Why is Interfaith Dialogue Important?

Perhaps you’ve heard of the Interfaith Movement, perhaps not. Either way, it should be important to you. Already in cities such as New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and other large cities in the U.S., interfaith dialogue is occurring with such frequencies in universities, seminaries, and houses of worship that with quite certainty there will be mention of it in conversations at almost any lecture and brewing at any local coffee shop. Since 9/11 it has become almost blindingly apparent why interfaith dialogue is a critical component for the maintaing of civic and international stability. One’s faith traditions should not be asked to be separated from a person as they enter the civic arena. We must no longer claim ignorance towards the religious other, and we must no longer continue in a practice of monopoly of truths, hegemony of God, and assimilation of those that fall into our periphery. Interfaith dialogue does not exist for the sake of proselytizing others to one religion or one culture, nor does it exist to create a melting pot of syncretism where all religious identities are conflated into one. Not all religions are the same, there exist a myriad of differences, however there is dignity in difference, and this is a central tenet of the Interfaith movement.  Interfaith dialogue is an exercise of learning about those that are radically different from myself and my community and learning how to coexist with those persons that subscribe to different beliefs, customs, and worldviews other than my own. It also serves to strenghthen my own faith identity. It’s one thing to describe my beliefs to another Christian that already comes pre-wired with a set of similar vocabulary and understanding of social constructs to interpret what I am saying within similar parameters to how I myself perceive it. However, it is an entirely different game when I have to explain my faith to someone outside of my faith. I have to use different vocabulary, I am pushed to own what I am saying, search and find different forms to articulate particular truths. I am stretched. I am also amazed to learn similar teachings of say, for example, creation in Islam or Judaism, and consequently in that interaction of learning my own resources are then amplified.

Some have the luxury of embarking into Interfaith dialogue, due to their particular social location it is not necessitated. For example, myself, I had never met a person that was of a different faith than Christian until I was college-aged. The extent of my interfaith interactions was actually intra-faith- I had Catholic and Mormon friends.  Interfaith exists for me because I have earnestly searched it out. Though for many, in such cities as listed above, these interactions are compulsory due to close proximity with the religious other. However, the growing trend in the States is that in the very near future no city or town no matter the size will be immune to these types of interpersonal interactions; no person will have the luxury to elect to participate. I am pleased to learn that a documentary, Welcome to Shelbyville is soon to be released about a small rural town, Shelbyville, TN, just 30 minutes from where I grew up, chronicling the changing of the times, the influx of immigrants and with them the influx of their faiths and traditions and how this is affecting small-town America. It appropriately demonstrates the necessity for authentic interfaith dialogue at the religious as well as at the civic level. Interfaith Dialogue is no longer for just the spiritual guru’s, the academic, or the urban hipsters in the concrete jungles, it has now become a necessary tool for all; yes, even Joe the Plumber. Below is a trailer:

One thing to remember is that we’re all in this together. This year marks the 10th year anniversary of the tragedy of 9/11. I also believe that we as a collective society are at a watershed moment in our history, something big is brewing, we are learning how to live again, but differently, to construct bridges and not bombs, constructive conversations and not hateful diatribes that only build up some at the expense of a whole demographic. Relationships are the difference that make a difference. I am proud to be a Christian, to learn about others and how Christians are perceived through the lenses of different communities. I am privileged to be a part of this collective dialogue and to be a catalyst for change, to advocate a particular pluralism, to engage the religious and the non-religious alike, and to be a part of an amazing community that is writing on these very pertinent issues, State of Formation.

For further reading and more information about the interfaith movement see my Interfaith Resources.


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7 Comments (+add yours?)

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  7. Len Jepson
    Feb 01, 2012 @ 12:49:27

    I really like this post! I am an associate director of the United Religious Community of St. Joseph County, Indiana and recently retired as a parish pastor (42 years, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). For the past 35+ years I have been strongly involved in ecumenical / interreligious work, including time in Helsinki, Hong Kong, and South Africa studying Emerging Christianity / Religion. I look forward to new posts on this site. Len Jepson, Mishawaka, Indiana.


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