Summary of Living with the Neighbour who is Different
Below follows a summary of the document Living with the Neighbour who is Different: Christian Faith in a Multi Religious World
The full text of the statement in booklet form is available for order through MediaCom Education Inc.
The Eighth Assembly in 1997 requested the then Doctrine Commission to prepare a theological statement to guide the Uniting Church as it entered an increasingly diverse society where many faiths are practiced. This statement is our response to that request, and is a summary of a longer resource document available in hard copy.
Australia is emerging as a multi religious society. This new reality raises theological, spiritual and missional questions for the Christian Church. Within the Uniting Church we must ask what it means for us to be followers of Christ in this setting, and in what sense our identity needs to be reshaped and our praxis re-examined as we encounter the diversity of faiths. Already some of us have experience in the Jewish-Christian dialogue, which became a necessity following the painful experiences of the Second World War.
Dialogue with Aboriginal spirituality is developing in our time, especially among our younger people. With what theological self understanding and motivation do we enter into the wider engagement with other faiths, which our society today demands of us?
1. Theological Affirmations
The Doctrine Working Group has worked on this issue over the last three years. A series of affirmations has become quite central for us. These affirmations form the heart and substance of our conviction and we commend them to your prayerful and thoughtful consideration.
1a. God is calling us to engage in conversation with people of other faiths.
In a world of human division, in which conflict is often fuelled by religious difference, it is imperative that Christians grow in their appreciation of other faiths and find ways in which we can work together with people of other faiths for the common good. Our sharing of the riches of Christ includes working patiently, prayerfully and lovingly for a nation and a world shaped in peace. The view of the Doctrine Working Group is that the development of hospitable and respectful relationships with those of other faiths is a proper response to Christ in our day. Christ calls us to live in harmony with all other people and so contribute to a world of peace, justice and hospitality. The proper response to Christ in this new setting is to ask afresh how we should, as followers of Christ, respond to people of other faiths.
1b. Christians are called to love the neighbour who is different.
The question of how we are to relate to persons of other faiths is a specific expression of the larger question: how can we live with the neighbour who is different? Love is central to Christianity and must continually be brought to bear in this situation. We have to face the hard fact that the Christian Church does not have a consistently good record in respecting and valuing those who we see as 'different'. How are we to move from a history of exclusion of the other to one that embraces the neighbour? Only through a deeper immersion in the love of God made known in Christ. Our personhood need not be threatened by otherness. One scholar, Miroslav Volf, has suggested that what is needed is the formation of a "catholic personality" (small "c"!), defined as one who is enriched by otherness. Such a personality reflects the character of Jesus.
1c. God has placed the contemporary Church in an ideal situation to engage in genuine dialogue with those of other faiths.
When the Church was at the centre of Western life it tended to relate to those of other faiths from a position of assumed political and social superiority. Much damage has been done to the human community from the outworking of this false assumption. Today Christians are aware that they share this planet with other faith communities who also believe deeply and are shaped by values and styles of living which have integrity. Of course, questions abound. What is the purpose of God in permitting a variety of religions to exist side by side? Do other religions have a role to play in God's offer of salvation? How do we speak of Jesus in a world of many religions? Does dialogue lead to a lack of
evangelical passion? These are questions that the Christian Church cannot avoid. Our conviction is that both the situation in which we find ourselves and the call to dialogue are God given opportunities to our generation.