Trustworthy Rivals: On an Alternative Path to Multi-Faith Discourse

Interfaith or multi-faith discourse can easily fall prey to agreeing to agree on everything, even where there are significant differences. Such agreement and affirmation may come across as disingenuous at worst, naïve and exaggerated at best. As I have had to tell various people of non-Christian faith communities over the years when engaged in such discourse, we are not saying the same thing.

A more straightforward and plausible approach is that taken by the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy with which I am associated (including the Evangelical Chapter). Our movement calls for approaching adherents of the respective faith traditions as “trustworthy rivals” rather than as perfect, homogeneous matches made in heaven.

“Trustworthy rivals” also win out over mean-spirited religious enemies. While the various faith traditions set forth competing truth claims at key points, such competing claims do not lead adherents of the diverse traditions necessarily to discount and demean one another. In fact, I have found that sometimes those closest to one’s tradition in the family faith line often come across as the harshest critics (not those from afar), as with many nuclear family scenarios involving siblings.

Which would you rather be toward those of other faiths? A trustworthy rival, a mean-spirited and scheming enemy (like a former spouse), or a platonic and possibly even unscrupulous bedfellow? Can you think of other options?

This piece is cross-posted at The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and at The Christian Post.

About Paul Louis Metzger

Dr. Paul Louis Metzger is the Founder and Director of The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and Professor at Multnomah Biblical Seminary/Multnomah University. He is the author of numerous works, including "Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths" and "Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church." These volumes and his others can be found wherever fine books are sold.

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  • Eric Costa

    Would complete apathy fall under the “unscrupulous bedfellow” category? Seems like a lack of concern to engage our neighbors in any way is fairly common… I might prefer to say, “friendly rival,” but I like the thinking behind your proposal.

    • Nathan Bubna

      I’d prefer “friendly rival” also. While “trustworthy” is meant as a description of their character and the respect inherent in the relationship, it could be misinterpreted as also referring to the message of the rival, not just the rival. In particular, i think such misinterpretation is most likely to come from “sibling” faith communities.

      • John W. Morehead

        Thanks Nathan and Eric, for your comments on this post. FRD promotes a set of ethical guidelines for interreligious relationships and conversations called “The Way of Openness.” When these are put into place, over time those who may have seen each other as enemies because of religious or ideological differences can instead come to view each other as trustworthy rivals as they see in each other people of good character and good will who don’t demonize others and maintain their disagreements with integrity. While they will come to greater understandings, and perhaps modify their views, and even be persuaded by their partners in various ways, they will largely still retain their divergent viewpoints, and respect each other in this process even while disagreeing with each others views. So “trustworthy” refers to how such conversation partners see each other, and it goes deeper than many concepts of friendship that tend to be built largely on commonalities than differences, and the frequent discussion of such differences in relationship.

        In addition, I fear that Eric is right that many do follow a path of apathy and ignoring our neighbors, but with important issues at stake in our post-9/11 public square, hopefully this pathway is the minority. Far more common is a hostile or confrontational faith identity on the part of Evangelicals. At the Evangelical FRD chapter we work to transform this as we seek to emulate the way of Jesus in his encounters with Gentiles and Samaritans.

        Thanks for commenting on Paul’s essay.

  • Chaplain Chris Haughee

    I prefer the term “friend.” A friend does not always have to agree, and often has been with us in the honest moments of doubt and fragmentation, when it seems our particular faith system doesn’t hold up in the light of day. A friend asks us to push deeper into our faith, regardless of where it lies, rather than against it. A friend listens, consoles, and sometimes advises… never from the point of view that the other will finally be “right” once they abandon who they are and accept the friend’s point of view. Should one friend or the other come to their own realization that some belief has failed them and another is more promising, the other is with them throughout the process… never in an “I told you so” triumphalism, but in a sense of joyful congratulation that their friend found the truth. A friend prods and teases at times, pointing out little inconsistencies and encouraging greater examination and integrity of thought and practice. A friend knows when to grant the space needed to try and fail, far enough away that the freedom doesn’t feel like abandonment, yet close enough to return as needed, wanted, and desired… providing help as necessary. Jesus insists not that I call him Master and Lord, though I do. Jesus is happy to be my friend. And, I am happy to be yours, regardless of whether we share Jesus as a mutual friend or not.

  • James

    I like to be the bad ass Christian who tries to convert those sinners to Christianity with my dogmatic theology. Manifest destiny baby! Joking. I truly hope to be someone that is willing to see and respect others, including the faith one believes in. After that, its on me to live out my faith no matter what others may say or do to dismiss, mock, or persecute. Ultimately it is a life of love we are called to, and for the sake everyone deserves love I would be willing to be mocked, even die so that love could be known by others. For me its not so much about rivals, or the city being a battle field. Its much more about seeing God in others and the city a playground. The gospel becomes alive to me when I stand at the margins and see those excluded, included. A lot of times, many people don’t want others, or don’t believe themselves worthy to be included in a community whose foundation is love, compassion, generosity always.