“I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”

Edward Everett Hale

Friday, 20 January 2012

United We Stand

This week is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The BBC Religion and Ethics website says that "If you ask Christians why they take part in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, their answers are likely to include some of these points:
  • A common desire to communicate God's love to all the world
  • Accepting that God's ultimate purpose is to unite all things in Christ
  • Obedience to the prayer of Jesus Christ "That all might be one" (John 17:21) and that "There might be one flock and one shepherd." (John 10:16)
  • Acknowledgement that Christ is the only one who can reconcile all things and people, and that Christ's people must pray for this reconciliation
  • Desire to show the Church as foretaste, instrument and sign of the unity of God's Kingdom
  • Acceptance that the Christian Church can only be the Church that God intended if all churches acknowledge their mutual interdependence
  • Desire to demonstrate a unity that is sometimes hidden by denominational differences through the act of praying together
  • Desire to achieve unity in a way that enriches rather than diminishes the legitimate diversity of local churches
Many people see it as their duty to pray not just for the unity of Christians but for the unity of all people who are made in God's image."

As a Unitarian, I believe that all people should be able to "seek truth and meaning for themselves" and not be bound to any particular creed or doctrine. So I cannot agree with some of the reasons given above - Christianity is a powerful religious path, but it is not the only valid one. Other religious traditions are just as important. I believe with Karen Armstrong, founder of the Charter for Compassion that "The one and only test of a valid religious idea, doctrinal statement, spiritual experience, or devotional practice is that it must lead directly to practical compassion. If your understanding of the divine made you kinder, more empathetic, and impelled you to express this sympathy in concrete acts of loving kindess, this was good theology. But if your notion of God made you unkind, belligerent, cruel or self-righteous, or if it led you to kill in God's name, it was bad theology. Compassion was the litmus test for the prophets of Israel, for the rabbis of the Talmud, for Jesus, for Paul, and for Muhammad, not to mention Confucius, Lao Tse, the Buddha, or the sages of the Upanishads."

However, I do find it heartening that Christians desire to "demonstrate a unity that is sometimes hidden by denominational differences through the act of praying together" and to "achieve unity in a way that enriches rather than diminishes the legitimate diversity of local churches". I attended a fascinating talk earlier in the week, by Bishop John Flack, who for five years was the Archbishop of Canterbury's representative in the Vatican. Bishop Flack gave a fascinating insight into the changing relationships between the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches. He made one comment towards the end of his presentation, which gives hope for the future. He said that there was a big gap in Rome between official statements and the actual tenor of relationships between the two denominations. For example, the Roman Catholic Church does not officially recognise Anglican orders, but Bishop Flack was called "beloved brother Bishop" by Pope Benedict, and was given a beautiful pectoral cross by Pope John Paul II. Signs can be more positive than words.

We live in a rapidly changing, often violent world, where poverty, sickness and war are all too common. It is time for all people of good will to be reconciled to each other, to see past differences of belief, and work together for a kinder, gentler, more just world, in which we can all live together in peace.

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