By Tracy Simmons
Interfaith dialogue has been on the upswing since Sept. 11, according to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. In fact, it’s nearly tripled since 2000.
Many faith communities, though, are still trying to figure out how to effectively have this conversation. We asked SpokaneFAVS panelists what they thought.
How should churches, temples, and other faith groups incorporate interfaith dialogue?
As with any area of potential misunderstanding or willful ignorance, education about other faith groups is critical before making judgments or engaging in cross-faith dialogues. Each group must recognize the importance of research and education about the other group before starting any type of dialogue in order to better define the other groups mission, vision and values. Too often, we jump to negative conclusions based on hearsay or misguided opinions of others. It is always prudent to allow the other party to speak for themselves before casting judgment.
Engaging in interfaith dialogue begins with an open heart. By realizing that all of us, every individual person, is a creation of the divine and a beauty and wonder to experience, dialogue then begins with respect.
Dialogue is not a debate or even a discussion. Dialogue is an open and honest exchange. When two or more people come together to dialogue, it means each person comes with the honesty to say, “I am present at this moment to hear what you have to say.” To suspend any judgments, to temporarily put aside what I think, what I believe, and even to put aside expectations and assumptions is a part of fully listening to the other. Then, being completely present to the other individual I can listen and hopefully hear what they have to say. I listen completely.
When I engage in dialogue, I listen to the other speaking, not forming my response while they are talking, because then I am not fully listening, I am already in a different place in my mind if I am busy forming my response. After the other has spoken and I have respectfully listened to the other, then I pause, touch my heart, feel my own being, and in a state of openness begin to speak. I try to speak from my heart, not my mind. For myself, the purpose of interfaith dialogue is to learn about other human beings, to learn about their journeys in life, to respectfully see how other human beings walking this earth integrate and manifest their spiritual journey.
I once took part in a gathering that had dialogue with very few other faith groups. We challenged each other to live the Christian life to the best of our abilities. The problem was we began to see ourselves as the purest of the pure. Most other groups were worldly or corrupt. We believed it compromising to have fellowship with any other faction. It was a young man’s mistake. I didn’t seek out such a crowd; I kind of fell into it by relationship. But once there, I told myself I could take part without necessarily sharing all their views.
Relationship tends to wear off, and I succumbed more than I want to admit. It was intoxicating to think we were God’s chosen people above everyone else. But I awoke one morning listening to an excerpt of “To Kill a Mocking Bird” on the radio and realized I was in too deep. To be part of a community is to share in their guilt.
I didn’t have to leave; they kicked me out. A little over a year later I heard the group had completely broken down, everyone scattering to many different places. Sometimes when I hear the talk of one group against another, I hear echoes of that gathering of which I once took part.
An interesting word on the power of language: An apostle in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gave a talk called “Doctrine of Inclusion: If we are truly disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, we will reach out with love and understanding to all of our neighbors at all times.” One paragraph reads, “… I believe it would be good if we eliminated a couple of phrases from our vocabulary: ‘nonmember’ and ‘non-Mormon.’ Such phrases can be demeaning and even belittling. Personally, I don’t consider myself to be a ‘non-Catholic’ or a ‘non-Jew.’ I am a Christian. I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That is how I prefer to be identified— for who and what I am, as opposed to being identified for what I am not. Let us extend that same courtesy to those who live among us. If a collective description is needed, then ‘neighbors’ seems to work well in most cases.”
I love this! I don’t want to be not any religion, I think they are all beautiful. We know that other churches are full of truth, but hope if someone came to the Mormon church they would see we add to it.
Do you have a question for the SpokaneFAVS panelists? Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org