Interfaith dialogue wasn’t convenient after 9/11 but some thought it essential. In Seattle, a Jewish rabbi reached out to a Sufi Muslim, and together they reached out to a Christian minister. After the November 5, 2009 mass shooting at Fort Hood, Laurie Goodstein told the story of “Three Clergymen, Three Faiths, One Friendship.”
They call themselves the “interfaith amigos.” And while they do sometimes seem more like a stand-up comedy team than a trio of clergymen, they know they have a serious burden in making a case for interfaith understanding in a country reeling after a Muslim Army officer at Fort Hood, Tex., was charged with opening fire on his fellow soldiers, killing 13.
“It arouses once again fear, distrust and doubt,” Sheik Rahman said, “and I know that when that happens, even the best of people cannot think clearly.”They say they became close by honestly facing their conflicts, not by avoiding them.
They put everything on the table: the verses they found offensive in one another’s holy books, anti-Semitism, violence in the name of religion, claims by each faith to have the exclusive hold on truth, and, of course, Israel.Goldstein reported that interfaith dialogues were occurring in many ways and many places all over the country. There had been interfaith dialogues for years, but after 9/11 many groups felt it urgent to include Muslims, and Muslims were eager because they didn’t want their faith defined by terrorism. Now there are interfaith Thanksgiving, interfaith college clubs, interfaith women’s groups, and interfaith teams building affordable housing. And for these efforts, I am grateful.
“One of the problems in the past with interfaith dialogue is we’ve been too unwilling to upset each other,” Rabbi Falcon told the crowd at the Second Presbyterian Church here. “We try to honor the truth. This is the truth for you, and this is the truth for me. It may not be reconcilable, but it is important to refuse to make the other the enemy.”
The “amigos” have gone beyond most of the interfaith dialogues with which I am familiar. They make presentations around the country with what they call “the spirituality of interfaith relations.” Goldstein attended one of their presentations:
At the church in Nashville, the three clergymen, dressed in dark blazers, stood up one by one and declared what they most valued as the core teachings of their tradition The minister said “unconditional love.” The sheik said “compassion.” And the rabbi said “oneness.”But then, Goldstein said, the room then grew quiet as each one stood and said what he regarded as the “untruths” in his own faith.
The minister said that one “untruth” for him was that “Christianity is the only way to God.” The rabbi said for him it was the notion of Jews as “the chosen people.” And the sheik said for him it was the “sword verses” in the Koran, like “kill the unbeliever.”That’s what really got my attention. Can an adherent of one faith admit that there are “untruths” about that faith? We are usually quick to cite “untruths” in the faiths of others, but in our own…?
In the audience that day in Nashville was Mark Wingate, a computer programmer, who said,
“Talking about the untruths of each tradition is very courageous. It gets it out of the platitude category and into dialogue.”Dialogue on the untruths of each tradition is not only needed at an interfaith level, but also within faiths.
Mr. Wingate’s wife, Sally, added: “They had to work really hard to get to that point. Most of us are not willing to work that hard.”
I propose that we have a little intra-faith and interfaith dialogue right here; and that we share what we think are untruths in our own faiths. I have two that I want to share, and I plan to do so in parts 2 and 3 of this series over the next couple of days. Part 4 will be made up of your responses about untruths in your faith. If we need more parts to accommodate the responses, we add them.
I hope to hear from you.