Interfaith Dialogue

Forthcoming in Mennonite World Conference Courier

Because the next Mennonite World Conference (when possible after the pandemic hindrance) is scheduled to meet in Indonesia where Christianity is a minority religion alongside majority Islam, planners wish to have some articles that appear in the publication titled Courier to address Interfaith Dialogue. This piece I submitted in response to their invitation.

Diverse Mennonites and Brethren in Christ who anticipate meeting in Indonesia for the next Mennonite World Conference may have opportunity to witness to Christian faith alongside being open to learn from and respect people loyal to other religions. Religious difference reflects God’s Wisdom and goodness.

Religion is personal; it expresses a person’s chosen way to be. Religio means “to bind” so religions are meant to bring people together. Originally from Sri Lanka, retired professor Wesley Ariarajah defines true religion via terms of “compassion, non-violence, self-giving, universal love, and the rejection of material acquisition.” His book Your God, My God, Our God, with the subtitle “Rethinking Christian Theology for Religious Plurality,” expands insight into God-concept, how religions share in common a concern for an Ultimate Being. To talk with other Christians—Protestant, Roman Catholic, or Orthodox—is INTRA religious exchange. To converse with people of other living faiths or world religions reflects INTER religious dialogue.

Christianity has a strong Jewish base. It relies on Hebrew Scripture, the story of Yahweh the One God’s faithful interaction with Israel. Israel, the people chosen to convey to other nations God’s welcome or openness toward all human beings, lived among ancient religions. Recall the Tower of Babel incident (Gen. 11:1-9). Those with a dominant language and symbolic tower seemed intent to control everything, even to compete with God. But rather than allow such dominance, the Creator who values difference scattered their desire for false power over the face of the earth.

From the Second Testament then we learn how Jesus our mentor valued his Jewish heritage. He taught through parables and direct action about God’s Way of Welcome. Ever-pointing a Way among ways to God, he stressed a Divine kin-dom for all faithful followers. Not intent to start a new religion, Jesus called Judaism to re-form, to re-new its pattern of covenants, of human-Divine agreements. Before returning to God’s realm, he enabled the Spirit, who had been co-active in Creation, to replace his direct being with believers. The Spirit of Pentecost (Acts 2) brought scattered voices together. Although different, people of varied locations understood one another. A measure of unity within diversity came through verbal exchange, through God’s Wide gift of difference. Religious pluralism continues as a gift to us, to show God’s will to save all.

Decades ago, German Max Mulller comprehended the value of being duly informed of distinct insight from diverse religions in order to respect and compare them while engaged in personal journey. He shaped history with the observation that “To know one religion is to know none.” In other words, knowing only one religion fails to even know it with depth. Faith grows through understanding what others find meaningful. I have learned from our good Sikh friend how deeply he honors his scripture, his present guru, the Guru Granth Sahib. To express or witness to my Christianity, without arrogance, and sincerely welcome, be open to learn from, the integrity in other religions, enriches my sacred being.

Another quote for Mennonite and Brethren in Christ loyalists to claim came from Hans Kung: “There will be no peace among nations without peace among religions and there will be no peace among religions without dialogue.” Mennonites claim a history of being peace-oriented. While with that stance we are not alone among Christians, each generation in distinct locations needs to reaffirm what peacemaking means and how best to express peacebuilding for situations that emerge. An attitude of readiness to learn from other religions helps. Mahatma Gandhi, a Hindu with Jain influence, emphasized ahimsa (nonviolence) long ago. Gandhi’s close friend Abdul Ghaffer Khan enabled strong peace efforts among his Muslim people. And Thich Nhat Hanh lived, taught and wrote about basic peace principles for more than loyal Buddhists. Can we receive as surely as extend Divine truth?

Acting together, people loyal to diverse religions enable peaceful efforts that overcome injustice. To retain attitudes of revenge, or resist overcoming stereotypes that misrepresent others, or block another from being fully valued all reflect handicaps toward peaceful existence. When religious teachings violate others through negative judgments because they differ or when people loyal to religions prompt conflict, the need for repentance recurs. That Christians persisted with destructive Crusade efforts toward Muslims around Jerusalem is remembered. More recently churches were bombed in Indian locations. Muslims and Hindus can live peacefully in neighborhoods; at other times merciless riots erupt between them. How might sincere dialogue about principles held in common enable religious good-will?

Religious plurality will ever-persist in our world; for that fact, be grateful. We choose between religions and denominations regarding rituals for worship, patterns of belief, and holidays. As we meet people whose choices differ, opportunity presents itself for honest dialogue. Exchange conveys perspective with faith. Dialogue partners expect to be comfortable with and loyal to, not defensive or fearful about, personal faith. Each expects to listen carefully to the other’s confession, to formulate and clarify measures of personal truth, and to absorb or withhold what is further learned. Not debate, religious dialogue conveys mood or attitude, honors integrity, welcomes deepened insight, and promotes friendship. May you readers find it to be so!