At the biggest annual gathering of representatives from the Sydney Anglican denomination this week, a resolution was passed that specifically related to relations between Christians and Muslims. The resolution included:

While acknowledging that there are real and significant differences between the Islamic and Christian faiths, this synod (church council):

a) extends a peaceful welcome to Australian Muslims as our fellow citizens;
b) welcomes opportunities for standing alongside Australians of Islamic faith, where we agree, in matters of justice and social order, and in repudiating acts of terror;
c) and invites genuine, respectful and honest conversation with our Muslim neighbours on matters of ultimate significance.

Earlier this year, along with the Anglican Dean of Sydney, Kanishka Raffel, I attended a meeting called by Premier Mike Baird along with representatives of the Roman Catholic, Uniting, Baptist, and Hillsong Churches.

As someone who has been the victim of a terror attack, her words had a particular force.

At the meeting was Louisa Hope, who was wounded in the Lindt Cafe siege, and Dave Thompson, the pastor of the church she attends. Louisa pleaded with us as church leaders to take the initiative in extending the hand of friendship to our Muslim fellow-citizens. As someone who has been the victim of a terror attack, her words had a particular force.

The Premier called on us as churches to lead the way in extending the hand of friendship to the Muslim citizens of Sydney. He thought the Christian churches of Sydney were uniquely placed to show the way. With the election of Pauline Hanson and her colleagues to the Senate, largely on a tide of vocal anti-Islamic sentiment, the Premier’s call has become the more urgent.

It is important not to cover up reality. Let us be clear: the naïve way in which secular liberalism classifies Islam as a kind of variant on race simply won’t do. This is the bad habit of secular liberalism that we need to expose: its inability to deal with actual religious beliefs in any mature way, except by pretending that they don’t matter.

For we Christians, beliefs do matter; and disagreements about matters of ultimate reality cannot be papered over by holding hands and singing Kumbayah.

In Islam, we have a serious, venerable, and sophisticated worldview which makes ultimate claims upon men and women. Its links to military conquest are a simple fact of history. The theocratic claims of Islam are in evidence in nations as disparate as Malaysia and Saudi Arabia. We Christians in particular have felt keenly the sharp blade of Islamic attacks on our brothers and sisters in Syria, Egypt, Libya, and Nigeria.

This is an opportunity for the churches to take a lead in Australian society.

None of this is to be avoided. On the contrary.

But Louisa is right. This is an opportunity for the churches to take a lead in Australian society. It is an opportunity for us to witness to both our Muslim neighbours, and not our secularist friends. Because of the confidence we have that Jesus not only died, but is the risen Son of God, we need not approach our fellow citizens with fear, but with love. We can model the possibility of friendly but honest and peaceable disagreement even over matters as serious as the nature of God. We know what it is to repudiate violence and simple prejudice, but to do so while genuinely regarding the full humanity of those with whom we profoundly disagree.

Surely, this is what it means in our day to ‘live such good lives among the pagans’, as the apostle Peter said.

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Pray for better relations and discussions between Christians and Muslims in Australia.

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