Conversation or conflict? 

penny mulveyPENNY MULVEY

Crosslight published a letter from Rev David Brown with the heading ‘Learning from Islam’ in our October edition. In his letter, Mr Brown asserts that Islam “has much to teach a declining and decaying Christianity which (to me) is losing its way”. This is a familiar concern within many Christian churches. In this issue, our feature discusses the increasing number of young Uniting Church members departing the church. We also report on the Online Survey, which gives an account of how congregations are changing to meet the needs of their communities.

In the past month we have received three letters strongly rejecting Mr Brown’s contention, based on the letter writers’ knowledge and understanding of the teachings of the Quran, the Hadith and the Sira.

After much deliberation, we have decided not to publish these letters as they are highly critical of another faith. In acknowledgement of the Uniting Church’s commitment to ecumenism and multi-faith dialogue, Crosslight seeks not to denigrate other denominations or faiths. When we publish letters critical of our own church, we are contributing to the process of ‘uniting’. Our relationship with other faiths is based on learning and sharing, not the intimate knowledge of a member speaking about their own church.

We were also cognisant of the moderator’s pastoral statement released on 29 September, encouraging the Church to draw closer to our Muslim neighbours:

“The Uniting Church has a strong commitment to an interfaith community and I would urge all members to make connections with Muslim neighbours and colleagues, and to seek out multi-faith groups so together we can break down this growing fear of ‘the other’…

“As Christians we are called to stand with all who experience discrimination and exclusion. We are also called to address this fear and ignorance with knowledge and respect.”

As a journalist, this is a difficult place to inhabit. Is Crosslight shutting down Church members’ general concern about the impact of the teachings of another faith? Or is this an opportunity to invite a more respectful dialogue between faiths?

Knowing that a single letter writer often represents the views of others, it would suggest that a number of Uniting Church members feel concerned about the teachings of Islam. Our society is changing rapidly. We are well and truly a multi-faith country. We have our own faith and understanding of God. How then do we grapple with the big issues that other belief systems throw up? We learn from history and flip the script from conflict between religions to open dialogue.

Crosslight will examine these questions next year. In the meantime, thank you to the letter writers for shining the spotlight on a significant topic for our nation and our church. What does it mean to be a multi-faith society?

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