Inter Faith Week - Bah humbug?
The 2017 Inter Faith Week starts today. Richard Tetlow, a PCN Trustee, responds to the questions sometimes raised by the institution's critics.
1. Why should Christians take any notice of Inter Faith Week, let alone inter faith relationships?
Jesus calls us to love God and our neighbour as ourselves, especially the stranger. Just as Christian people don’t exist for their own sake or salvation but for others, so people of other faiths are not to be excluded. Christians have always been world citizens. Now we are all truly globalised whether by climate change or mass migration and whether we like it or not. People of different faiths, Christians included, live, as is said, face-to-face and side-by-side with one another. Let’s be generous to one another and make the most of this Inter Faith Week.
2. Why not let them - I mean those people of different religion to us - live their lives and we’ll get on with ours?
It is almost impossible to live separate lives. You tell me you have relations in Iran. I have in Germany. Our hospitals, shops, industries and schools would be disastrously affected if staff and customers were separated and excluded by faith, colour or birth background. It is not possible. Imagine it! Life has moved on. We really are dependent on one another, interdependent. Another thing: once I get to know anyone different to me and visit their place of worship, I like it. It’s interesting and enjoyable. Have you tried it?
3. These other faiths cause enough trouble as it is.
Most countries go through difficulties. Britain has had its problems. Some Christians used to burn other Christian’s archbishops and some still won’t accept Holy Communion from others. Do you know that the name Islam means Peace? Do you always have peace in your church?
4. It’s different anyway if you don’t live in a big city or town because you don’t really come across them.
Maybe not next door to you but our media make it clear we cannot deny one another. It is a pity that you don’t have the chance to meet anyone personally who is of a different faith. I really enjoy it. It can feel like all the peoples of the world come together as Isaiah wrote about over 2500 years ago. What can be strange to some people is how very similar we all are.
5. You do learn about them though from the papers and television and I don’t want to hear any more.
How do we ever find out what we are missing if we don’t bother? I think it can be our loss. You might say you choose your priorities. I say loving our neighbour as equal to us in the image of God, (that’s the mind of God), is our human priority.
6. I know there’s lots in prison so that tells you what they’re like, doesn’t it!
Who’s ‘they? And who says? Anyway, why do you think numbers might in some places be disproportionate? On your streets who would be most visible if something went wrong? Who might be the first to be blamed? That’s not fair, is it! When we feel unfairly treated how might we behave? I’m not an angry person but I can get very cross and aggressive myself. What about you? Besides, many faith communities are very tightly knit together and, I know, discipline one another more than some Christian families do.
7. And I do know this. They fight among themselves like in Myanmar, it’s called. Buddhists and Muslims. Oh, those poor children. That’s really terrible and it makes me really sad too.
Britain and Germany led two world wars and we are both Christian countries. Yes, I agree about the children. It is terribly sad seeing such abuse. It seems to me we have to care for one another from our very earliest years so that we all grow up to respect one another. Do you think people really fight about faith or does trouble come from something else like land, identity, power and economic survival?
8. In any case my church is not political, the vicar won’t have it.
I don’t see how that can be really true of him or your church. His taxes, your church’s amenities access and protection are all political. ‘Party political’; perhaps, I can see that.
9. And for another thing, I thought there was only one true religion. And only one God, and that’s ours! We have a sign outside which says so. There we have it.
If there is only one God or God is a handy name for all that’s best in life like love and goodness, then that must be the same for everyone. We just have different histories, traditions and language. It’s not right to try to own God. God is not up for sale.
10. I must be off, I’m reading the Lesson today. It’s from Matthew, not my husband but Saint Matthew, Chapter 22. Starts verse 34. I like it because it’s about love.
Could that love be just what we’ve been discussing, love for the different faiths and their members? The challenge becomes how to relate as equal people under God, not just to people of different faith but to about half of British people who claim not to have any faith at all. I think they simply mean religious faith. Inter Faith Week is about that as well.
Richard Tetlow spends time in retirement on inter faith relationships, especially Christian and Muslim and convenes the Moseley Inter Faith Forum. His book on ‘Perceptions of Christianity from people of different faiths’ will be published early in the New Year.