Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Truth and fiction - common ground

Yesterday I had a conversation with a young non-European couple hoping to get married soon. One was of Buddhist background, the other making a journey towards Christian faith with a family member who attends a local Pentecostal Church. On Sunday they'd gone to that church and heard a guest preacher. In conversation afterwards about their martial intentions, the preacher had declared with conviction that their relationship could have no future if they were of different religions, or in this case with different religious backgrounds and inclinations.

I don't quite know how this squares up with St Paul's teaching about inter-religious marriage in 1 Corinthians 7 Yet again, I found myself doing damage limitation on people's impressions of the Gospel and Christian faith as a result of ideas propagated which simply don't bear scrutiny from the perspective of generous and long standing Christian tradition.

I wonder what impression this gave the young Buddhist, whose good will was evident in being willing to seek a Christian wedding because it would mean something important and affirming for the partner's spiritual quest. It reminded me of the story-line in BBC's radio 4 soap opera 'The Archers' at the moment where Alan the country Vicar has proposed to his long-standing Hindu lawyer friend Usha, a rural refugee from Wolverhampton. Alan, a widower is getting reproaches from his West Indian pentecostal mother-in-law, who is praying they'll see the light and not do the deed - plus there's the odd rural fascist poison pen letter in the mix as well. I'm amazed 1 Corinthians 7 hasn't yet come up in discussion between other church-going characters in the script, even more amazed that Allan hasn't argued this out with his bible bashing in-law citing Paul. The script writers have missed a trick here, unless of course Alan's fictional theological training didn't cover eventualities of this kind.

Marriage between people with identical faith and cultural convictions must be increasingly a rarity in such a mobile world as ours. The amazing thing is that people do love each other and want the best for each other and a life together in the face of their differences, and not ignoring them. It's tough, risky, and it goes wrong, particularly when one's nearest and dearest are unsupportive. But it's not impossible - simply because the foundation of mutual love is a gift from beyond, a wonder not to be taken for granted. The hard work comes in sustaining this deep appreciation in the face of years of familiarity and intimacy - and with it, an ever greater reward.

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