Thursday, June 1, 2006
Michael Henderson

Catholic, Jew and Protestant, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist and Confucianist all find they can change where needed and travel along the good road together.

IT WAS AN American clergyman who introduced me to the importance of valuing other faiths besides my own. He was ahead of his time in appreciating that you did not need to water down what you believed in order to find unity. He was never slow to share his own source of power, but as a Christian respected the way God’s spirit could work through any other person.

I write of Frank Buchman, the initiator of Moral Re-Armament, now Initiatives of Change. ‘Catholic, Jew and Protestant, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist and Confucianist,’ he said in a speech in 1948, ‘all find they can change where needed and travel along the good road together.’ Interestingly, he also believed that the Muslim nations, stretching from Morocco to Indonesia, could be ‘a girder of unity’ for the world. He was sensitive, too, to those who rejected the idea of God. On one occasion, at a dinner he gave for an atheist, he dispensed with saying grace, asking all to sing, ‘For he’s a jolly good fellow’.

That broad attitude was a big development in the thinking of a small-town American brought up in a fundamental Christian faith. Over the years it often involved him in controversy as some Christians, and even some Christian bodies, felt that his approach was a watering-down of faith. In the same way, I suppose, that Prince Charles gets attacked for describing himself as ‘defender of faith’ rather than ‘defender of the faith’. Now this breadth of approach is becoming more accepted in British society. In fact, it is faith itself that is under attack, a development which underlines the increasing acceptance by people of faith that they need to work together.

In February 2006, for instance, the leaders of the different faith communities in Britain issued a joint statement with the Department for Education and Skills, establishing a National Framework for Religious Education. The Framework encourages pupils to ‘learn from different religions, beliefs, values and traditions, while exploring their own beliefs and questions of meaning, and develop respect for and sensitivity to others, in particular those whose faith and beliefs are different from their own’.

’We believe,’ say the signatories, who range from Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor of the Catholic Church to Sir Iqbal Sacranie of the Muslim Council of Britain, ‘that schools with a religious designation should teach not only their own faith but also an awareness of the tenets of other faiths.’

Rabbi Marc Gellman and Monsignor Thomas Hartman, in their book How Do You Spell God? (HarperCollins 1995) write, ‘We have no problem with people who believe that their religion is right. We have no problem with folks who believe that their religion is more right than any other religion. We do have a problem with people who believe that they have the only right religion and then go out and hurt other people because of it.’ They add, ‘If you hurt people because of what you think your religion teaches, it just proves that you never learned what your religion really teaches.’ They also were of the view that the way to show that your religion is true is not to yell and scream about it. ‘The way to show that your religion is true is to live it.’

I am sure Buchman would have approved of that sentiment.

Muslim scholar Maulana Wahiduddin Khan tells the story of the Prophet standing in respect as a funeral procession passed through the streets of Medina. A companion remarked, ‘Oh, Prophet, that was the funeral of a Jew, not a Muslim, and yet you stood up in respect.’ The Prophet answered, ‘Was he not a human being?’

We can take that to heart whatever our faith.

Michael Henderson is the author of ‘Forgiveness: breaking the chain of hate’, Grosvenor Books, 2002, ISBN 1-85239-031-X