Walking Beside Our Neighbour

by the Revd Charlotte Bannister-Parker, University Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford

Charlotte BP 3

Everyone of us has been appalled and deeply shocked by the wicked terrorist attack in Manchester on Monday night. We abhor the horror; we mourn the terrible loss, and the deliberate targeting such young, innocent lives. The aim of the attack was to create a climate of fear designed to shatter peace and tear communities apart.  All our thoughts, prayers and condolences are with those affected by the terrible atrocity.

Despite the destructive aims, the opposite has occurred. Yesterday’s one minute silence, a time for prayer and reflection, showed the Mancunians —  all people, all races, all religions — standing together and then bursting forth at the end with long applause. We have also seen extraordinary acts of kindness to random strangers, feelings of strength and unity, unbowed spirits and moving tributes to those still fighting for their lives.

Radicalisation, terrorism and all forms of extremism are abhorrent, and we must fight back in every way and on every level. We must make community cohesion and international cooperation priorities amongst all faiths. It was pleasing to hear Iman Monawar Hussain, Founder of The Oxford Foundation, say that “One thought on Manchester is that not a single classical Jurist has justified the killing of innocent people, what is happening now is anti-Islam and against all that the religion stands for”.1

And one of the most moving pictures from Manchester showed an Imam and elderly Jewish women side by side expressing solidarity for victims of Monday night’s bombing. Imam Sadiq Patel and Renee Black (93 years old) prayed together, having traveled together from Blackburn to express unity and compassion for the victims.

Such images and actions are important testament to combat hatred and division. And Oxford also hosts an interfaith action which tries to do just that.  On the eve of the transfer of power to Iraq in 2004 over 14 years ago, I founded an Interfaith Friendship Walk in recognition of the need for community cohesion. We walked from the University Church, St Mary the Virgin, to the Central Mosque in Manzil Way, Oxford in solidarity against the brutality to Iraqi prisoners in Basra prison. The following year the Jewish community joined, so the walk now starts at the Oxford synagogue, and goes from there to St Mary’s and then on to the Mosque, sharing prayers at each place of worship. The walk is led by a Bishop, a Rabbi and an Imam and now includes 9 other faiths, such as Hinduism and Sikhism.  Movingly, the Jewish community makes cakes and delivers them to the Mosque so we can all share a meal at the end of the walk. This event has fostered community cohesion, friendship, mutual respect, and fosters dignity in our difference. And out of this trust and shared action Oxford has created a Council of Faiths, which on Tuesday evening held a candle-lit vigil for those who lost their lives in Manchester.

Sadly, some Christians have declined to participate because the aim of the Inter-faith Friendship Walk is about conversation not conversion, about friendship not judgement.  Their response has saddened me deeply, as it indicates an agenda of separateness, and underscores their belief that there is an ‘other’ with whom it is impossible to connect. This kind of thinking has often been referred to as the “sheep and goat” theology.  2. (For many, I too am a “goat” because of gender, as I am a women priest in ministry teaching and leading worship).

Interestingly the Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, The Rt Revd Dr Martyn Percy, said that in the early 1990s the LGBT community was regarded in a similar vein in conservative Christian circles. He said that at that period “Gay men and women are “the other”, not thought to be in the “kraal of the redeemed”. 3

The avoidance of the “other,” whether they are of another faith or a Christian of different theological persuasion, does not work. In a speech he made in St Martin in the Fields called “Who is our neighbour? The Ethic of Global Relations,” the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, said we cannot afford now not to engage with the “other” in a deep and profound way. By referencing the story of The Good Samaritan, he claimed, “It is not a matter of deciding who out there deserved to be loved by you. It is a question of your decision to be a neighbour, your decision to be someone who offers life to others. This is a basic choice, which turns our lives into life-giving realities”.  He continued:

To love our neighbour is to love the person who can save our lives. The extra catch in the parable of The Good Samaritan is that we never know quite who that person is. It is likely to be the most improbable person around, so our openness to neighbourliness has to be profound, all encompassing, all embracing thing”. 4

On Monday night the world saw people acting as true neighbours.  Taxi drivers, homeowners, emergency workers, doctors and nurses all came to help those in need and brought light into the darkness.

Narrow conservatism and inflexible dogmatism prevent believers from seeing that they have more in common with the “other” than one might first understand.  All of us of faith need to encourage and to engage with the “other” in open-hearted and open-minded ways. As the OT scholar Professor Bruce Birch said, “the basic meaning of Shalom is peace – a wholeness, a state of harmony among God, humanity and all religions”. 5

Only with this can we all fight shocking extremism, radicalisation and terrorism. Then there is a possibility that there may be light where there is darkness, hope where there is despair. We as people of faith, can choose understanding over hatred, love over fear, hope over desperation.  Without this understanding, we are failing Christ and all those who lost their lives on Monday night.


  1. Iman Monawar Hussain: The Oxford Foundation – Statement 26/5/17
  2. Matthew 25 31-46: The Sheep and the Goats.
  3. The Revd Dr Martin Percy: The Wisdom of the Spirit Gospel, Church and Culture.
  4. Lord Rowan Williams: Who is my neighbour? The Ethics of Global Relationships. Autumn Lecture Series. St Martin’s in the Field. London. 2016.
  5. Prof Bruce Birch: The Predicament of the Prosperous. Chapter V11 p149


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11 Responses to Walking Beside Our Neighbour

  1. Philip Almond says:

    I promised Jayne Ozanne not to post anymore on via media. I am asking her to make an exception for this post please since the point I want to make is not about the sexuality disagreement. But I am of course OK if she does not post it.

    A fundamental disagreement among those who believe Christianity is in some sense true is about which of the following options is true:

    1 Finally, everybody will be saved. Whatever ‘saved’ means
    2 Finally, not everybody will be saved, some will be lost. Whatever the criteria are which decides. Whatever ‘saved’ and ‘lost’ mean.

    Among those who believe that option 2 is true are some who also believe that the Bible is trustworthy and so believe that Jesus said all that the Bible claims he said. One of the things he said is, ‘Love your enemies, do well to the ones hating you…’. So, although we often fail miserably to obey him, those of us who believe Jesus said that are commanded to love the ‘other’, whoever the ‘other’ is.

    But Jesus also talked about the narrow way that leads to life and the broad way that leads to destruction and the final separation of the sheep from the goats. Clearly Jesus believed that option 2 is true and that there would come a terrible time when even he would not ‘connect’ with some ‘others’: ‘Go from me having been cursed ones…’; ‘Never I knew you; depart from me the ones working lawlessness’.

    The paramount responsibility of all who believe that Jesus said these things must surely be to pray and behave and preach and speak in such a way that more and more people will believe that option 2 is true and will embrace the salvation from the wrath to come sincerely and genuinely offered by the triune God through the atoning death and life-giving resurrection of Christ.

    Phil Almond

    • ckatsarelis says:

      It doesn’t matter whether Option 1 or Option 2, or any alternative, is true. What matters is that judgement is left exclusively in God’s hands. Exclusively. God does not need human gate keepers. Our job is to love and include, and there is nothing loving about exclusion. God can handle this. The more we focus on the vulnerable and marginalized, the more we are in sync with the commandments of Jesus. When we focus on gate keeping instead, we distract from the real job of following Christ, while creating a heap of hurt. Frankly, it is a lot harder to care for the poor, the refuge, the outcast, etc., because that actually costs us something. Gate keeping costs nothing.

      • Philip Almond says:

        Following Christ and obeying his commands includes paying heed to the warnings that Christ and his Apostles gave and preaching the promise of forgiveness of sins to all who repent and submit to Christ in repentance, faith, love, obedience and fear. Do you believe that Christ said all the things that the New Testament states he said?
        Phil Almond

      • ckatsarelis says:

        Yes, all but the fear. Some of the words that we translate in English as “fear” tend to be more accurately translated as “passion.” And that can be loving and compassionate, etc.

        I just don’t believe that Jesus or the NT addresses committed gay couples. Again, the best translations and understandings simply do not support the anti-gay readings. If the best scholarship tells us that, then it isn’t for humans to be gate keepers on that issue.

        I would also say that there’s room for continuing revelation, inspired by the Holy Spirit. That gets deeply into discernment that I think is impossible to achieve with people who have made up their minds and will not be moved by the fruits of the various understandings. The science is that accepting LGBTQI people hurts no one. Children of gay couples are as healthy (sometimes healthier) than those raised in heterosexual households. Gay clergy, musicians, and lay people make awesome contributions to the church. With those fruits, it’s pretty safe to leave judgement in God’s hands, as Jesus commands us to do.

  2. Philip Almond says:

    I have promised Jayne that I will not enter the sexuality debate on this site. My point in this exchange is: if you believe that Jesus said all that the NT asserts he said, including the quotes I gave in my first post and his explanation of the parable of the weeds in Matthew 13 do you agree that Jesus taught that my ‘option 2’ is true?
    Phil Almond

    • ckatsarelis says:

      My point is that God does the judging, not humans. Humans used to think Scripture justifies slavery, anti-semitism, and burning heretics (usually uppity women like those amazing medieval mystics). In the name of Scripture, crusades and wars have brought death and destruction. We need some humility, at least enough to take heed of Jesus’ words “Don’t judge.”

      Thus, “option 2” is completely irrelevant. You can get into deep discussions about salvation by works, or Grace alone, or ticking the right boxes and not the wrong ones. One can conduct oneself according to their beliefs, but not impose their beliefs on others. Judgement is God’s alone.

    • ckatsarelis says:

      We are commanded to love one another, not judge one another. Those are the strongest and clearest commandments. They are way clearer than interpretations of stories rooted in a culture so different from ours that true understanding may be impossible. Those parables can only be seen through the lens of the time. Divorce left women vulnerable. A day’s wages was justice, whether you worked 1 hour or all day. Temples to Baal were plentiful and bringing Christ to the gentiles required instruction that was quite specific to local pagan idolatry, including things like temple prostitution and eating food that had been offered to pagan gods.

      The Way of Jesus is love, compassion, justice, mercy… that much is clear. And it’s hard, we are called to create a just society that cares for the poor and resident alien. If one works hard to puzzle out the parables and NT writings for meaning, there’s a lot there to help form and shape one’s live. But it is problematic to justify judging others on the terms that one has interpreted for oneself.

  3. jayneozanne says:

    Can I suggest Time Out??

    • ckatsarelis says:

      Great idea! Thank you! I’ve got to go practice my fingered octaves. I learned a new approach to them at Juilliard last weekend.

    • Philip Almond says:

      Is that a suggestion or an instruction. I would like to continue this exchange but if it is an instruction I will stop posting.
      Phil Almond

Any thoughts?