Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Mixed messages

Recently spotted that a local church had arranged for some Buddhist monks to visit, and they subsequently performed a ritual inside the church building, which they then went out from and offered to people's homes. It also happened a couple of years ago when it ruffled a few feathers.

I know I wouldn't have done the same in their vicar's shoes, but I have been trying to work out why not. Here's a bit of thinking aloud as a work in progress. I'd be really interested to see what other people think.

There is the obvious inconvenience of getting hassle from the "turn or burn" version of Christianity which would see other faith activity as potentially if not actually evil. However, I suspect I am going to upset people from that school of thought anyway at some point, so that's not a good enough reason in itself.

The more interesting questions are about the nature of sacred space, and also the integrity of Christian identity. here on campus, the policy is quite clear that the chapel is for Christian worship and is also used for music and arts performances which are appropriate for the context. Most members of other faith communities wouldn't want to worship in chapel anyway, and a multifaith prayer room is available, or other rooms can be used if more space is required.

This particular Buddhist group clearly didn't have any issue with using a church for their ritual. However, I do have a problem with a Christian building being used to effectively propagate another faith viewpoint. (The monks took sand from their ritual out to places in the community) That seems to be moving from hospitality to endorsement, which is different. The problem is that once you start suggesting boundaries, it's very easy to seem narrow-minded.

I suspect the issue behind this is the methodology for relating between faiths. Is it multifaith - trying to find common denominators and rituals and practise which are a compromise, or is it inter-faith, where no-one has to compromise their own identity, but learn to listen and have a dialogue with others who are different. Can't quite join up the conceptual dots, but I think that's it.

Join in.


Andrew Whitehead said...

I think I'm with you Mike. For me it's about the intention for the space and the role of that space in the community.
If you had a multiple use worship space for different faiths, then that would be a different matter. If, on the other hand, you had a specific worship space (for any religion), it would go against the intended role of that space for it to be used for another purpose.
I don't think there's anything magic or supernatural about a church building, but I do think that it is special, and should only be used for a specific purpose.

Mike Peatman said...

That's where I am too. Intention and role in the community are good ways to express it.

Steve McMahon said...

I suspect I know the place you refer to, and had similar concerns at the time. There was a certain amount of "hijacking" of that place of worship at the time and I don't believe it was the wisest of the incumbent's decisions.

But how far do we make the church building available for other usage? Could we use it to host a play propogating other ideas? Could we use it as a venue for a play that deals with homosexuality, for example?

My understanding is that the church a couple of years ago was not hired for a religious venue - I wasn't party to the original discussions. I do know that it all happened when I was left "in charge" and I was made incredibly uncomfortable by that - not least that the monks were not willing to tolerate our religious practices. I would not want to suggest that the incumbent was in agreement with the whole thing - I think he was "hustled".

The point still stands. Where do we draw the line when it comes to how we use sacred places. I recently agreed to a local church being used for an Oscar Wilde play ("An ideal Husband") to be performed. Was that wrong?

People crossed that threshold and saw the church. Was that a bad decision?

Interested to know your response

Mike Peatman said...

I share your question, Steve. What's the difference between a musical or dramatic performance in church, which most people are happy with, but which might not have a Christian world-view (or should we say meta-narrative) and this situation. My gut says it's different when it's a religious ritual, but I can't quite articulate why.

The other point about being 'hustled' feels all too familiar. As a vicar, one wants to be positive and say 'yes', but sometimes you only find out the consequences when it's too late. Then saying 'no' is much more difficult than it would have been in the first place. I've been there!!

Andrew Whitehead said...

I think it comes down to the intended purpose of the event. Christian worship is clearly the primary purpose for church spaces. A secondary purpose could be mission to the local community by supporting local events and entertainment. And I think it's different again to be asked to offer a place of Christian worship to be used for worship in another faith tradition.
On the other hand, I wouldn't see a problem with having other kinds of faith-based event in a church; discussion between people of different faiths, social events, exhibitions etc... I don't think I'd even be too bothered about the performance of theatre/music/art that was aligned with another faith. To me, this isn't at odds with the primary purpose for the space.
I don't know if that made sense.

Andrew Whitehead said...

I don't think I quite achieved coherence there!

If the intended purpose of the event is Christian worship, great!

If the intended purpose of the event is not Christian worship, but doesn't sit at odds with Christianity (morally/ethically, practically), then maybe it's ok.

If the intended purpose of the event is worship from a non-Christian perspective, I think that's pushing it a bit far.

Mike Peatman said...

I think I'd even be happy with movie/play/music that challenged Christianity, provided it was introduced as such and the context was an opportunity to respond and discuss how our faith might address the issues raised.

Matthew McMurray said...

I am not sure if I would have allowed such an event to take place, but I think it is much more complicated than that.

An interesting point might be that, as I understand it, the monks use the little side chapel that doesn't seem to be used for any worship activities anymore.

I think my preference would have been to allow the monks to use the Church hall.

I know that there were certain individuals who really did get their feathers ruffled and knickers in a twist last time as though there were going to be nasty spirits around because of these dark practices. Okay, I caricature slightly but...

I would (strangely) be more worried by the whole idolatry (or rather anti-idolatry) passages in the Scriptures. Not that I believe we should slay them all but it all seems a bit messy and clumsy to allow tem to use part of the Church building.

Apparently, the Bishop of Lancaster is losing sleep over it as well. Right, nobody tell the Bishop of Carlisle...then we really will be in trouble.

Hannah said...

On the other hand I heard at house group the other day that a vicar who said no to a lady wanting to use the building for toddler yoga has been slated in the press and live on gmtv, who were apparently very negative to his unwillingness to allow the space to be used by the community.

I agree with the view that its about the use of a sacred space, I would feel uncomfortable going into a Buddhist temple to worship - I think. Although when we went on an RE trip from St.Martin's to the Buddhist temple at Ulverston we were pretty much forced to sit through a mediation so I prayed instead and God was still there but i wasn't comfortable.

Emma said...

I equally felt uncomfortable when we went to the Hindu Mandir in Preston and had to sit there while they had a time of prayer, particularly when they came round with banana that had been offered to the gods for us to eat...

Matthew McMurray said...

I think Paul dealt with that issue in one of his letters didn't he. To summarize clumsily: you can eat it knowing that there is but one God - the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the father of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if you're with somebody who doesn't think they can, might be a bad idea to eat it.

A lot of people at the Church concerned seem to think it is a good thing; my feelings are still mixed.