Our reflection last Sunday on Women and Men offers a metaphor for issues about people of different faiths in partnership. The Dreamtime story of Genesis 1 reminds us that people of all cultures and faiths are made ‘in the image of God’. All share the divine potential to shape life and the world, to communicate powerfully, to shed light and to be fruitful. All must use our moral knowledge of good and evil.
So - can we just coexist? Does it matter what religion one belongs to? The church has always answered: Yes. “No one comes to the Father but by me” (Jn 14:6); “there is no other name by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). But may we interpret these texts less exclusively? The first follows Jesus’ words: “I am the Way the Truth and the Life” Will non-Christians who follow the Way of Jesus find salvation with us?
Does the context make a difference? The texts reflect a dominant NT theme that we sinners need to be saved from divine judgement. But we follow the Way because we are moved by divine love and forgiveness in the life and teaching of Jesus, and to live a fruitful and meaningful life. Future judgement is not on our radar. We feel at one with people of all faiths who live life in the presence of universal divine love.
The Way of Jesus is for me the life of the kingdom of God portrayed in the parables. This kingdom is never sectarian or dependent on the language and outlook of one culture or one age. But it represents the difference between a god-fearing life and the pure materialism of even the good people around us. It is a vision of universal human. community.
It is important to realise that throughout the Bible, exclusive and inclusive viewpoints are woven together. Most striking in the Torah are references to the Moabites, Israel’s neighbours and cousins, who were excluded from Temple worship for generations. But in the story of Ruth, a Moabite, they are honoured as David’s ancestors.
In the early church, Peter is wedged between his Jerusalem mates and Paul about accepting Gentiles into the Jesus fold. Finally he declares in words we might use: “God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him”. Paul describes Gentiles as grafted on to the Jewish vine, thus affirming continuity and condemning sustained Christian prejudice against Jews.
I have often been challenged by the spiritual and ethical character of friends of other faiths, and no faith, who share a common commitment to reconciliation and justice. I conclude with Peter that our different theological formulations are of little consequence.
Oneness in God transcends particular dogma. Through Interfaith fellowship together we honour the spiritual in all life and turn from merely selfish living. Our cooperation is a beacon of hope for a divided world, and a very necessary one.