Overcoming Global Hatred: Nurturing Respect and Understanding Among Different Faiths

The religious perspective of Christian faith on this topic can be summarized in two words: love and forgiveness. The challenge to make these two words--so trite in their expression--mean something for us, is only surpassed by the challenge to live that meaning.

Where does the high teaching on forgiveness and love find expression in Christianity? The keynote theme of the mission of Jesus of Nazareth was the coming of God's reign. The notion of God's reign was not invented by Jesus or the early church; it has deep roots within the theology and history of Israel. Jesus words and actions indicate that forgiveness and love characterize God's reign. This is the teaching we have from Jesus:

You have heard that it was said: 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy'. But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you so that you may be children of your Father in heaven, for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? (Mt 5: 43-47)

In several of Jesus stories (e.g. the Pharisee and the publican, Lk 18:9-14; the prodigal son, LK 15:11-32) another point is made: that in order to please God, besides being faithful and good, we must also be merciful and wish to forgive, to forgive "seventy times seven times" (Mt 18:22), that is, without limit.

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Mt 6: 14,15)

God's own compassion and gracious forgiveness become the model for love of enemies and reconciliation within the community. The founders and most outstanding representatives of all our spiritual traditions are called "masters." Masters do more than teach-they live what they teach. Their lives witness to their ideas. We find such coherence between what Jesus said and what he lived; even in the throes of agony upon the cross, his prayer was: "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing."

Not surprisingly, we who follow such masters fall short of such heroic integrity. Yet the ideal is set before us: as a community of Christian believers, gifted with Jesus' own Spirit, we are called to be ministers of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:19-20), a people who make the peace of God visible through lives characterized by forgiveness and love.

How is this to be lived out in concrete terms? For a Christian, love implies the absolute demand for justice, that is, the recognition of the dignity and the rights of one's neighbor. In Christian faith, every person reflects something of the visible image of the invisible God, so whoever loves God and neighbor must commit to liberating people from injustice-economic, social, and political.

In his preaching, Jesus proclaimed the intervention of God's justice on behalf of the needy and oppressed. Further, Jesus identified himself with those who were least:

Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me (Mt. 25:40)

There is no separating Jesus teaching on love from the work for justice that promotes the good of the whole person, of every human being and society as a whole. In practical terms, this work seeks to eliminate excessive economic, social, and cultural iniquities, thereby providing a solid foundation upon which we can construct a true peace.

So as Christians our religious perspective is shaped by Jesus' teaching on the Reign of God, characterized by forgiveness and reconciliation, by justice and peace. We recognize that there is a tension between our vision of this reign as he proclaimed it and its concrete realization in history. Short of the fullness of the kingdom, we believe that peace is possible, but that it will not be permanent or total in a world marred by the presence of sin within the human heart. To establish that reign means the transformation not only of the human heart but also of the oppressive social structures that dehumanize and exclude the poor and the defenseless.

The proclamation of Jesus reveals that God is a saving God whose coming will effect personal and social transformation, a God whose coming calls for a decisive response and whose appearance will provoke judgment for those whose way of life is not in accord with the reality of that reign.

What kinds of things can we then do to be active collaborators in the preparation for this Reign of God? How can we nurture respect and understanding, forgiveness and love among all God's children?
Most of all, through education: in family activities, in our local temples, parishes, synagogues, and mosques. Education, at all levels of formal learning, is a key and practical ingredient to changing hearts and opening minds.

Family life provides crucial opportunities to impart values which foster respect and understanding. Parents can offset the violence in today's world through the development of nonviolent, cooperative attitudes and skills in children in a home environment that supports affirmation, cooperative chores and games. Similarly, creating time for family prayer and family meetings to resolve domestic conflicts. Parental example is crucial since a husband and wife who work for marital harmony provide irreplaceable role models.

In our religious communities, perhaps our greatest challenge is to encourage the assembly to think of local work for justice, the foundation of true peace, as a necessary dimension of our efforts to overcome hatred. Work for justice is not some marginal cause, relevant to only a few "activitist" members within our communities.
We must also in our communities learn how to be good hosts, such as you are doing today, and good guests. How can we come to love one another and to appreciate each other's spiritual wisdom and public witness unless we come to know one another? That means being ready to both invite others into our space, and to go visit them in theirs.

Formal education about other religious communities remains indispensable. In the past year in our parish we recently offered an adult education course on Islam and initiated a Jewish-Christian dialogue group with members from a local synagogue.

At every level, grade school, high school, and university, we need to cultivate awareness of our interdependence as citizens of this city and as people of faith, and to present the challenge of developing imaginative solutions to our conflicts.

Nurturing respect and understanding is a task of the spiritual life. The economy of spiritual goods is different from the economy of material goods. The more you give away material goods-money, land, houses, clothing and food-the less you have and the poorer you are.

The economy of spiritual goods is quite the reverse. The more we give, the more we receive; the more we surrender, the more we have. The more we love, show solidarity, spread good will and practice forgiveness, the more we feel humanized and go away enriched.
One of the most surprising and even scandalous dimensions of the message of Jesus is the proclamation that God is a God of unconditional love and unlimited mercy. He offers his love and forgiveness to all, even when that love is not returned. This is the challenging religious perspective that must shape a Christian response to the events of our times.