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All together now

All together now

All together now

15 February 2017

By Mal Davies

Amer was a Lebanese Muslim. Tony, Sal and Vito were Italian Catholics. Pete was a Greek agnostic. These were my closest friends at high school and through my university years. They knew I was a Christian and a Salvo and they responded differently.

Pete didn’t care what I believed as he didn’t know what to believe himself. Tony, Sal and Vito (yes, I know, they sound like the cast of The Godfather) were adamant that they were Christians and I was not because, well, simply because I wasn’t Catholic. Amer (pronounced ay-mar) and I occasionally differed on matters of theology – predominantly around the status of Jesus – but generally we retained great mutual respect. We saw in each other a desire to search for spiritual truth; an adherence to disciplines involving worship, prayer and the study of sacred texts, and a heart for those in the community in need.

In short: we focused on our commonalities and not our differences. We agreed to disagree on many doctrinal truths but encouraged each other to build a stronger faith. A Muslim and a Christian disagreeing but respecting each other. Well, fancy that.

The first week of February each year is World Interfaith Harmony Week, as decreed by the United Nations General Assembly in 2010. In September of that year, King Abdullah II of Jordan proposed the idea, saying that it was essential to “resist forces of division that spread misunderstanding and mistrust especially among people of different religions”. His proposal was that a special week be set aside for people of all faiths to focus on “tolerance, respect for the other and peace”.

At the core of the ideology behind the week and its suggested activities (you can read more at worldinterfaithharmonyweek.com) is the two-part phrase “Love of God and love of the neighbour” and “Love of the good and love of the neighbour”. The thinking is that the great monotheistic religions (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) share commandments regarding love of God and love of others and, hence, can use the first phrase as their guide for the week. For all other faiths and, in fact, even for people of no faith, they can simply use the second phrase, which refers to “the good” instead of “God” and retains the imperative to love others. This way – with a simple variation on one word – all people can celebrate the week.

While one suggestion is that people and organisations of different faiths can do something together in that week, this is not the main thrust of the week. The more dominant thought is that each faith – within their own churches, temples, synagogues, houses, meeting places – can focus that week on tolerance, peace, harmony, respect and (just as Amer and I did) our common points not our differences. Sometimes we focus on a common topic within The Salvation Army.

We have Founders’ Day when we all celebrate the pioneering work of William and Catherine Booth. We have a Self Denial Appeal when all corps focus on the same material over a six-week period. We even have things like “Boundless: The whole world reading”, when corps all over the world worked through the same scripture passages in 2015. So imagine the beauty and benefit of not just every Salvo corps in the world and not even every Christian church in the world, but every believer of every faith in the world focusing on tolerance, harmony and respect in the same week. Wow!

So, when it comes to faith is it possible to agree with someone you disagree with? Should I have ceased my friendship with Amer to avoid the risk of becoming pluralistic? Should I have told him flat out that he was wrong and going to hell unless he renounced his faith? Should I have more strongly witnessed to him about truth and Jesus? Or should I have maintained the friendship, showed him how a Christian lived, and continued to pray for him?

I chose the latter, and I have no doubt he did the same for me from a Muslim point of view. We chose interfaith harmony.

Captain Mal Davies is Corps Officer at South Barwon Corps in Geelong, Victoria, and is a former national editor-in-chief.

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