Two major intra-religious events have happened recently in the worlds of both Christianity and Judaism: The Pope’s meeting with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, and the agreement reached between the Israeli government and the women’s group Women of the Wall allowing for the expansion of the egalitarian prayer space near the Western Wall in Jerusalem. To me, both events, while different in context and history of course, show that trying to resolve intra-religious issues are just as important as conducting interfaith work. Recognizing that not everyone who is a member of a faith community practices in the same way–let alone believes in the same theological formulations—is crucial to living in the modern world. This is because so many denominations exist (whether this is a plus or a minus is a different question) and everyone can practice in a way that makes them feel connected to their tradition.
The Pope’s meeting with Patriarch Kirill in Cuba to discuss persecution of Christians in the Middle East by groups such as ISIS and others was historic. The Catholic and Orthodox Churches have been in theological dialogue over issues for a long time, though sometimes this is fruitful and sometimes it is not. The Joint Declaration they issued dealing with this persecution of Christians, and what they feel must be done to halt it and prevent future persecutions, can be seen to herald a greater co-operation between the two groups on important world issues, whether directly Christian or not.
The agreement reached between the Israeli government and the Women of the Wall created a split between the members of Women of the Wall who are satisfied with the outcome and those who are not. Some of the dissatisfied members split and formed a new organization calling for egalitarian space at the Western Wall, rather than where it is currently held at Robinson’s Arch, an area near the Wall which will be upgraded and expanded. The fact that an agreement was reached at all indicates a recognition in the religious establishment in Israel that there are non-Orthodox groups who are deeply attached to Judaism, and feel that they have every right to practice as they wish, whether the Orthodox establishment accepts this or not.
The idea that religious groups must be united in one form of practice and/or belief is seen as paramount in many religions. When this unity is broken, the explanation therefore must be that those who are in the various camps are deluded at best and evil at worst, since if they really knew what the religion is about, they would be members of the “correct” group. Trying to create unity should be lauded, but so should recognizing that not every member of a religious group feels connected to the same practices and that they should have the ability to practice as they want. The issue is trying to find ways in which dialogue can take place that recognize the shared faith of the members, even though they may express it in different terms and in different ways. Continued dialogue can only be a good thing, I feel, as it will allow for greater understanding between the various intra-religious groups.
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