Westminster Interfaith: Promoting Dialogue Between People of Faith

The agency of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster for Interreligious Dialogue

Westminster Interfaith Newsletter

Issue 64 – November 2009

Do's and Don'ts and fruits of dialogue

Christians engaged in friendship and exchange with their neighbours of other faiths have learned much in recent decades about the challenges and rewards of interreligious dialogue. These do's and don'ts derive from the experience and wisdom of individuals and the churches and are offered for discussion and exploration.

Trust in God who makes all things work together for good those who love him.
Trust in those with whom we are talking.
Have a balanced attitude, which is neither naïve nor overly critical but open and receptive.
Be ready to engage together in commitment to the truth.
Listen with an open heart and mind: 'we have two ears and one mouth' as Cardinal Francis Arinze a leading Nigerian interfaith practitioner affirmed. (Building Bridges, Interreligious Dialogue on the Path to World Peace: An Interview with Cardinal Francis Arinze. New City Press USA 2004)

Be intent on receiving the best of the other.
Understand that no-one is the perfect embodiment of faith.
Work from a position of knowledge and confidence in our own faith.
Remember that Christian faith is a gift from God and the work of the Holy Spirit and that mission is not measured by visible results.
Be clear that while we may pray and hope for others to understand Christ fully, conversion is not the purpose of dialogue.
Speak of our faith 'with gentleness and reverence' (cf 1 Pet 3:16).
Recognise that where there is both giving and receiving, there is the possibility of challenge, change and growth on both sides.
Start with the ground on which we share belief, concerns and action.
Accept that agreement to differ is already agreement.

(Some of these are from: Dialogue and Proclamation – Reflections on Dialogue and the Proclamation of the Gospel (1996) jointly published by the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.)

Dilute your faith: this is a disservice to others.
Have notions of superiority with regard to any neighbour.
Make comparisons between our 'best' and their 'worst'.
Doubt the value of dialogue, as if it were only for specialists or a betrayal of the faith.
Harbour poorly hidden agendas regarding hoped for conversion to Christ.
Possess insufficient knowledge and understanding of the beliefs and practices of other religions.
Think that everyone has the same understanding of the meaning of terms such as conversion, baptism, dialogue etc.
Overlook cultural differences that arise from different levels of knowledge or the use of different languages.
Neglect socio-political factors or burdens from the past.
Be put off by a lack of reciprocity in dialogue which can lead to frustration.
Be put off by current attitudes to religion e.g. growing materialism, religious indifference and the multiplication of sects which raises new problems.
Start with doctrinal issues. Faiths are too different and the issues too sensitive. These are best left for later.

Dialogue carried out with a spirit of love and honesty bears fruit:
Freeing our hearts to love each neighbour in a disinterested way.
Helping us rediscover and deepen our faith.
Enabling an appreciation of the faith and practices of others.
Discovering truths held in common with the faithful of other religions.
Putting these truths into practice together.
Enabling us to understand history from different perspectives.
Forging genuine friendships.
Building the local community.
Bringing joy, peace, understanding and light.
Giving credibility to religion in the eyes of those who question its usefulness.

An outstanding example of the fruits of dialogue, following one person's initiative in building relationships, arose in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.
There were press reports of harassment of Muslims going to prayers at the Mosques in Birmingham and the Central Mosque was daubed with paint. The late Rabbi Leonard Tann, who was at the Singers Hill Orthodox Synagogue, was so incensed at the treatment of fellow people of faith that he made a phone call to Dr Mohammed Naseem, the Chairman of Birmingham Central Mosque. The two men had never met and did not know one another. Rabbi Tann expressed his solidarity with the local Muslim community and asked if he would be welcome if he visited the Central Mosque after leading prayers that morning at the Synagogue. Dr Naseem immediately issued him an invitation. The then Bishop of Birmingham the Rt Rev Mark Santer was also invited and the three leaders gathered on the steps of the Central Mosque to make a statement to the local press. This all happened very rapidly, on 12th September, and was the beginning of the Faith Leaders' Group, which subsequently grew to embrace the leaders of the city's six major faith communities and its current membership which is 14 in number.
Paragraph contributed by Jonathan Gurling, Executive Secretary, Birmingham Faith Leaders' Group

Celia Blackden
Executive Officer for Inter Faith Relations, Churches Together in England, 27 Tavistock Square, London WC1H 9HH. Tel: 020 7529 8131

This bulletin can be downloaded from www.churches-together.net

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