Interreligious Relations

Discussion Time:

Healing Broken Relationships: The Church’s Primary Mission Task

Dr Ian Fry

The Christian Church has been blinded by a divisive focus on the statement attribution to Jesus that “No one can come to the Father except through me,” in John 14:6. The global reality now demands a fresh look at Jesus’ commands in Matthew 22 and 23. Jesus made it abundantly clear that love of the Lord our God with our heart, soul and mind is not complete unless we demonstrate through our mission to heal broken relationships that we love our neighbours as ourselves in accord with the law, justice and mercy. Our neighbours are asylum seekers, women cradling dying babies in the wreckage of their homes, and children with no beds, no school and possibly no parents, searching rubbish heaps for food. They are not all Christians. They follow many faiths, but they are all children of God; their faith is based on divine inspiration that someone experienced. It is as legitimate as our Christianity, and they are also subject to divine covenant. The church’s historic allegiances with greed-based imperial and commercial systems have plunged nations into wars that could propel humanity to near self-destruction through nuclear and biowarfare, and although people of other religions, especially our partner Abrahamic faiths, must share the blame and the responsibility to get out of this predicament, Christian scholars must take the lead. This paper outlines two proposals: 1. Adoption of a paradigm for religious education based on tracing the evolution of systematic religion and revelation of Divine Covenant involving three phases and circumstantial development of three streams: Indigenous and Vedic, Abrahamic, and Axial. 2. Reassessment of those developments and preparation of recommendations for institutional bodies of each faith to cull teachings that contribute to antagonism, mistrust and conflict and to provide enrichment programs enabling a clearer understanding of humanity’s relationship with, and response to God. This is already being taken up by a working group of the World Intellectual Forum which seeks support from major scholarly institutions. An overview of deepening crises that are dividing the global community into two blocs – the White Western Christian Bloc (WWCB) and the World Majority Peoples (WMP) – shows the urgency with which such plans must be tackled while congregations and regional bodies enhance dialogue through cooperative local ventures. The Oceanic context is set with a five-chart PowerPoint presentation showing imminent political, economic and religious entanglement that Pacific Islands face.

Some Christian Attempts at Healing with Buddhists in Sri Lanka Post-Independence

Malcolm Kreltszheim

The bombing of three Christian churches and three luxury hotels in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Easter Sunday 2019 that led to the killing of 259 persons by a local Islamic terrorist organisation not only sent shockwaves around that island, but was also symptomatic of generally anti-Western and anti-Christian sentiments that arose in former colonies. These atrocities can be traced to the prevailing Sri Lankan political and social instability that are a consequence of long-established anti-Christian sentiments in the island. They are also representative of the attitude of the Wesleyan, Anglican, Baptist and American missionaries who came to the island during the British colonial period (1796-1948) and continued that negative attitude to Buddhism demonstrated by the Portuguese (Roman Catholic) and Dutch (Reformed Church) before them in the period 1505-1796. This attitude was rooted in the Christian/British belief that the Buddhists were uneducated and that their Sangha (priesthood) was cool to the more aggressive tactics and writings of the missionaries, which engendered a distrust and ignorance of the true Buddhist philosophies and traditions. It led to a significant backlash by the Buddhists from the mid-19th century that continues to reverberate to this day, as evidenced by the rise of Sinhalese-Buddhist institutions and political, cultural, economic power and influence at the expense of Christian and Western institutions. This paper offers an interesting scenario that fits very appropriately into the theme of the conference, ‘Encountering God: Practical Theology and the Mission to Heal’, because it traces two good examples of outreach by two leading Christian traditions – the Roman Catholics and the Anglicans - in a practical, theological endeavour to heal deep rifts in a small country in which Buddhists make up more than 70% of the population. It is a recognition by some Christians of the critical mistakes made by the British missionaries in the colonial period in their attempts to convert the overwhelmingly Buddhist majority in the island and who sought to establish the superiority of Christianity by learning Pali and Sanskrit, the languages of the ancient Buddhist scriptures, in order to attack sacred Buddhist principles. These examples of outreach were through ‘performative’ means by these Christians as they sought rapprochement with the Buddhists. They were initially successful, but have recently regressed, unfortunately again because of Christian arrogance and Buddhist reactions. The paper will consider two prime examples; by Fr Aloysius Pieris SJ (born 1934) who established the Tulana Research Centre in 1974 and the late Sevaka Yohan Devananda (1928-2016), the scion of a wealthy and influential Sinhalese Anglican family, who established an ashram, Devasaranaramaya (Monastic Garden of God’s Refuge), in the late 1950’s.

Christians’ Inter-religious Dialogue with Muslims, Using the Method of ‘Negative Theology’

Dr Hanna Hyun

Based on Greek-Arabic relations during Medieval, this article attempts to introduce ‘Negative Theology’ as a new Dialectical Model for engaging Islam. In the middle of recent discussions on the features of negative theology, Aydogan Kars affirmed difference between the medieval Sufis’ and the Mu‘tazilites’ Negative theology. The apophatic approach to the nature and essence of Allah was acknowledged by the Mu‘tazilites, on the other hand, Sufis contributed significantly to the elaboration of Allah’s attributes, in particular, his communicable attributes. Thus, it is proved that negative theology requires a concrete theological context and critical use in expositing God’s essence and his attributes. The medieval Islamic theologians, both Mu’tazilites and Sufi, emphasized, tawhῑd, the oneness of Allah, through negative theology of the nature and attributes of God. St. John's negative theology, however, enumerated God’s attributes and demonstrate God as the Triune God in Christianity. John of Damascus, the Syriac church father living under the conquer of Islam, was a Christian apologist who affected the Eastern church theologies significantly. As he took a dialectical approach to Muslims through the Trinitarian mystery, Christians today can get a lesson from this negative theologian’s attitude toward Islamic faith. John of Damascus and Eastern Orthodox Church fathers engaged Islam with a humble attitude and admitted human’s limited knowledge before God’s transcendent Wisdom but hoping to deliver the completion of His revelation, Wahy, through Christ. Christians invited to this missional apologetics can apply this epistemological foundation to the theological discourse between two religions.