The Sydney Statement and the ‘Big Plan of God’
Written by Rev Dr Amelia Koh-Butler, Seeking Common Ground Circle Advocate
Recently, I have been reading the stories approaching Easter, but doing the painstaking work of looking up all those “hyperlinks” in the text that reference Hebrew scripture themes and ideas. It seems like so much of the Jesus story is loaded with references to ideas I can only really start to grasp if I learn more about what things meant to Israel and the nations. As I start to see the big plan of God to reconcile all the world, I am then forced to look at other cultures, other languages and other religions.
We are different, but we also have a lot ‘in common’. Talking with people of other faiths helps me to be much clearer about who Jesus is for me. In talking about my experience of being a Jesus-follower with people who practice other religions, I am drawn closer to Christ. Every conversation is a testimony, not to criticise someone else for ‘being wrong’ but to share my faith and gratitude to God, especially for Easter.
Working in a multifaith environment and treating people of other religions with care and respect meant that last year, the students at Western Sydney Uni asked me about Easter. Why do we have a set of Holy Days and what do we do on them? I talked about how all our Jesus stories are connected and they all come together when we celebrate Communion. I talked about life and death, crucifixion and resurrection. I talked about the many different names for Jesus and the ways Christians from different denominations emphasise different parts of the Jesus story. I talked about how coming to be in relationship with Jesus is experienced as life-changing for individuals and communities.
Sharing that conversation last year has led to numerous invitations to speak about Christianity in other religious settings. Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Daoists, Sikhs… people want to live in peace with us. They want to learn why we think and act the way we do. Many of the young adults I have met choose to invest time and energy in working towards developing understanding and respect.
Youth PoWR (Parliament of the World’s Religions) is a coalition of young adults from different religions. The members of Youth PoWR, have listened and shared with each other the experiences of the best and the worst of interfaith relations in our city. Out of this conversation, has been crafted The Sydney Statement, a multi-faith charter for growing the multicultural and multi-religious society young people envision for themselves, their children and their grandchildren. Although named in terms of ‘Sydney’, it is relevant to our state, our country and our world. Although framed in terms of ‘religions’, it includes all faiths, beliefs and worldviews.
One of my favourite sections from The Sydney Statement is a commitment to a Dialogue of Life, where we live our faith in our everyday relations with one another:
- We will be passionately religious and compassionately interreligious.
- We will treat others as we want to be treated.
- We will show love, care and respect for others in our daily lives.
- We will promote mutual respect, understanding and cooperation between believers.
- We will acknowledge both our commonalities and our differences.
- We will support recognition of society’s religious diversity.
This Easter, many of my friends will share the stories of Jesus Christ that I shared with them last year. They do not profess to be Christians, but I can only pray that the Holy Spirit moves in the conversations. I pray that God is glorified.
After Easter, I will work to prepare an Iftar event, where Christians will host Muslim guests for one of the many ‘breaking of the fast’ meals held at the end of each day during Ramadan. We will offer Christian hospitality and we will invite our guests to share with us what is becoming important to them in their holy month of praying and reading their sacred texts. I dare to think that God might bless the table and the conversations.
Rev Dr Amelia Koh-Butler is the Seeking Common Ground Circle Advocate, Chaplain to Western Sydney University, and the Minister at Eastwood UC to Chinese, Korean and English-speaking communities.