Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Sharing faith across cultures
A reality of our times is that we live in a pluralistic world. This has been incredibly important in sharpening how we think about other faiths. We live between two (unhelpful IMHO) poles: silence, in which a person is too scared to share the sacred story of God’s work in their lives and hostility, in which the way a person shares is rude, intolerant and antagonistic.
These poles apply to all faiths. I sat in a taxi a few weeks ago in Australia. When I mentioned I was a church minister, for the next 40 minutes the taxi driver lectured me on his faith. He was struggling with the two poles, not wanting to be silent, but in his monologue, ending up rude and intolerant.
Richard Sudworth is a CMS missionary, working in a Muslim majority part of the (English) city of Birmingham. He is part of a Christian-Muslim Forum launched their “10 Commandments of Mission”, offered as a conversation starter in an attempt to establishing honest and workable relations between faiths that allows for freedom of conscience.
Here are their 10 commandments of Mission.
1. We bear witness to, and proclaim our faith not only through words but through our attitudes, actions and lifestyles.
2. We cannot convert people, only God can do that. In our language and methods we should recognise that people’s choice of faith is primarily a matter between themselves and God.
3. Sharing our faith should never be coercive; this is especially important when working with children, young people and vulnerable adults. Everyone should have the choice to accept or reject the message we proclaim and we will accept people’s choices without resentment.
4. Whilst we might care for people in need or who are facing personal crises, we should never manipulate these situations in order to gain a convert.
5. An invitation to convert should never be linked with financial, material or other inducements. It should be a decision of the heart and mind alone.
6. We will speak of our faith without demeaning or ridiculing the faiths of others.
7. We will speak clearly and honestly about our faith, even when that is uncomfortable or controversial.
8. We will be honest about our motivations for activities and we will inform people when events will include the sharing of faith.
9. Whilst recognising that either community will naturally rejoice with and support those who have chosen to join them, we will be sensitive to the loss that others may feel.
10. Whilst we may feel hurt when someone we know and love chooses to leave our faith, we will respect their decision and will not force them to stay or harass them afterwards
Now, I want to place this alongside Luke 10:1-12. Jesus sends disciples out in mission. They are not to be quiet. Rather they enter the culture with the instruction to speak “peace.” This fits with (1) and (7). It also is an endorsement of (8), in that it names faith clearly.
If peace is returned, then the disciples are to dwell at table, eating and drinking what is placed before them. This seems to me to fit with (4) and (5). The disciple is placed as a receiver of hospitality, depend on the culture. As such, they must be willing to do (6), to find ways to name the Kingdom in ways congruent with table fellowship. It also allows due care (9), to occur in a natural and relational way.
If our message is rejected, the disciples are to leave. Mission is not coercive and does not overstay it’s welcome. It retreats when it is not wanted. Reading Luke 10:12 can sound judgemental, but when placed alongside Luke 9:51-56, it suggests a willingness to let go in gracious humility. This fits with (3). It is also essential to (10).
Essential to Luke 10:1-12 is the fact that the disciples are sent ahead of Jesus, yet reliant on the work of the Spirit in order for hospitality to be enacted. This fits with (2).
Or, in the words of An Introduction to the Study of Luke-Acts
“From this description of mission ‘strategy’ we could not possibly draw the notion of domination in any way.” (89) and “It is a mystery how this sense of the text could have escaped colonialist-minded missionaries. The idea of imposing a Christian culture on a receiving culture is foreign to this text.” (90)
People used to being in control, at the centre of a culture and a conversation (whether Christian or Muslim) will not find this easy. However, our Biblical story, the narrative of Luke 10:1-12, offers us resources. So “Lukan/Biblical” applause to Richard Sudworth and the Christian-Muslim forum for finding a creative way beyond those two poles of silence and hostility.