A presentation of various rules, principles, guidelines, or attitudes that inform effective interreligious or interfaith dialogue.
A presentation of various rules, principles, guidelines, or attitudes that inform effective interreligious or interfaith dialogue.
I had asked my students to create their own rules of interreligious dialogue (IRD). They were allowed to research and borrow from others, but the end result and explanation should be their own. I was quite pleased with the results. Here are a few of the lists (minus the explanations):
1. Converse Despite the Differences
2. Converse with Knowledge of One’s Own Identity
3. Converse to Seek Understanding (of the other’s perspective)
4. Converse with Open Mind and Heart
5. Converse with Silence (focus on listening)
6. Converse to Strengthen One’s Faith
7. Converse to Build Relationship with the Other
8. Converse as an Act of Glorifying God
Don’t Lie (be sincere)
Involve the Church
Assume Not (what the other believes)
Learn and Grow (be open to change)
Observe Self-reflection (be open to challenge in the process)
Go with Respect (demonstrate courtesy)
Understand Your Own Belief
Equal Your Footing (demonstrate fairness and mutuality)
I will give just the above three lists. However, from others in the group were some good rules to remember as well. Here are some.
Each year in my Dialogue with Asian Relgions class, I have my students visit a local mosque. I also have them visit the Sikh temple and the Budhist temple. And sometimes other places are visited. The Sikh temple has been the favorite so far. But I especially want them to visit the mosque and the Buddhist temple since those are the places of worship of the two groups that my students are most likely to interact with with regards to other world religions.
The experience at the mosque is always different. I tell my students, however, that they are not to proselytize. They are to listen and to learn.
Each year there is some small attempt by those at the mosque to try to persuade my students that they really should join their religion. I am glad they do this because I want my students to learn the art of listening. If they learn the art of listening, they learn a skill that few if any have mastered.
A few years ago, the presentation the imam used to try to gently suggest that the students should become Muslim was pretty abysmal. The argument boiled down to something like “Islam is not a religion but an ideology. It has adherents in every country on earth and is the fastest growing.” If one was of a mind to argue one might respond with “#1. There is no clear line separating ideology and religion, and since Islam has chosen to embrace most of the trappings of a traditional religion, calling it an ideology does nothing to enlighten. #2. Christianity has adherents in every country on earth as well. It would be pretty likely that this would be true of Hinduism and Buddhism as well. Hardly an interesting bit of trivia. #3. In sheer numbers Islam is growing faster than Christianity right now, but both religions have gone back and forth over the centuries in who is winning the adherent race. Not very persuasive, and even less so in that many religions have a growth rate (including Evangelical Christianity) that far outstrips Islam. And finally, the ideology of secularism right now is almost certainly growing in numbers faster than either Christianity of Islam.” Sorry, did not mean to turn it into an argument. But you can see that the presentation was really poor.
Last year one of the young men at the tawhid school there tentatively tried to start a debate. My students told him that they were not there to argue but to listen and learn. (I love it when my students listen to my instructions. Some years they do not.)
This year, my students described the presentation my the mosque leadership as “persuasive.” That is quite different from what has come back to me in the past. Therefore, I asked them to talk about the presentation. A few key points came up:
First, The presenters first noted the many things in common between Christianity and Islam. We worship the same God (well… sort of). They (Muslims) see the Old and New Testaments of the Bible as written by God, and they also see Jesus as a prophet of God and a miracle worker.
Second, They noted differences after first noting the similarities. They see the Bible as having become distorted due to copy errors and translation, thus explaining why it disagrees with the Quran, Hadith, and Islamic theology. They also noted that they do not see Jesus as being one with God.
So why did my students find this presentation to be more persuasive than that from previous years? Clearly, there were problems with their presenation. The part where they say that Jesus is not part of the Godhead is hardly new. Most people are well aware that Muslims see God as having oneness without discernible divisions. They also balk at most anything that presents God in terms of immanence (with the exception of some Sufist groups). The part where they suggest that the Bible would agree with the Quran and Islamic beliefs if it weren’t copy and translation errors… well as seminary students they knew that this is highly dubious. We have the Bible available in the original languages so there is no errors from that. As far as copy errors, perhaps 300 years ago that argument may have sounded plausible. But in the last couple of centuries there have been great strides in textual criticism. It is pretty clear that there are substantive differences between the message of the original autographs of the Bible and the message of the founder of Islam (as it was compiled a few decades after his death at least).
Since the second part of the presentation wasn’t very compelling, presumably what made it compelling would be the first pat. This was the part where the presenter pointed out all the things that Muslims and Christians can agree with. Of course, these agreements were a bit deceptive. To say that Muslims agree that the Bible was from God, but since they teach that it is reliable only to the extent that it was correctly transmitted– and correct transmission is only recognized if it doesn’t disagree with the Quran— the Bible is given NO AUTHORITY by the followers of Islamic teaching. However, that is not whay my students heard. They did not hear the presenters say that Muslims give the Bible no authority. What they heard was that Muslims believe they Bible was given by God.
This is classic marketing, right out of Dale Carnegie. Carnegie noted that to influence another person, get them as soon as possible to say “Yes” to you or “I agree.” Additionally, to get them to agree with you, you agree with them as much as you possibly can. A lot of Christian evangelists and evangelistic presentations seem more focused on disagreeing with or discounting others beliefs.
Interestingly, Paul focused on agreement in his presentation to the Athenians. He agreed with the philosophers on many many things, before finally bringing up the divisive point of the resurrection of Christ.
What the presenters at the mosque did was actually what we as Christians should be doing. Start with finding common ground and agrement, before bringing up differences. Although their argument was, to be honest here, a bit weak, it sounded strogner because they started with building agreement from the beginning.
In sharing our faith, we should START WITH AGREEMENT, NOT ATTACK AND NOT ARGUMENT!
A nice article below on addressing those who have “lost their faith.” Although speaking of a number of different religions, and a number of different Christian traditions, it primarily focuses on Evangelical Christians who have ultimately come to the conclusion that Christianity is false (along with other religions), and there is no God.
Now I know that there are many Evangelicals who, as they read this, are already getting ready to jump in on some matter of eternal security, and say that if they lost their faith, then they must never have had faith in the beginning (‘You can’t lose a faith that you never had’). A few might go the other way and suggest that if they really were saved by faith, then this APPARENT lack of faith is just a phase that will eventually work itself out. Some from a different theological camp (those who reject perseverance of the saints’) would take this situation as support for their beliefs. These are unuseful perspectives.
The situation of religious people losing their religion is a genuine human condition, and trying to tie it into the theology of the ultimate fate of man, while important for theologians, is avoiding addressing the phenomenon honestly. People matter more than theological arguments.
One thing I like about the article is that, although it was written by one who is an apologist (Paul Chamberlain is director of the Institute of Christian Apologetics at Trinity Western University), the recommended method he gives for constructive engagement with those who have lost their faith is NOT to argue with them. He gives several tips. I will here include #2.
Second, somewhere in our discussion it’s helpful to ask the most basic question of all, namely what exactly were they rejecting when they walked away? Then we must encourage them to share their stories fully while we restrain our natural impulses to interrupt and correct. Spoiler alert – this will not necessarily be easy listening. Their responses may be personal, emotional or intellectual, but there is nothing to be gained by avoiding the issues. Our number one task at this point is to listen.
One reason why we as Christians struggle with people losing their faith is not theological, but personal. We feel that that the person is rejecting us And sometimes we are right. Often, but not always, the person has not so much been turned off to Christ, but have been turned off to Christians or Christianity as it is practiced. (I think pretty much all of us have been turned off to Christianity as it is lived out and practiced by some Christians. Even if we did not reject Christianity as a whole, we all can share this common experience, I believe.) We need to focus on being better followers of Christ than being better Christians, and being a bit less thin-skinned.
Sometimes, they have not been turned off to the Christian faith, but to interpretations of that faith that are taught as if rejecting such interpretations is tantamount to rejecting God. Taking another excerpt from the article:
Fifth, those who preach to our congregations week by week must consistently draw a distinction between the infallible text from which they preach and their own interpretation of it. Theologian J. I. Packer once told his students that while he believed in an infallible text, he in no way believed in an infallible human interpretation. We need to encourage those who hear our preaching to examine and question our teachings just as the Berean Christians in Acts 17 were commended for doing with the Apostle Paul.
Of course, there are many reasons for losing faith… a number are given in the article based on interviews with those who have gone through this experience.
You can read the entire article at the link below:
A section of my book “Dialogue in Diversity.” The first very rough draft is basically complete and will be reviewed by my students in “Interreligious Dialogue class.
According to Martin Buber:
“The presupposition of genuine dialogue is not that the partners agree beforehand to relativize their own convictions, but that they accept each other as persons.”
Mutuality is not as commonly promoted as a Biblical virtue as some others. Yet, it is a strongly supported virtue, especially in the New Testament. Mutuality describes equal support. It implies two different aspects: Equal as position, and equal in interdependence.
Consider the figure below. The figure shows two people– A and B. In the top part of the figure is A and B in unequal positions. If they are communicating, A is “talking down” to B, The middle part of the figure shows the two in equal position, but not equal in interdependence. If they are in conversation, A is “talking at” B, with little communication back from B to A. The bottom one shows equalness in role and in interdependence. They have mutuality in conversation. A and B are “talking with” each other.
Mutuality applies to many things beyond talking.
The church has often struggled with battle between seemingly competing virtues of submission and mutuality. Typically, the church has tended to focus more on submission— submission to authorities, to parents, to husbands. Yet built into each of these is a mutuality. Jesus modeled and taught a form of leadership built on serving, not being served. Wives may be told to submit to their husbands, but husbands are told to love their wives as Christ loved the church. And that form of love involves self-sacrifice and serving. It is hardly surprising then, that the most well-known passage in the Bible, Ephesians 5:21ff, opens with an overarching call to mutuality, “Submit one to another, out of reverence to Christ,” and then returns to the theme of mutuality with the body metaphor of Christ and the church.
The book of Philemon can be read as a book of Christian mutuality. Paul appeals to Philemon no to punish Onesimus, Philemon’s slave. Rather to accept him back, and even give him his freedom, and treat him as a full brother in Christ. Paul doesn’t actually order him to do that, for to do so would be to place himself as an authority. Rather Paul appeals to him as a fellow partner. The book sometimes is seen as a half-hearted rejection of slavery. However, it may better be seen as how Christian love and Jesus’ form of leadership is applied to a difficult situation, rather than law and hierarchy.
Many of the verses on mutuality are found as “one another passages.” There are dozens of these. A few of them include:
These principles apply to Christians within the church. Some other statements of the same order were given by Jesus to His disciples– most famously, John 15:12, “Love each other as I have loved you.” But to what extent does mutuality apply to dealing with non-Christians, those outside of the church?
Love each other as I have loved you.” But to what extent does mutuality apply to dealing with non-Christians, those outside of the church?
On a strict, rather legalistic, level one could say that since these statement are given to the church for behavior within the church, it doesn’t apply to a Christian’s relationship with those outside of the church.
HOWEVER, mutuality could be understood as a logical application of the Great Commandment. If I love my Christian neighbor as myself, as Jesus so instructed and modeled, and my Christian neighbor does the same, then we relate to each other in a state of mutual love for each other. And if we do that then the other characteristics of mutuality must then also apply (we bear each other’s burdens, we encourage each other, we forgive each other, etc.).
But… the Great Commandment was not given to believers only to relate to other believers (‘love your friends, hate your enemies’). Rather it is for all followers of Christ to all peoples. We may love our families different than we love members of our church, and we may love members of our church differently than we love members of other church, and all of these different than we love strangers or enemies. Regardless, if our behavior to any group is unloving, then clearly we have failed to follow Christ. In like manner, we serve, forgive, encourage, and show hospitality, in a manner that is Christlike even for those outside the faith.
It is interesting to note that over the years mutuality has grown outside of the church, commonly influenced by the church. Sometimes they caught on and even went ahead of the church. Human rights grew out of Judeo-Christian principles where each person has basic rights that are not based on race, gender, nationality, status or achievement. The movement against slavery began largely in the church, and grew beyond the church as some churches sought to defend the practice. Servant-Leadership has now become popularized in business and governance, even while some churches defend unilateral submission.
Dialogue works best from a position of mutuality. We treat each others with respect and with equality. We are there to teach and there to learn. We are there to encourage and be encouraged. We are there to help the other grow, and grow oneself. There is no guarantee that the other will accept those terms. The other may draw away, or may seek to assume a position of authority. We have no control over the other, we only have control over ourselves.
Please click on the link at the bottom of this post for an article from Jackson Wu that then links to the related article in Relevant Magazine. It is an interesting case study of a Christian who gradually moved to atheism. The seeming cause was a lack of openness in his church to dialogue and range of thought.
You can decide for yourself. But as for me, I think it is on the mark. A lack of dialogue, and the lack of freedom to disagree leads to FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt). I will leave uncertainty and doubt to Wu’s posting, but let me give an example of fear.
Fear. Consider this story– Years ago I was leading a Bible study, and some of the members wanted to study the Book of Revelation. Sure. Why not. But one of the members was very nervous about it. I asked him why. He stated that there were so many different viewpoints out there that he was worried about the group breaking down into a big fight. He was also afraid that the group may push only one orthodox view. (More recently I was in a group discussing prophecy and when I expressed my doubt, not rejection, of the future narrative provided in the materials, I was offered yet more materials to “help me.”) Anyway, I told my friend that when we go through Revelation, we will focus on what we can say with confidence (it is a book of comfort, hope, and warnings after all) and then give freedom for diverse opinions on the rest. It was good I did this. One family, who were American missions who serve in Africa expressed belief in the interpretation of a Kenyan Theologian regarding Revelation that is rather allegorical and places the United States as the Antichrist. I was wondering at the time whether I had made a mistake in establishing such a “freedom of thought” zone. Looking back, I was glad I did. And surprisingly, although I still do not think that Kenyan Theologian is correct, I do rather see the interpretation as probably being stronger than the “Left Behind” narrative.
Being in a church environment where a forced orthodoxy does not allow for honest questions and disagreements creates an atmosphere of fear. That certainly does not aid faith.
Years ago I had a long discussion with a member of the Bahai faith. It was interesting in many ways, but also rather frustrating. The individual would like to say that all religions in essence agree with each other– that all religions give the same answers. He would say that, and I would point out distinct differences between what his religion taught and my religion… to say nothing of the differences between other faiths. He would acknowledge the differences and then say that “No,” all religions agree. This conversation continued over several weeks over 25 years ago. Perhaps today I would be able to follow the dance of words and concepts better. But it felt like he was embracing universalism to the point of self-contradiction. People are allowed to self-contradict— that is their right. On the other hand, I also felt that his attitude was rather disrespecting. Since a unique feature of his faith was this sort of religious relativization, it seemed like the only unique feature he would intelligently acknowledge was his own. I felt that in his attempt to relativize all religions, he was saying that the uniqueness of my faith not only did not exist, but did not even deserve to be seriously discussed.
And feelings matter.
Harvie Cox has noted that interreligious dialogue must address two elements that exist between two different religions or faiths. These are the universalistic elements and the particularistic elements. Religions address universal human concerns and questions. Not only do they address common concerns, often they come up with many common answers. That being said, there are considerable differences between various religions. Ignoring these differences does a disservice to both religions. <Cox, Harvey. “Many Mansions or One Way? The Crisis in Interfaith Dialogue”. The Christian Century. August 17-24, 1998. p. 731-735.>
Focusing on the particularistic elements or “pole” emphasizes the differences, and leads to a dialogue of argument. It disrespects the commonality of humanity that leads to common themes of religious inquiry and answers.
Focusing on the universalistic elements or “pole” emphasizes the commonalities and leads to a dialogue of relativization. It disrespects the unique foci and answers of different faiths.
Centering on either pole is disrepectful to the faiths and participants in one manner or another. However, one can embrace “creative tension” where the commonalities provide context to the particularities, and the particularities provide nuancer to the commonalities. A clarification form of dialogue seeks understanding by not deemphasizing either pole. It respects the participants and the religions without underplaying or overplaying differences.