I have been writing some of my thoughts on Inter-Religious relations and dialogue in responce to the Lenten series The children of Abraham, that Reconciler Immanuel and St. Elias have co-sponsored. Last night was our fourth session and we had more a directed open session talking about inter-religious relations in the Edgewater neighborhood of Chicago and peoples own experiences either with personal relations with those of another faith or their own involvement with official inter-religious dialogs and co-operation.
This session was the most interesting and most enlightening for me because I learned both why this subject is of importance to Immanuel Lutheran church and how different my own experiences in this regard are to the members of Immanuel. First I learned that Immanuel has a view of itself that includes a time (a considerable period of its recent history) when the church and many of it's members were actively involved both through the congregation and other institutions in regular inter-religious activities and dialogue. So, from this perspective many have already settled their theological reasons for doing so and want to encourage the congregation to return to this aspect of their history. However, there is another group of people (some I think who are more recent members of Immanuel) whose experience with inter-religious relations either involves misunderstanding or very superficial but positive interactions. Neither of these are my experience as indicated by this post. All of my inter-religious interactions have been personal and not institutional (or organized events or retreats as as happened in the history of Immanuel and the Religious groups in Edgewater). While I have experienced misunderstanding and ignorance that has never been the salient aspect of inter-religious relationships for me. What has been the salient experiences is friendship and/or good acquaintances in which conversation about faith and spirituality was the basis of the encounter. So, part of the disconnect and lack of exploration of certain themes that are important to me I described here and here was due to a difference in experience and not realizing that to some extent from Immanuel's perspective this was seeking to reinvigorate something that had be happening in the life of the congregation and many of its members.
I wonder if the approach needs to be different. What seems to remain (and perhpas no longer pertains to the actual situation) is a sense that Christianity is dominant and needs to welcome those different from itself into its midst. Now while the "extremists" mentioned but unnamed Wednesday night may want to insist on a Christian dominance there insistence and attempts to defend a particular Christian prominence is a sign that such a time is passing or is passed. I would agree with those that say we have moved into a "post-Christian" era. In a sense inter-religious dialogue and relations should look different in a "post-Christian" era than it did in the era of the "Christian century" (no not just the magazine but the supposed period that gave the magazine its name.) In some sense I think Christian guilt for exclusion or failure to be hospitable in the past should not be the driving force of inter-religious dialogue. In fact I'd be much more comfortable with all this talk about inter-religious relations if we were asking those with whom we want to relate how and if they want to dialogue and co-operate with Christians and those of other religions. Also it probably shouldn't take place on Wednesday nights the old Protestant standby for mid-week religious activity, but I suspect it's not necessarily the time others would chose to gather and discuss things religious. In the very least we shouldn't assume that people will join us when we are used to meeting.