Why I am committed to building relationships with those from different religious and ethical traditions

Working on a paper for my Christians and Religious Pluralism class recently, I came across this statement in “Multi-Faith Worship?” the report of the Inter-Faith Consultative Group of the Anglican Communion: “Many Anglicans have little experience of visiting even other Christian churches for worship, so that the idea of visiting a temple, synagogue, or mosque may seem very strange to them.” This statement seems true to me, and it is a situation that needs to be remedied.

As an Episcopal laywoman, a Master of Divinity student at Episcopal Divinity School, and a human being committed to inter-faith dialogue, this is my mission: To lead myself and others to a deeper understanding of ourselves and people of other faiths. To create networks of community and engagement that foster respect, gracious hospitality, and pastoral support. To overcome theological and cultural prejudices and help promote wholesome communities. Why? The reasons for inter-faith dialogue are many, ranging from justice to pastoral care to understanding our own faith and that of our neighbors.

I grew up as a Christian in a Jewish neighborhood in the mid-twentieth century. My Jewish friends and I loved each other as children and neighbors do. But I was naïve and sheltered and was unprepared for the stereotyping and prejudice of the real world. I heard things outside the shelter of the neighborhood that hurt my mind and heart. By the age of twelve, I had resolved to work for justice for my neighbors. Later, when I worked for the local housing authority, I ran into the brick wall of narrow-minded ignorance. Stronger inter-faith networks of action for justice would have helped then. They must be built. As a very young woman, I married a Jewish man and lived without the support of a community and pastoral care from within either one of our traditional faith communities. I know now that inter-faith marriage doesn’t have to be like that.

Stronger inter-faith networks of the heart would have helped then. They must be built. And now, as a student of the Bible and a liturgist, I am engaged by conversations around Jesus in his Jewish context and the political and cultural context of the gospels as a dialogue among Jews in the first century. I’d like to take a good look at the Gospel of John and write a Good Friday service that is meaningful to Christians without being antagonistic to Jews. Stronger inter-faith networks of the mind, open-minded intellectual inquiry, will lead to more just worship, possibly even to worshiping together.

I identify myself as an emerging inter-faith leader with a mind, heart, and body to celebrate my Anglican identity while reaching out to embrace the holiness that is in the greater commonwealth of spirituality. Together we must respond to human need by loving service, seeking to transform that which is unjust, and striving to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth. This is what God wants us to do.

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4 thoughts on “Why I am committed to building relationships with those from different religious and ethical traditions

  1. The statement about not having visited other houses of worship is applicable to not just Episcopalians but all to almost all other religious traditions as well. There are a number of reasons for this lack of engagement across religious traditions, sometimes it is the fear of the unknown, other times it is just being locked into one’s daily routine so that one does not really reflect on the condition of the religious other, other times there is just plain old prejudice. Your experience and efforts are appreciated, we all have stories to tell, stories that resonate with our religious traditions and these stories may be in opposition to other traditions at times. It is only after engaging with the ‘other’ that we can develop common stories that reach across the faith divides. May your efforts be rewarded and I pray that may others follow your footsteps and expand these efforts to other religious traditions as well.

  2. Thank you for your gracious response! Yes, it takes intentional effort to reach across boundaries and visit houses of worship of other faiths and one must prepare oneself to be respectful, for example taking off shoes at the mosque, for a woman covering the head, being prepared to pray with the women if they are separated — and I try to remember to remove the cross I wear from my throat if it is exposed in summer time — and all of this without judgment. But it is worth every bit of effort. Sometimes simply going outside one’s routine is its own reward.

  3. Removing symbols or cautiously downplaying personal faith choices- like removing a cross from one’s neck is not a considerate act. Being thoughtful enough to hide in order placate another’s sensitivities is oxymoronic and desensitizing to establishing climate of religious tolerance, religious freedom and humanity. But I do commend going to worship in other faith communities even other Abrahamic faiths and other religions. The freedom to appreciate and access other faiths is very enriching and fosters a deep meaning and truth to personal faith. Without openness and choice our faith becomes a vain tradition and not a real experience. I may not wear ornaments of religion but I want my faith to be appreciate by my actions as a representative of Christ’s grace and glory. The cross should be worn literally and figuratively. And the greatest danger to faith is not an evangelizing atheism or perverse godlessness- but the apathy of tradition. Regardless of any political or social issue nothing is worse than religion becoming a mere label or tradition. Faith shapes a personal reality. And exploring other faiths and being involved in open religious environment, both tolerant and compassionate to all walks of life is ideal.

  4. Thanks for your comment. I agree that the apathy of tradition is the greatest danger to faith. Faith needs to be alive…and I am committed to being a visible Christian because that is my lively faith. I have mixed feelings about removing the cross that I wear. Dialogue would definitely include the symbols of my faith. I’m just thinking of a first meeting on someone else’s ground. I want to quietly observe and participate to the extent that is possible without being obtrusive.

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