How are Christians called to engage with people of other belief systems?
Recently, I helped lead a retreat with year 12 students. In the small group which I ran, two students openly talked about their use of rocks and crystals for healing. They spoke about how these different types of rocks, such as jade, had healing properties. Immediately I thought “this is wrong” and “isn’t the Christian teaching that Jesus is the Son of God more correct and ultimately more powerful?” But….I realised in that moment I could create a slanging match or debate about who is right and who is wrong. “Of cause, I am right” I thought… But are these questions at the level of my own ego. Where my ego has an ambition always to be right and always be in control.
In the Gospels we see Jesus living for 30 years in the satellite town of Nazareth. Nazareth was a small town on the outskirts of the much larger Roman town of Sephoris. Sephoris was the second largest city in the entire Judea and Galilean region. Jesus does not confront the Roman religion head on. The Romans would be the most politically powerful. Instead, Jesus chooses to avoid the Roman religion. To remain hidden. But where we see Jesus encountering others of different beliefs and creeds, such as the Samaritan Woman at the Well, he enters conversation, he does not judge.
As Christians we are called to allow the other to be the other. To engage in conversation at a deeper level with people of different beliefs outside of our Christian context. This conversation is not about proving who is right and who is wrong. Rather, the conversation is about an appreciation and a desire to learn from the other who they are. There is a respect, trust and dignity that forms. This we called “interfaith dialogue”. Like Jesus sitting at the well listening. Not judging. But, rather seeing God expressed in hidden ways that we do not need to prove that we are right. In a school context of cause, we acknowledge our Christian beliefs and values. Yes, we teach Christian things. But the only religious debate or conflict that Jesus has is with his own religion. We are strengthened by the deeper question. The question is a doorway to God. Not a threat. As the Isaiah says “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”