14:18-22 Abram accepts the blessing of Melchizedek, priest of “the most high God” (i.e. not Yahweh) and  maker of heaven and earth”.
    [von Rad ‘most high God’ (el elyon) has been confirmed by extra biblical testimony- cult of this ‘el elyon’ was practised in ancient Canaanite Jerusalem before Israelite times. Melchizedek in his veneration of the Most High God came close to believing in the one God of the world, whom Israel alone knew.]
  2. Luke 7:1ff (Matt 8:5ff) Jesus’ attitude towards Roman officer – a man of another religious tradition. The Jews tell Jesus the Roman officer loves our people and has donated the building of synagogue for us.
  3. Mark 7:24ff ( Matt 15:21ff) Jesus willing to speak with and heal the daughter of the gentile woman.
  4. John 4 Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman and his willingness to discuss theology with someone whose beliefs were markedly different.
  5. Acts 10 Peter and Cornelius. Cornelius is a Roman citizen who is command of hundred Roman soldiers.  He and his family worshipped God and have donated liberally to the Jews. His conversion is more a conversion of Peter, a person who refuses to cross cultural and religious boundaries.  The Holy Spirit seems to be the mover, the true revolutionary  , the one agent way ahead of Peter.
  6. Acts 17 Paul’s willingness to have theological discussions in Athens.

But after all these there is in the history of the Jews a fear of losing their own religious tradition. Firstly this is seen in their entry into Canaan, in their adaptation to agricultural life and close contact with the totally different religious traditions. These have  put them on the defensive and lead them to  make strong condemnation of fertility based religions. Secondly , their time of exile in Babylon- in about 6th Century BC -a culture of very different religious traditions leads them to a defensive position again.

Unfortunately some modern Christians pick this out of context and mis-use passages in the Bible to condemn other religions.

So let me return to this fundamental concept that we are all children of God regardless of our religious differences. The World Council of Churches consultation in Baar, Switzerland in 1990 which concluded a four year study, entitled, “My Neighbour’s Faith and Mine” states that our theological understanding of religious plurality begins with our faith in the one God who created all things, the living God, present and active in all creation from the beginning.. He guides the nations through their traditions of wisdom and understanding.  God’s glory penetrates the whole creation.  People at all times and in all places respond to the presence and activity of God among them, and have given their witness to their encounters with the living God. In this testimony they speak both of seeking and of having found salvation, or wholeness, or enlightenment, or divine guidance, or rest, or liberation. The plurality of religious traditions is the result of both the manifold ways in which God is revealed to peoples and nations, as well as in the manifestation of the richness and diversity of human kind. God has been present in theirs seeking and finding. Where there is truth and wisdom in any religious teachings, and love and holiness in their living, this, is the gift of the Holy Spirit. Since God is the creator and is active in the plurality of religions, it is inconceivable that God’s saving activity could be confined to any continent, cultural type, or groups of peoples. A refusal to take seriously the many diverse religious testimonies to be found among the nations and peoples of the whole world amounts to disowning the biblical testimony to God as creator of all things and father of human kind. The spirit of God is at work in ways that pass human understanding and in places that to us are least expected. In entering into dialogues with others, Christians seek to discern the unsearchable riches of Christ and the way God deals with humanity. Religious plurality is not an obstacle to overcome but an opportunity for deepening our encounter with God and with our neighbours.

As we find ourselves here in Fiji as everywhere in religiously plural societies and are called to give account of the hope of a restored human community in Christ we are challenged to embrace the fact that Christian faith is communitarian at its core – having things in common sharing the same attitudes and the same interests – and it binds people in a community of love. How can we testify to this Gospel? It is important to build up creative and responsible relationships with people who belong to different religious traditions. This calls for dialogue with people of other faiths. The challenge is how do local congregations recognize that living in a dialogical relationship with people of other faiths is a fundamental point of our Christian service within the local community and a response to the command “to love God and your neighbour as yourself”?Genuine sharing could only take place when partners in dialogue encountered one another in a spirit of humility, honesty and mutual respect, ready to take risks in becoming exposed to one another and sharing with one another one another’s view of life, its meaning and its purpose.

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