What I Hope to Get Out of Interfaith Conversations

I’ve been working with a team of local clergy to bring together the next Peace for Peoria event – a town hall style Q&A on May 16th at the Peoria Civic Center. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be writing about interfaith issues.

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I’m a Christian. Let’s start there.

I affirm the Apostles Creed. I stand with traditional Christian orthodoxy. Engaging in interfaith dialogue is in no way a concession of my own set of beliefs.

However, when I talk to a Rabbi, there is so much I want to learn. How Rabbis have interpreted their Scriptures is of utmost importance to me. Of course, I’m going to interpret the Hebrew Scriptures through the lens of Jesus, but knowing how Jews view their Scriptures has made my understanding of Jesus richer.

I don’t think respecting Judaism is difficult for most Christians.

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But I can also say the same of Islam. Within the Quran, there is a high value put on the person of Jesus. Jesus is the penultimate prophet, and belief in Jesus as a prophet is required of a Muslim. Of course Muslims don’t believe that Jesus is God, but there is an engaging discussion among some Christians and Muslims about what it means to follow after Jesus. (Incidentally, the word muslim simply means “one who submits to God.” So Muslims, full of respect, consider Jesus to be muslim.)

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From Buddhists, I am learning important things about contemplative prayer and quieting the crazy in my head. From Native Religions, I can learn something about living in harmony with the creation — surely a Christian value. (A puzzling sidenote: I find it strange that Christians who hold most tightly to a literal understanding of the Creation accounts, where God commanded the first inhabitants to care for the creation, are often the least likely to embrace Christian environmentalism.)

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Yeah, I know. Sometimes interfaith stuff gets a little hokey. And sometimes not everyone is playing by the same rules and one group is trying to proselytize the others (The next post will be on “ground rules for interfaith engagement.”) But for me, interfaith conversation is about learning what I can learn from the other traditions that further strengthens my understanding of my own faith.

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Here’s an analogy that shows how I view interfaith conversation:  I love my friends. And I love how their marriages work. I talk deeply with my friends about how they love their wives, how they work through hard times, how they navigate the joys and sorrows. I learn a lot from my friends.

But at the same time, I have my own marriage. I’m my own person. Jennifer is her own person. And we have our own ways of navigating our life together that aren’t the same as our friends’. So, I learn from my friends, I’m enriched by our conversations together, but I also have my own way of “doing marriage.” I’m better for having the dialogue with my friends about their marriages – there’s definitely some overlap – but my marriage is mine and theirs is theirs.

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This is my hope for interfaith conversation (and interdenominational conversations as well) — that we will learn from others in the areas that overlap.

I’m richer for my dialogue with those of other faiths, but that doesn’t mean I’m exchanging mine for theirs.

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  • karenk
    • First, because a site calls itself “Muslim Fact,” doesn’t necessarily mean that it is indeed, fact.

      Yep. SOME Muslims believe this way. SOME Muslims believe in the subjugation of women. So do SOME Christians. But just because one group or sect of a religion believes a particular way, it doesn’t mean that everyone in the religion believes the same thing. For example, Franklin Graham says a lot of things publicly in the name of Christianity that make me cringe. I hope people that know me don’t equate my views of God with his. Sure, we agree about some basic things, but we don’t agree about Muslims and American policy and guns and LGBT people.

      As my friend Imam Mufti says, “Equating me with ISIS, is like me equating you with the KKK.”

      My point is, that as Christians, I’m compelled to love, pray and do good – even to the people that I think are my enemies. And surely part of loving, praying and doing good requires civil conversation. It requires me to move close enough to people to know them by their fruits. Jesus doesn’t say, “Love your enemies, unless you think they’re going to dupe you someday.”

  • Michael Gizzi

    Well done. It was nice meeting you at ISU last month. Keep up the good work.

    • Thanks! Good to meet you to. That was a fun event!

  • michaeldanner

    Here’s where you and I differ. I actually want my friends of other faiths – and of no faith – to try to proselytize me. Not disrespectfully. Not manipulatively. Not coercively or arrogantly. But through passionate, informed, loving persuasion. Anything short of that reveals one of two things. (1) that we’re all closet (or transparent) universalists – in which case our differences are more about style/culture -, or (2) that we don’t really believe that the truth claims of our particular faiths are, in deed, true. I have a harder time throwing it all up to individual journey, and so on. Full discloser: I’m a hopeful inclusivist (see Brad Jersak’s work on what that entails). So I can engage in interfaith dialog on those grounds. I’m excited to read the rest of your posts on this.

    • We probably agree. But we’re probably using proselytize a little differently. I think of an approach that says, “I either convert you or we can’t be friends.” I don’t think you’re talking about this. I think you’re talking about something we both desire and that’s a commitment to relationship whether I convert you or not. I want you to convince me of your mennonite ways… (and invited you to convince our church on a Sunday morning)… but I know we’ll still be friends, no matter my response!

      • michaeldanner

        Gotcha! Yes, we agree. It’s a commitment to believe what we believe with integrity and passion, to try to convince others, but to remain respectful, loving and connected – allowing others the freedom to decide for themselves what they will embrace.