Interfaith Dialogues: Can They Work?

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By Brittany Smith, Christian Post Reporter
February 17, 2012|1:16 pm

A Jew, a Christian and a Muslim are having a conversation.

This sentence could be the beginning of a bad joke. But a new group is hoping that conversation is not a joke, but a way to explore what their religions have in common.

Named after the religious figure shared by all three faiths, The Abrahamic Council wants to recruit leaders from the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths to dialogue using the Scriptures. Despite their differences, leaders of these faiths share the creation story, the biblical figure Abraham, and they look to the Old Testament as the guidelines for what is right and wrong.

"When glancing at news media, in general we get the impression that the three largest religions of the world have very different views on practically everything. But is that a fact? We think not. By focusing on our common denominators we seek to find truth and grounds for peace," explains Danish businessman and founder Jeppe Hedaa in a released statement.

The plan for the council is to consider issues and problems that pose moral or ethical dilemmas to individuals and society, and after discussion, release a consensus statement. They hope that the statement will help rabbis, clergy and imams who are also wrestling with such issues.

American lobbyist and conservative activist Grover Norquist, most known for his war on taxes, told The Christian Post that he thinks the idea for the council is a good one and long overdue. Norquist's wife is a practicing Muslim and he supports interfaith dialogues, often participating in them.

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He said the number one factor in whether or not people are hostile to Muslims is if they know or interact with any Muslims.

The whole point of an interfaith council, Norquist said, is "to eliminate unnecessary conflict, not eliminate the differences."

He said it would be fascinating to do a checklist of 50 things that all three religions agree on and then have them see how many they have in common.

"The number of things they have in common dwarfs the things they have in common with the secular world," Norquist said. "A lot of Christians have no idea how similar Islam is to Christianity."

But not everyone is ready to jump onboard.

Frank Gaffney, president of the American Center for Security Policy and outspoken critic of radical Islam, told CP that he thinks interfaith dialogues can be helpful, but only if they are with "Muslims whose practice of faith does not involve any military and legal doctrine that is fundamentally totalitarian, such as Sharia law."

He said he would urge those participating in these types of dialogues to do them only if they are doing it with people "who make it clear they reject the political doctrine that Sharia represents."

Dr. Tal Davis was with the Southern Baptist Convention's North American Mission Board for over 15 years, and participated and facilitated many interfaith councils during his time with them – specifically between Catholics and Southern Baptists.

He told CP that various interfaith dialogues "are helpful to clarify the beliefs that different groups may hold. They can be helpful for dispelling misconceptions."

But he said that sometimes these groups, in their desire to be tolerant, "overlook key theological and religious differences."

Davis emphasized that evangelicals can't ignore the key difference they have with Islam and Judaism – that salvation is through Jesus Christ alone. He said Christians are obligated to at least introduce nonbelievers to Christ "in ways that are loving and caring."

For these councils to work, and for the dialogues to add validity to the discussions, each faith leader has to be honest about what they believe, even if it is different, Davis said.

The council is still in initial planning stages, but for the first year's trial-run, The Abrahamic Council will discuss guidelines for how a country or a community could educate its children in religion.

"Education is important for every society and holds the key to future understanding among different believers. By addressing this issue through The Abrahamic Council, I truly think we can help to minimize conflicts for the next generations by allowing them to grow up with less prejudice," Mohamed A. Mohamed, instructor in Religious Studies at Northern Arizona University, and one of the council's coordinators said in a released statement.

The council also expects to address issues such as religious freedom, immigration, financial systems, secularism, and the role of media in promoting understanding and tolerance. The council hopes to hold its first conference in late 2012 or early 2013.

On the Web: http://www.a-c.org/faq.html

 

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