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Unity and uniformity in religion

Our world is becoming more and more divided because of the deep division within the human heart. This intra-personal conflict could be the reason for the high rate of suicide in the modern society. The neighbour and the community around a person who is robbed of interior peace could be in serious danger with the attendant challenges of inter-personal and intra-community conflict. Some conflicts are ignited by people who have no interior peace just as most riots in schools are ignited by students who lack the capacity to pass their examinations. Some people who lack peace within them could be schizophrenic with divided personalities. What are the causes of these conflicts? According to Saint James, these conflicts come from the passions at war within a person who crave for what he does not have. This could lead to quarrel, fighting and killing (James 1:4-2). Intra-personal conflict is a human syndrome that can make anybody a victim. It should not be surprising therefore if a religious leader becomes a progenitor or agent of division that could linger for centuries. Peace builders should therefore strive to identify dividers and connectors in fostering unity and peaceful co-existence in the society,

Jesus was fully aware of the division within the human heart that could lead to the division of the entire community of believers. He was aware that the division in the human hearts would lead to division in the Church so he prayed earnestly that the Church may be one and that through the mission of the Church the world would be united (John 17). He told his followers that the hour is coming when anyone who kills them would think that he is doing a holy duty for God (John 16:2). Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you should be in agreement and that there should be no divisions among you, but that you should be united in the same mind and the same purpose (I Corinthians 1:10). To the Colossians, he wrote, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace (Colossians 3, 12-15). “For just as the body is one and have many members, and all the members of the body, though many are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, Jews or Greeks, slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).  Muslims are enjoined to be good to the neighbour who is a relative and to the neighbour who is not a relative” (Qur’an, 4:36). This shows that Islam should have great respect for the mutual rights and duties of neighbours. This is a clarion call to unity in diversity.

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To promote unity, Christians from different denominations sometimes come together in the form of inter-denominational worship. Ecumenism implies that there is a rift in relationship. The Second Vatican Council proposed ecumenism as the effort towards full communion of the separated Churches for reconciliation and healing. Initially only a few Churches were separated by doctrine, history, and practice. The call by the Second Vatican Council for visible unity of the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant Churches was not a call for uniformity but a call to unity in diversity (Unitatis Reintergration 13-14). This is because the different Churches may not be able to form a merger Church with the same mode and law of operation. What could not happen is for the different Churches to strive for a unity of purpose in the context of the one Mission of Christ who is the Good Shepherd (John 10:14-16).

Jesus came to give abundant life (John 10:10). Christians must ensure that no one irrespective of religion, tribe, colour, political affiliation is deprived of life. Jesus prayed that his followers may be protected. “Holy Father, protect those you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one” (John 17:11). Jesus had concern for those outside his fold. “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one” (John 17:20-21). He rebuked his disciples for stopping a non-member of the community who was performing miracles in his name (Luke 9:49). We must therefore be united like the vine and the branches. “I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5).

We should not forget that every Church is unique just as every human person is unique. Every Church is unique with unique structures and organogram. Some Churches may be content with singing and sharing the word of God while others cannot survive without the word of God and the Sacraments. For instance, the liturgy especially the celebration of the Holy Eucharist is central to the Catholic Church. That the Catholic Church desires to celebrate the Holy Eucharist apart from inter-denominational fellowship and service does not mean that the Catholic Church is causing division. Even within the Catholic Church, unity does not mean uniformity. The same passages of scriptures are read in the entire Catholic world. The theme of the readings is the same but the application during the homily varies from one priest to the other. In the same Catholic Church, there exist different Religious Congregations of men and women like the Dominicans, Jesuits, Franciscans, Holy Handmaids of the Child Jesus, Eucharistic Heart Sisters, Immaculate Heart Sisters, Dominican Sisters, Sacred Heart Sisters, Notre Dame Sisters, etcetera with different habits to identify each congregation. Within the same Church, there are different pious societies like Legion of Mary, Sacred Heart, Charismatic Renewal, Catholic Women Organization (CWO), Catholic Men Organization (CMO), Catholic Youths Organization of Nigeria (CYON) etcetera.

Faith is a gift from God. Many people did not choose the particular religion they practice. There are so many religions in the world but these religions are united in the belief in one God. However, their concept of God may differ in the way they relate to God. Freedom of religion is not a call to disunity and division of humanity. That we worship God in different ways must not stop us from common social actions in the form of dialogue of social engagement. We need to continue our dialogue of theological exchange, religious experience, dialogue of life, dialogue of love and dialogue of encounter to be able to understand our differences and accept our common humanity and faith in God. May God make us one in our diversity and turn our divisions to unity of purpose.

Rev. Fr. Cornelius Omonokhua is the Executive Secretary of Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) (nirec.ng@gmail.com)

 

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