Interfaith cooperation requires us to be open and welcoming to others

Truly important issues, such as climate change and poverty, demand wide human collaboration. While this is not exactly novel or, in my view, controversial, it does point to the urgent need for dialogue among people of any faith or none aimed at deeper understanding and cooperation.

That’s why I’m glad this year’s Festival of Faiths – Indiana’s largest celebration of religions and religious diversity – was not cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather, it will be celebrated next Sunday, 13 Sep, from 1-2:30pm. I’m told there will be interviews, dialogue, song, and dance involving people young, old, and in between. The festival will also premier international recording artist Anita Lerche’s musical video Love Is My Religion.

You can participate two ways: online at www.festibvaloffaiths.com, or by watching Jill Ditmire broadcast the event live from WFYI’s studios where many of the sacred performances and interviews were pre-recorded. 

While interfaith relationships are important and essential, they are not always easy. For instance, they tend to affect the ways we understand ourselves; that is, our very identity.

For most of human history, people have defined themselves, often in religious terms, over against those who are “other.”  We are not them! 

This is evident today in what is called “fundamentalism”– which, as I see it, is the religious expression of the anxiety that so pervades contemporary society.  Fundamentalist religion assumes scarcity: If we are right, they must be wrong.  If we are saved, they must be lost.  Fundamentalist communities draw lines to keep their identity secure by keeping others out.

When Christians do this, I wonder how they understand the very prominent biblical theme of hospitality. The Bible, in both testaments, suggests that hospitality – that is, welcoming someone not like you – is not simply a practice but an identity. 

Who are you, Christian?  We are those who welcome others, just as Abraham welcomed angels by the oaks of Mamre (Genesis 18:1-8; Hebrews 13:1-2), just as God has welcomed us in Christ (Romans 15:7).

The “stranger” from another religion can challenge our pet assumptions, forcing us to think about God more deeply. Many spiritual giants of our age have stressed the importance of welcoming others.  No one, writes Thomas Merton, knows that the stranger he meets is not the one who has some providential or prophetic message to utter.

In a world so divided by acts of lovelessness and hatred, by allegiance to false gods such as money and power, and by lines drawn between people according to worldly standards, any witness to God’s intended wholeness is needed now more than ever!

Wilson is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Read his blog at www.nathandaywilson.com and follow him on Twitter: @nathandaywilson

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