Thursday, February 14, 2008

Inter-Religious dialoge

Church of Jesus Christ, Reconciler, Immanuel Lutheran Church and St. Elias Christian Church have come together to sponsor a Lenten Wednesday evening series, The Children of Abraham about inter-religious dialogs between Jews Muslims and Christians. Last night was the first in the series with our presenter was Dr. Michael Trice who oversees the ELCA's ecumenical and interfaith relationships. He talked about the state of inter-religious relations in the ELCA. But he was also talking about interfaith dialog that went beyond talking about differences in scriptures or belief, but also seeking to find places to meet around the problems in the world and our local communities. He was presenting inter-religious relations as coming together around issues that as religious communities we could work together on to find solutions.

To illustrate this he showed a video about the ELCA's Peace not walls campaign that was made in consultation with an inter-religious panel. Trice both wanted to show what the ELCA was doing around one issue that needs inter-religious cooperation the Israeli/Palestinian conflict but also wanted feedback from those in attendance some from the Ismaili Center in the Edgewater neighborhood of Chicago.

Michael Trice's emphasis was on working together on difficult issues. So inter-religious relations is about overcoming differences by working together on common areas of difficulty that we all agree need solutions or resolution. What I heard from those who attended and spoke up was agreement but wanting to lift up difference, to admit and deal with the difference- difference that may also mean conflict. Thrice seemed to have a primarily negative view of conflict, which is understandable I suppose because conflict seems to so easily lead to violence and prejudiced reactions. Thrice seemed to still be seeking that enlightenment common ground, only moving it from intellectual and philosophical realm to the realm of action and cooperation. Common ground is working together. A significant response to this view of difference was to ask why just the three religions and why was Thrice focusing on essentially Jewish, Muslim and Lutheran relations. There is significant differences within each of all three religions Muslim Jewish and Christian, and this hasn't begun to ask about other religions that don't fit under the rubric of "Abrahamic Religions". My own thought is why limit it to just the religious, why not cooperate with atheists and agnostics etc. What I heard in these questions was in speaking of "Abrahmic religions" or "faiths" there is an attempt to cover over the differences with a common or shared origin (at least claimed or believed) but that this emphasis does not lift up difference. Somehow if we are to work together it must not be by ignoring our differences, but understanding them and even perhaps living with the conflict that is probably implicit in those differences. The differences are significant and should not be ignored for some common ground that emphasizes similarity over difference.