United, Not Divided, By Faith

A Christian Science perspective on daily life.

A recent article in the Monitor reported on an interreligious conference sponsored by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in July, and stated, “Top-tier religious leaders in the Muslim world are emerging as major proponents of dialogue with Christians and other world faiths…. Those involved see the initiatives, if sustained, as breaking down misperceptions, strengthening mainstream religious voices on the world stage, and diminishing the influence of extremism” (“A global bid to connect Muslims and Christians,” July 29 ).

Also, a different series of conferences began this week at Yale University. That series is taking place in response to a letter, “A Common Word between Us and You,” sent last fall by Muslim leaders to leaders of Christian churches.

These efforts deserve our prayers, first so that their good purposes can be carried out safely and with no injury to those involved. That safety is an important issue is highlighted in a report from “Daily Outlook Afghanistan,” which says that a new Al Qaeda video is urging death threats against King Abdullah for sponsoring the July conference (July 30).

Our prayers can affirm God’s power to protect all who love Him, no matter what their religious belief might be. And as it turns our thoughts to God with a desire to love our neighbors, it also lifts us above fear, suspicion, and anger toward those who might be different from us. It is, essentially, asking God to help us see these individuals as our brothers and sisters, united under God’s government.

Jesus was well aware of how quickly divisions can form, and he was alert to the subtle way they can appear. At one point, a disciple told him, “Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us.” Such a sentiment might seem logical – after all, these other people weren’t getting as intense training as the disciples and yet were also healing people.

But Jesus responded differently. He told the disciple, “Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us” (Luke 9:49-50). Jesus knew that trying to establish formal criteria for one’s suitability to worship God would simply set up the kind of walls that the scribes and Pharisees had already created. He and his followers would be just one more exclusive club.

Jesus’ own actions – such as sending out 70 people to teach the Gospel in local communities – enabled him to get his ideas out to many others he couldn’t have reached if he’d been working alone.

This willingness to share ideas broadly and freely opens the way for understanding to grow and friendships to develop, even if people have differences. Common ground such as the Ten Commandments and other unifying parts of Scripture becomes more obvious when everyone has a place at the table. And building this understanding has a global impact because it lifts up a positive example that others can follow. This is one reason why enemies of unity resort to threats that would stop such dialogue from going forward.

Mary Baker Eddy’s writings provide an answer to that attitude, and the answer is the power of divine Love to make us all whole. She said: “I love the prosperity of Zion, be it promoted by Catholic, by Protestant, or by Christian Science, which anoints with Truth, opening the eyes of the blind and healing the sick…. I would no more quarrel with a man because of his religion than I would because of his art” (“The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany,” p. 270).

Prayer for the conference can support the healthy dialogue that includes an exchange of views, without developing into a logjam of anger or frustration. Love and understanding can eliminate doubts that might break down dialogue. These qualities of thought will unite the participants and their constituencies even while enabling them to maintain the core values of their faith. Nor does fear have power to prevent dialogue from going forward or to convince people to stay away because of possible violence.

In her comments about loving one’s neighbor, Mrs. Eddy wrote, “What we love determines what we are” (Miscellany, p. 270). If all people who truly love God unite in one affection, they will do much to move the world toward a lasting and joyful peace.