Book Club Channel
Let's Talk About God: A Call to Interfaith Dialogue
Reaching out to people who belong to radically different faith traditions can be done in some very practical, down-to-earth ways. We have to keep reminding ourselves that reaching out does not mean abandoning our convictions. Quite to the contrary, it means actually practicing good faith. Again, being Christian is not about affirming the facts of Jesus, it is about following the acts of Jesus.
So, how can we begin earnest interfaith conversations?
- We can begin by listening to the stories that give rise to our faiths. All of our faiths are built around stories that lie at the foundation of our traditions. We can gather in small groups around dinner tables, or coffee shops or in fellowship halls, and there invite one another to tell the stories that illuminate and inspire their faith—the story of Abraham, the story of Jesus' feeding the multitudes, the story of Muhammad's life in Medina, the story of the young prince Gautama. Listening respectfully begins to reduce the fear and anxiety of confronting religious experiences that seem strange to our ears. Every religious ritual has a story behind it. Listening to one another's story will be a powerful force in achieving respect and understanding.
- Every religion has a collection of sacred literature and sacred places. We should read one another's sacred literature and talk about the literature that we hold sacred. It will be inspiring to read the Bhagavad Gita. It will be inspiring to read Confucius' Analects. We should invite other believers to read aloud to us from their literature or scripture which they hold to be sacred and tell how those of sacred texts actually shape and influence their life and behavior.
- Interfaith conversation can and should be built around families. Though not all, most of us are Christian or Muslim or Jewish or Hindu because we grew up in that tradition. We all have a history. Beginning to understand one another's history and the religious events that color our lives will contribute to building relationships of trust. If we can connect families, love and grace toward one another will follow.
- Pain and suffering are universal human phenomena. We should ask our friends of other faiths to speak to us of how they cope with suffering. We should ask them to share painful events and speak of how their faith helps them understand pain and suffering and even death. Every faith believes that life is more than about living until we die. The struggle with suffering and coping with loss is an experience common to us all and an important context for achieving greater appreciation for another faith.
- Every religion of the world reaches out to provide hope for its believers. This hope may be for salvation, for liberation, for deliverance, or to experience a sense of enduring peace. We should explore the hope that permeates the life of other believers. The yearning for hope lives within all of us and is the rich soil for interfaith conversations.
Finally, within all our faiths, sometimes half-hidden, is an affirmation that letting go of our self-centered ways and embracing a path of compassion is primary to what it means to follow God. Our interfaith conversations, if they are to be fruitful, must spring from genuine compassion. Thoughtful listening increases our capacity to care. We have to care enough to meet one another as children created in the image of God. Only compassion will provide the grace to listen and to embrace another person, not because they agree with us or we with them, but because we believe that they are as much the creation of God as we. Because they too are children of God, our neighbors of our faiths deserve compassion, kindness and respect. Jesus said, "I give a new commandment that you love one another." Jesus did not add unless a person happens to be a Hindu or a Buddhist or a Jew. The boundaries of God's love can be drawn only by God and we should resist the temptation to make judgments or to draw boundaries on God's behalf. If we are willing to reach out to another as mutual children of God, we can begin the long journey back from faiths that degenerate into ugliness and evil into faiths that will be instruments of grace and peace in the world.
R. Kirby Godsey, Ph.D., served 27 years as President and CEO of Mercer University before being named Chancellor in 2006. A dynamic and engaging speaker, Godsey is also the author of several books, including the new Is God a Christian? Read an interview with Dr. Godsey at the Patheos Book Club here.