Have you ever wanted to destroy your enemies? Probably, at some stage, we have all been through such a stage of emotion. However, have you ever thought about destroying your enemies by making them your friends?
“I destroy my enemy when I make him my friend,” said Abraham Lincoln; but it’s much easier said than done.
Turning others into friends
This is the sort of work each of us, as people of faith, are called to do: not necessarily converting enemies as such, but perhaps aiming to turn into friends those “others” who may so easily become perceived to be our enemies.
Theologian Sally McFague once said:
We, all of us, are being called to do something unprecedented. We are being called to think about ‘everything that is’, for we now know that everything is interrelated and that the well-being of each is connected to the well-being of the whole.
The statement above poses a great challenge to us because, most of the time, as different faith communities we become focused on the uniqueness of our claims about God. We busy ourselves defending our positions. This isn’t bad in itself and, in fact, can be essential for our sense of identity, belonging and hope. But it should not be the only focus of our being. Spiritual well-being is essential but so is physical, social, economic and environmental well-being too.
Thanks to the 21st century’s increasingly globalised and inter-connected world, we have to deal with something quite unprecedented: the huge scale rubbing shoulders of different languages, cultures and religious beliefs.
Engage to enrich
We should not assume that by engaging with people of different beliefs to ours the uniqueness of our faith must somehow get compromised. Inter-faith work is not about negotiating away our differences. In fact it is about asserting and affirming our differences; but in such a way so that it enriches rather than creates conflict.
Inter-faith work is not about reducing our beliefs to a thin line where we all merge into one. Nor is it an attempt to unify us all into one world religion. It is about co-operation across faiths and cultures and peaceful co-existence.
We cannot have peace until we have agreed to talk to one another; to address issues that confront us and strain our relationships from time to time.
No Peace without Dialogue
Hans Kung, the Catholic theologian and the founder of Global Ethic Foundation, once said, “No peace among the nations without peace among the religions. No peace among the religions without dialogue between the religions.”
It is said that from the 250 conflicts and wars of the 20th century, each had a religious component. Watching the news these days in our own century, it sometimes feels as if we stand on the brink of human extinction.
Break out of our places of worship
It would seem that now, more than ever, is a time for us to break out from our respective places of worship (the Church, Mandir, Synagogue, Gurdwara or Mosque) and meet the other; talk to the other; develop ideas with the other for the common good of us all.
There is an apt quote from American novelist and social critic, James Baldwin:
For nothing is fixed……….Earth is always shifting, light is always changing. The sea rises, the light fails, and we cling to each other. The moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.
Following incidents like 9/11, 7/7 or the Woolwich Murder, people like us need to do even more and work even harder in order to boost the growth of mutual confidence, trust and goodwill amongst us all, across faiths and cultures!
How we think matters
March and Wisbech may not face the same problems and opportunities as those found in Luton and Leicester or Bedford and Bradford; but the toil of engaging with each other, and talking to each other, with working and living towards harmonious co-existence with each other, will still bear its fruit irrespective of location.
And it doesn’t matter if you don’t have that many people of other faiths and cultures living nearby. You have your opinion. You have your attitudes. What and how you think also matters.
Anthropologist Margaret Mead put it succinctly: “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world; Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”.
By David Jonathan
David Jonathan (Johny) is the co-ordinator of “Grassroots”, a Christian ecumenical programme founded in Luton which aims to promote inclusion and a spirituality of justice and peace through dialogue between the Christian churches and other faith communities. Johny is also a member of the Luton Council of Faiths.
This article is based upon a talk given at the Wisbech Inter-Faith Forum on 5 June 2013.