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Source: (consider it) Thread: Interfaith Relations
LutheranChik
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The Presiding Bishop of my church body, the ELCA, recently asked for congregational/ member input regarding a social policy statement on interfaith relations.

Every time our church attempts to come up with a social statement about anything, a certain percentage of the membership loses its mind. As I predicted, as soon as this news item appeared on the ELCA Facebook feed, there were complaints about engaging in interfaith activities “without leading people to Christ. Now, some of these Negative Nells are trolls, but one individual actually seemed to be trying to engage in conversation; so I asked him why it was so wrong to want to simply work with representatives of other faiths to understand one another and to improve their communities. He said that secular agencies could do that and, anyway, faith communities should engage in charity on their own. I pointed out that different religious organizations all doing their own things in the community with no coordination creates inefficiencies, especially in poor communities with limited resources. He kind of mumble- responded to that and reiterated his belief that Christians shouldn’t!t deal with non- Christians unless they’re pitching a call to conversion. I asked him what he envisioned such an interfaith event looking like, and got crickets.

My question to you all: Does your church engage in any non- proselytizing dialogue or cooperative activities with members of non- Christian faiths? If so, are church people mostly on board, or is there pushback? If your church could enter into partnerships of some kind with representatives of other faiths but does not, why — theological, cultural or other reasons?

And — what exactly is so wrong about throwing a no- preaching/ no altar call block party with your neighborhood synagogue/temple/ mosque, or getting together with those groups to feed the hungry, house the homeless, etc., without another agenda?

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Gramps49
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Two blocks from our congregational building there is a mosque. Our pastor and the Iman have worked with each other on several community issues. We have a small Reformed Jewish circle and it frequently engages with a number of the mainline churches in the community. By working together we make the whole of the community better.
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Lyda*Rose

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Our church -TEC- is located about a half mile from the local Islamic center. We have hosted events that have included imans, rabbis, various Christian community leaders do get to know each other and find commonalities. Remarkably our vicar comes from Pakistan where she has personally known people killed by Islamic extremists in church bombings and individual attacks. Far from making her reject relationship with Islamic people, she shows leadership in reaching out to all people. Certain members of our congregation individually have taken it upon themselves to be a presence on the perimeter of the mosque during worship to be eyes and ears for witness of any problems from people who are less tolerant. Luckily they haven't run into anything beyond a few critical comments.

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Eutychus
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Good questions, LutheranChik!

I got drawn into interfaith work via prison chaplaincy. In prison both chaplaincies and inmates of different faiths are often required to share the same physical space, be it the multifaith worship room or a cell, which pretty much forces an element of interfaith dialogue.

After the Charlie Hebdo attacks, there were various calls for interfaith ceremonies and events of one form or another both inside the jail and outside, where I came to play an active part because of my prison chaplaincy role.

While I don't get pushback from my church, I don't get massive support either. I think the fact is that aside from any theological grounds ("do not be yoked together with unbelievers" is the kind of verse I guess one might here invoked) people are generally comfortable with their co-religionists and feel uncomfortable about having to be open to different practices: a lot of it is fear of the unknown.

In the case of a nonconformist congregation, you also have the fact that many members may have converted from another faith background and have bad memories of it.

I see good reasons to be engaged in multifaith* activities, but one needs to go in with one's eyes open. There is a degree of opportunism and hidden agendas at work in such events on the part of everyone, and one needs to learn to live with that and be wary of it. It's easy to find you've got into bed with the wrong representative of another faith tradition.

==

*Bold as Love by Bob Roberts Jr. is a good and thought-provoking book by a conservative evangelical whose church is engaged in multifaith activities in Fort Worth. I don't agree with everything he says, but he draws a useful (but unfortunately for me, pretty much unworkable in French) distinction between the terms "interfaith" - lowest-common-denominator syncretism - and "multifaith" - recognising differing faiths. This may help some doubters.

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Let's remember that we are to build the Kingdom of God, not drive people away - pastor Frank Pomeroy

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Jay-Emm
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I do think there's got to be an element of 'do unto others...', but with a reflection of the symmetries and anti-symmetries. Anything we insist in the Uk against mosques, gives (retrospective) permission in Iran against churches.

However it's also complicated because different religions (including most atheists) have subtly different red lines (many Hindu's might consider pray to everyone a 'fair compromise', many Atheist's might consider no prayers a 'fair compromise'). So it's very easy to goal-shift to have your hot dog and eat it.

And then there's the effect of history, which again gives an opportunity to be selective.

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Amos

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One of my sisters was for years the lead volunteer from her synagogue for a homeless shelter run by that synagogue in conjunction with a Catholic church and an Evangelical Lutheran Church. They did--and still do, I believe--a lot of good work, and the Jewish volunteers make sure that the Christian volunteers can have Christmas with their families, while hosting a giant tree, present-giving, meal, and, at least one year, a Nativity play for the clients of the shelter. My sister was very proud to be asked to be one of the Magi.

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jbohn
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Our (ELCA) church hosts a more-or-less-monthly series of dialogues entitled "Stories From Our Neigborhood", wherein we have had short talks with Q&A sessions afterward featuring Muslim neighbors, Hispanic neighbors, LGBTQ neighbors, etc.

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We are punished by our sins, not for them.
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LutheranChik
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Jbohn: What a great idea.

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jbohn
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We've been going to as many as our life with a 10 month old will allow. [Biased] They've been really interesting, for the most part.

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We are punished by our sins, not for them.
--Elbert Hubbard

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SvitlanaV2
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quote:
Originally posted by Eutychus:

While I don't get pushback from my church, I don't get massive support either. I think the fact is that aside from any theological grounds ("do not be yoked together with unbelievers" is the kind of verse I guess one might here invoked) people are generally comfortable with their co-religionists and feel uncomfortable about having to be open to different practices: a lot of it is fear of the unknown.

In the case of a nonconformist congregation, you also have the fact that many members may have converted from another faith background and have bad memories of it.

I see good reasons to be engaged in multifaith* activities, but one needs to go in with one's eyes open. There is a degree of opportunism and hidden agendas at work in such events on the part of everyone, and one needs to learn to live with that and be wary of it.

IME of multicultural living in the West Midlands, MOTR churchgoers may well have workmates, neighbours, acquaintances or even friends of other faiths. For them, this is sufficient. They're happy for concerned laymen or clergy to maintain positive official connections and good PR with interfaith groups, but they don't see why this should be of special interest to them.

I think some Christian ambivalence must occur where the Nonconformist churches are very weak, and where Muslims in particular heavily outnumber them. In some parts of Britain (and certainly in my city) churches have frequently become mosques or Sikh gurdwaras.

All that being the case, it seems to be the CofE that's the best situated to pursue interfaith work in the English setting. Its churches are almost never converted into mosques or gurdwaras. And even where churchgoers are few, the CofE still benefits culturally from its stable position as the state church. Its clergy and interested laity may also be of a higher social status than the local Muslims, and hence more confident in official interactions. I don't think that would necessarily be the case with the Nonconformist or independent churches, especially if many of their members are also non-white.

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LutheranChik
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To me, the “ antis” seem so fearful — perhaps at the idea that once they get to meet people of other religions and discover that they share similar values, do similarly good works, etc., they’ll lose their sense of chosenness and their sense urgency about fulfilling the Great Commission... that’s keeping “ those other people over there” at arm’s length is safer.

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Rossweisse

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quote:
Originally posted by LutheranChik:
...My question to you all: Does your church engage in any non- proselytizing dialogue or cooperative activities with members of non- Christian faiths? If so, are church people mostly on board, or is there pushback? ...

Yes, my Episcopal parish had a rabbi-in-residence for many years. He retired a little more than a year ago, but the rector has said he's looking for more opportunities for that kind of relationship.

As for pushback, I know one person who was unhappy with having a rabbi in the pulpit on occasion, and made a point of missing those Sundays. But our rabbi was generally loved, and his retirement party at the church was huge.

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SvitlanaV2
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British Muslims are known for being particularly generous givers to charity, and the Sikhs have a long tradition of handing out food to the poor, but I've never heard of British Christians of any type resenting them for doing this.

Perhaps it's because the need is so great that all intervention is welcomed, or because different faith groups tend to be at work in different places, so their charitable work doesn't risk coming into conflict. Of course, secular and religious charities are happy to get donations from anyone, and no Christian would complain about that.

With regard to who's invited to preach, my impression from the Ship is that the USA's mainline churches are much more adventurous than the British 'mainstream'. AFAICS there are several good reasons for that.

American moderate mainline identity seems to have developed in opposition to a strong evangelical identity. The two have developed to fill very different niches. American moderates have therefore taken tolerance to a very high degree, while the evangelicals have frequently done the opposite.

British churches exist in a much more secularised context, with far less space and demand at the extreme ends of the spectrum. Although pluralism may be tolerated (and even celebrated, in some places) moderate churches here are much more cautious about what happens in the pulpit.

The fact that the CofE is England's state church has probably also put the brakes on what its leaders can officially permit, even though there's a lot of in the breadth in the denomination.

In terms of non-Christian religious communities, most of them are currently more conservative than their Christian neighbours, so their clergy would be a difficult fit for liberal Christian congregations. In Judaism, stricter forms of Orthodoxy are actually becoming more numerous (as they are in the USA). In Britain therefore I just can't see either the supply of or the demand for liberal non-Christian preachers being at all high.

I also think the class differences are probably more significant in Britain. British Christianity has become ever more middle class. However, Asian and African Muslims are often (but of course not always) at an economic and educational disadvantage here. My understanding is that the more recent waves of Muslim immigration to North America have involved a higher percentage of educated and middle class people. They presumably find more commonalities with middle class WASPS....

If class similarities can do a lot to bring people together, the problem is that the British are arguably becoming ever more segregated by class. Working class Muslims are more segregated than ever.

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Eutychus
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quote:
Originally posted by SvitlanaV2:
All that being the case, it seems to be the CofE that's the best situated to pursue interfaith work in the English setting. Its churches are almost never converted into mosques or gurdwaras.

My local RC bishop is very keen to take the lead in interfaith initiatives (we get summoned to the bishop's palace and sit at a long table with him at the head). At the same time, the diocese is busy selling off property assets, and will sell them to anyone - except any other faith community, Christian or not.

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Let's remember that we are to build the Kingdom of God, not drive people away - pastor Frank Pomeroy

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Moo

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I live in Blacksburg, Virginia, which is an oasis of prosperity in the poverty of Appalachia. The Christians, Jews, and Muslims have formed joint outreach projects. There is an Interfaith Childcare Center which provides high-quality child care to families who could not otherwise afford it. There is a food pantry. There is a clothing depot where people can get the clothes they need. There is a Christmas Store, where people can get free Christmas gifts for their family members.

Many of these are supported by non-believers also, but AFAIK they were all founded by religious people.

Moo

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SvitlanaV2
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quote:
Originally posted by Eutychus:
My local RC bishop is very keen to take the lead in interfaith initiatives (we get summoned to the bishop's palace and sit at a long table with him at the head). At the same time, the diocese is busy selling off property assets, and will sell them to anyone - except any other faith community, Christian or not.

That's the irony, isn't it? IMO it's an issue of power. State (and quasi state) churches can be generous and friendly to other religious groups because they don't risk any loss of power (or property!) by doing so.

During one ecumenical conversation several years ago I was a bit narked when the CofE vicar insisted that a small and nervous Christian group in the locality should be quite sanguine about the possibility of selling up to the Sikhs next door. I bit my tongue, but wanted to say that she and her CofE diocese would never be so laid-back if that situation ever faced them!

[ 16. February 2018, 12:58: Message edited by: SvitlanaV2 ]

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Eutychus
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I think the RC church here is in grave danger of ending up on the wrong side of history and is living on borrowed time.

They have not come to terms with the realities of religious pluralism, or the related numbers, although admittedly where I live is still one of the more Catholic regions of France.

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Let's remember that we are to build the Kingdom of God, not drive people away - pastor Frank Pomeroy

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SvitlanaV2
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Mind you, I'd have thought that the French RCC was on borrowed time anyway, regardless of its relations with Islam. What should it be doing in interfaith work that it's not doing? What do French Muslims expect of the RCC?
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LutheranChik
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What irritates me about the person I’m talking to is his underlying thesis that God’’s default attitude toward humanity is literally “ Damn you!” and that the only way to placate God is to say the magic words of the Sinner’s Prayer and then tag other “ damned” people and pester them into a conversion. It’s horrible theology that I am sure he never heard in a Lutheran Church.

It reminded me of an experience many years ago, at school, when one of our choir members walked in late to a practice, announced that he was leaving the choir and our church because we were apostates, and said that he was compelled to witness to us because when he died God was going to personally review with him EVERY SINGLE PERSON HE HAD EVER MET IN HIS LIFE and demand to know why he had not tried to “ save” them. Turns out he learned this crap theology from a zealous fundamentalist group called The Navigators, who had been recruiting him in his dorm. Jesus wept.

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Eutychus
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quote:
Originally posted by SvitlanaV2:
Mind you, I'd have thought that the French RCC was on borrowed time anyway, regardless of its relations with Islam. What should it be doing in interfaith work that it's not doing? What do French Muslims expect of the RCC?

In my experience, for majority Catholicism as an institution both interfaith actions and ecumenism can all too often be arranged as a trip to the zoo. This needs to stop.

[ 17. February 2018, 06:28: Message edited by: Eutychus ]

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Let's remember that we are to build the Kingdom of God, not drive people away - pastor Frank Pomeroy

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Aravis
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In Wales (not sure if this is happening across the UK?) it's "Visit My Mosque Open Day" on Feb 18th - this may be a good start for anyone wanting to learn more about the Muslim communities in their area.
The mosque in our parish is welcoming and liberal, and holds regular discussion evenings, some with Muslim, Jewish and Christian speakers. The general view there, as the imam said at the last talk, is that there's no point in pretending our faiths are identical but it's good to be able to discuss our beliefs and get along as neighbours working in the same community.

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SvitlanaV2
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I think the Visit My Mosque Day is nationwide. But I've visited mosques several times before, and wouldn't go along again just for the sake of it.
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leo
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We do joint meditation with Chan Buddhists.

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mr cheesy
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quote:
Originally posted by SvitlanaV2:
I think the Visit My Mosque Day is nationwide. But I've visited mosques several times before, and wouldn't go along again just for the sake of it.

Why not?

What do you mean "just for the sake of it".

We visited last year on a bit of a whim. Our Muslim neighbours were polite and welcoming and we learned something about what happens in a mosque. I've absolutely no qualms about visiting again "for the sake of it" on a dedicated Open Day.

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mr cheesy
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quote:
Originally posted by Aravis:
The general view there, as the imam said at the last talk, is that there's no point in pretending our faiths are identical but it's good to be able to discuss our beliefs and get along as neighbours working in the same community.

My general view is that I want my neighbours who I consider to be most at risk to see that people of other religions care and will stand with them should the time come to.

As far as I'm concerned, that basically means Jews and Muslims; the risk in this country to other groups is much lower.

But I'd welcome the opportunity to visit other places of worship if they had Open Days.

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arse

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SvitlanaV2
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quote:
Originally posted by mr cheesy:
quote:
Originally posted by SvitlanaV2:
I think the Visit My Mosque Day is nationwide. But I've visited mosques several times before, and wouldn't go along again just for the sake of it.

Why not?

What do you mean "just for the sake of it".

We visited last year on a bit of a whim. Our Muslim neighbours were polite and welcoming and we learned something about what happens in a mosque. I've absolutely no qualms about visiting again "for the sake of it" on a dedicated Open Day.

Oh, I didn't mean that you shouldn't go! I hope you have a great time.

I live in a very Muslim area, and I can speak to 'polite and welcoming' Muslims at almost any time. If I want to learn more about Islam there are lots of people I can talk to. Someone manning a stall even offered me a free Qur'an today! But going to a rather ugly building to take off my shoes and hear some very basic stuff about Islam isn't going to add to my knowledge or appreciation of the religion or its culture. I might as well watch a Youtube video or borrow a library book.

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