I have just completed a tutorial paper and class presentation for a subject about Christians in a Multicultural World at Tabor College. The focus of the paper was "Christians and the World Religions" requiring me to identify three significant hurdles that Christians need to address in order to participate at the same table. In other words, what issues prevent Christians from engaging in inter-faith dialogue?
In addition to some thought provoking readings on the subject, I decided to present the question to our Sunday night congregation, which produced the following responses:
- We all believe “our” God is “the” God
- Fear of conflict
- Language barriers – linguistic and cultural
- Personal agendas – convince the others we are right
- Power and control
- Conflict between head knowledge and heart knowledge
- Trying to explain a relational God in a non-relational way
- Moral and ethical conflicts – place of women, unjust punishments
- Lack of unity over beliefs and practices between the denominations
It was the response "Trying to explain a relational God in a non-relational way" that really captured my attention. From my observation and involvement in an evangelically minded church, Christian interaction with other faith traditions is usually approached with a greater concern for theological correctness than a relational interest in a faith journey. While I am a student of theology and understand the importance of sound biblical knowledge, I do not think correct belief is the most productive entry point for inter-faith dialogue. This only serves to reinforce the barriers between us rather than building upon a common ground of faith.
As human beings, who share the same Creator, regardless of culture and creed, we have been created to be in relationship with God and with each other. It makes more sense to me to approach inter-faith dialogue from the foundation of relationship. Dialogue based upon authentic relationship opens the pathway for a greater revelation of God through Jesus Christ. Remember, when Paul spoke to the men of Athens he didn't correct their theology about foreign gods, but acknowledged their experience of faith which opened dialogue that led to the request, "we want to hear you again on this subject" (Acts 17:22-32).