Reflections on Interfaith Dialogue

By Rev. Rollin Russell, Chair, Christian Unity Committee of the NC Council of Churches

Interfaith Dialogue is a crucial endeavor in light of the increasing religious diversity in our nation and our own communities.  Globalization is a wondrous, yet in some ways perplexing reality, and it brings us into ever more frequent contact with persons of other faiths.  While at one time the dialogue between Christians and Jews was common and we often spoke of our Judeo-Christian heritage, that conversation has necessarily expanded to include our increasingly numerous Muslim neighbors and we now speak of the Abrahamic Faiths.  We are becoming increasingly aware of Buddhist, Hindu and Native American neighbors as well as persons of other religious traditions.  It is imperative that we acknowledge, understand, and appreciate each other for the sake not only of civility, but because all our religious traditions require hospitality of us.

In a time when some abuse religion for divisive purposes, it is particularly important that those who seek unity and the well being of all engage in mutually appreciative and informative dialogue.  All of us need, for ourselves and on behalf of our nation and world to share the sacred conversations that celebrate diversity and lead toward the common good.

Developing an authentic dialogue can be frustratingly slow because we all have so much to learn.  There are some guide posts along the way, though we can never claim to have passed them or assume mastery of any particular dimension of the enterprise.  Hence, it is an exercise in humility, a virtue that seems in short supply in our culture.

We need to overcome our ignorance of other religious traditions and shed the false assumptions that can hinder our understanding.  We can begin to educate ourselves and each other.

We need to hear and tell our personal stories of faith and religious experience in ways that will give depth and texture to the new information we receive.  No religion is abstract; each comes alive in the experience and testimony of its practitioners.

Though it is very difficult to do so in a culture dominated historically and numerically by Christians, we need to keep a balanced table where every voice is heard and none is lost or overwhelmed.

We must avoid becoming a mutual admiration society where, out of politeness, our differences are not articulated and addressed.  We have hard questions to ask of each other and difficult dilemmas to discuss.  That is the only way that real relationships can be developed.  If they cannot be addressed with mutual respect in interfaith dialogue, then they cannot be addressed anywhere, and our societies are in deep trouble.  We conduct our dialogue on behalf of the hope for a new and better world.

Click here to learn more about the NC Interfaith Dialogue Project.

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