Multi-faith Dialogue: Being Both Friendly and Faithful
by Jim Mullins
I have to be honest, the terms “interfaith” and “dialogue” used to make me cringe. The reason I used cringe is because I assumed that the prerequisite to participation in most dialogue events was that you had to check your deepest convictions at the door. It seemed that people like me, who believe in the exclusive claims of Christ, would either be excluded from such events or asked to minimize what they believe.
I’ve met several Muslims who have felt the same way. Many Muslim and Christian leaders have longed for a third way, a type of dialogue that allows people with deep convictions to faithfully represent what they believe, work for peace, engage in dialogue, build friendships, and not feel like they have to comprise. This type of dialogue is called “Multi-faith Dialogue.” It’s different from “interfaith” dialogue in at least three ways:
1) Multi-faith Dialogue is based on common ethics and the common good rather than common theology.
Muslims and Christians have a lot to discuss and we have a lot of projects that we can work together on without having the same theology. We can work together for peace, justice, poverty alleviation, education, civility, strengthening neighborhoods, fighting disease, standing against terrorism, and breaking down stereotypes of the “other.”
As diverse as America is, we need to work with people from other faiths for the flourishing of society. If we are going to address major global issues, we need global partnerships. If we are going to work together, and live as neighbors, we need to know each other. Multi-faith dialogue provides such a platform.
2) Multi-faith Dialogue expands the conversation to conservatives and fundamentalists.
Interfaith Dialogue has traditionally been a conversation between secular and liberal representatives of various faiths. Multi-faith allows conservatives and fundamentalists to enter the conversation without having them feel like they are compromising their faith. This is important because these groups have much to contribute. Furthermore, much of the conflict exists between conservative or fundamentalist groups of the different faiths. This type of dialogue creates much more potential for promoting peace.
3) It allows for “theological exclusivism” while promoting “social inclusivism.”
Jesus may have said the most exclusive, controversial, statement ever uttered when he said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). However, he’s also the ultimate picture of social inclusion. He befriended and deeply loved, people who were ethnically, politically, religiously, and physically different than him.
The truth of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and claims about himself have utterly transformed my life. I cannot deny that which I love above all else, but multi-faith dialogue doesn’t ask me to do that.
I’ve also been transformed by the rich relationships that I’ve shared with Muslim friends. As I write, dozens of Muslim friends come to mind. I deeply love them and am grateful for the multi-faith events that have made those friendships possible.
I think the world has emphasized the opposite of Jesus, namely, “religious inclusivism” and “social exclusivism.” This mentality says, “all paths lead to heaven,” but in practice these paths rarely lead to the neighbor’s house for a cup of tea. As a follower of Jesus, I believe we can’t create our own path to God, but Jesus has created it on our behalf. I do believe, however, that we are called to build roads and bridges here on earth that lead to friendship and human flourishing.
We’re living in a new day, a day that needs cooperation and collaboration between people of different faiths. This is not a trivial activity, but will play a vital role in our global future. We need all types of people involved, including Bible believing, theologically conservative, Jesus-lovin’ knuckleheads like myself. The same goes for my theologically conservative Muslims friends.
While I will continue to participate in meetings that have the word “interfaith” in the title, I’ll do so with a “multi-faith” mentality. I believe it’s the way of the future. Much of what I’ve learned about this has come from Pastor Bob Roberts’ teaching and example. If you’ve had a conversation with me, you know that I ooze with admiration and respect for this guy.
Lastly, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim leaders recently came together to create a series of ethical standards for relating to one another. Click here to read 7 Resolutions Against Prejudice, Hatred, and Discrimination.