Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Work of Peace

Photo of Anglican Bishop of Sri Lanka (Ceylon) Duleep de and Geeta de Chickera.

The Bishop and his wife came to visit Vancouver last week. Both of them came for a lunchtime visit to my school last week.

Now here is a man and woman, who have lived through 30 years of Civil War, the devastation of the tsunami, and now sadly as Anglicans have to deal with the chaos in the Communion. They both radiated such calm. He stressed so deeply the constant necessity of dialogue with our opponents--something Americans, boy, could they learn.

It was a real inspiration to me. I'm more and more impressed with the leadership, across denominations (Catholic, Anglican, Protestant), of the Asian Churches. Christians are a small percentage throughout Asia (something like 2%, although 2% of Asia is a massive number aggregately). And the vast majority of those are poor, degradingly poor. They don't really have time for debates on all these non-starter issues--people are dying. People are without hope.

They also, coming from cultures with vast and proud religious histories (Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Islam, Confucianism, Taoism, depending) are at the forefront of inter-religious dialogue. They come from wartorn areas--India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, China, Korea, Japan. Great givers of the wisdom of peace and reconciliation.

Plus given their relative smallness, Asian Chritians have also played a key role in the work of ecumenism. The Church of South India has united Methodists, Anglicans, Congregationalists, Reformed Churches. They realize that ecumenism and the unity of Christians will come when we finally just decide it will happen. When we start to take communion with one another, find ways for it to happen, and then build our systems from there.

Instead of trying to having theological debates first and going back through the history--Orthodox vs. Catholic, leavened versus unleavened bread, reformation versus Papacy, etc.

Unfortunately Bishop Duleep talked about the difficulties he has had with what he calls "new" churches. By which he means aggressively evangelizing Pentecostals, "evangelicals", etc. Most of whom would be categorized as fundamentalist.

One of the sadder stories has been such groups using medical care or child education as a ploy to get people in the door to then push an aggressive evangelizing agenda on them. And if you think that only happens in Sri Lanka, think again. I know of quite a few such churches in the States that will only give bread/soup to the hungry who first accept their message--who publicly proclaim Jesus Christ is their Savior...only then do they get food.

Which of course if read Matthew 25 is exactly what Jesus said right? Lord, when did we feed, clothe you? Answer: When you told the people to first accept me as their personal Lord and Savior and then gave them bread and clothing. Right? But my snarkiness aside, those gruops live in a world in which people must either accept Jesus Christ or they will burn. It is that simple--and simple-minded. So from their view, they will use "any means necessary" (and trust me, they do) in order to convert/evangelize. For them, it is their work of love.

Bishop also talked more generally about fundamentalisms across relgious divides--Buddhist fundamentalists (oh yes, liberal Westerners with your happy Buddha image, they exist, they are large force behind the Civil War in Sri Lanka), Islamic (where don't you get these guys?), Hindu, and Christian.

He said that the more moderate elements of each religious group are in charge of talking to, admonishing the fundamentalists. Which is totally wise. Sadly though he did say that it was generally tougher for the Christian moderates to "police" the Chrsitian fundamentalists than their Buddhist counterparts--don't know about Hindu/Muslim.

It really to me shames the Western and African Churches--on both sides sadly--for the pain into which this Communion has fallen. And just for the record, the Sri Lankan Church has just ordained its first woman, accepts the US Church's election of the first female Primate of the Communion, and has started a process of discussion on human sexuality.

People like these two--not abtruse theological debates--are the answer to simplistic analysis like Sam Harris. Where do these two fit in his schema? Mother Theresa? Desmond Tutu?


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