Ubuntu and Interfaith Relations (Ken and Betty Frank, Turkey)

Ubuntu and Interfaith Relations (Ken and Betty Frank, Turkey)

1 Corinthians 12:26-27 “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it: if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. Now you/we are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” 

How do we move beyond the body of Christ and apply “Ubuntu” to interfaith relations; for example, to relations between Christians and members of other faith traditions?

Ubuntu brings to our mind “The Golden Rule of Interfaith Relations: Theologize about others as you would have them theologize about you.” This formula was suggested by the Canadian scholar, Wilfred Cantwell Smith. We find it to be a healthy guideline in relating to people of different faith traditions, in promoting “togetherness.” We should ask ourselves if our behavior toward members of another faith tradition is the sort of behavior we would appreciate receiving from them.

Too often we American Christians conceive of mission as task-oriented problem-solving. We see needs in the world and we want to meet those needs. We want to solve those problems. We want to apply our skills and resources to improve life for others. While it’s true that these feelings are deep-felt responses to God’s call to service, it’s also frequently true that the solutions we envision are our solutions as American Christians, conceived without correspondingly deep understandings of what our involvement entails in another cultural, political, economic, and linguistic setting.

This is why the principle of partnership is so vital to our church’s mission work today. Maintaining and improving relations with local partners in various countries will help insure longer-lasting, relevant results. It will also mean the building of relationships that runs counter to the harmful and negative political prejudices of the day. It will be an application of the Golden Rule of Interfaith Relations.

According to Miroslav Volf in his recent book Allah: A Christian Response (Harper One, 2011), Christian mission is most often deeply offensive to Muslims. Even if Christian mission does not take the form of proselytization, even if it is only medical, educational or social service oriented, it is deeply resented.

As we participate with our partners in mission around the world, especially in interfaith settings, we need to apply the Golden Rule to our actions. We need to discuss what we plan to do with members of other faith traditions and more and more carry out mission with them – not to them.

Ken & Betty Frank served as missionaries with the American Board in Istanbul, Turkey. They shared the job of General Secretary of the American Board. They also served on the board of the Istanbul Interparish Migrant Program (IIMP).