As I write, I am busy preparing for celebrations for the 40th anniversary of the Uniting Church (which will be over by the time you read this). At the same time I have been privileged to be invited, as a UCA representative, to attend several Iftar dinners. An Iftar dinner is the meal Muslims share each night of the month of Ramadan where they break their fast.
Alongside these moments of deep joy I have watched in horror as acts of terror, both here and around the world are perpetrated and people of the Muslim faith are maligned because of the barbaric acts of a few.
While at first glance there may not seem to be a connection between these things, I think there is. For me this connection is found in the Statement to the Nation made at the time of union. In that Statement the church spoke about how a key responsibility of each Christian and the Church is to act for the goodwill of society and involve ourselves in social, national and international affairs.
In the Statement to the Nation, we said:
“We affirm our eagerness to uphold basic Christian values and principles, such as the importance of every human being, the need for integrity in public life, the proclamation of truth and justice, the rights for each citizen to participate in decision-making in the community, religious liberty and personal dignity, and a concern for the welfare of the whole human race.”
Participating in Iftar meals is one way we can affirm the personal dignity of Muslims at a time when their dignity is threatened as they walk the streets, go to work or participate in community activities. Breaking bread, hearing the call to prayer and discussing faith are ways to enhance our commitment to religious liberty for all, not just those who share our faith. Gathering in acts of welcome and hospitality bears witness to our desire to love our neighbour, to be good neighbours.
At the Iftar dinners I engaged in conversation with Muslims and other faith representatives about how we practice our faith; what our faith means to us; how it strengthens and sustains us to be better Christians or Muslims or Jews or Sikhs and therefore better human beings and citizens. Conversations with people of other faiths help me in my own journey of faith. Their faith practices challenge me to reflect on my prayer, generosity, service to the poor and vulnerable. I am also given the chance to speak of my own faith.
In the face of the terror attacks and the subsequent demonisation of an entire faith, sharing meals together with people of other faiths is so important to me as a citizen and a Christian seeking to live the vision of the Statement to the Nation. The meals allow an encounter with people as people rather than categories. They help us see our shared common humanity and our differences, which make the world a richer place to live in.
Fear and hatred will not be overcome by fearing and hating people because of their faith. Fear and hatred are overcome by love and mercy. As Christians we see this truth incarnate in Jesus Christ who comes into a world that does not welcome him offering love. Jesus meets unlove with love, fear with mercy, hatred with goodness. Even when he is despised, hunted down and pursued to death, Jesus is love and lives love. Those of us who seek to follow Christ are called to live this way in the world.
When we live as people of love, mercy and goodness, we are participating in God’s good work of healing creation and reconciling all things.