Tuesday, February 25, 2014

From Hostility to Hospitality

Islamic Center of Murfreesboro
No matter where you live, you have probably heard about the controversy about the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro.  Certain dissatisfied citizens continue to protest the county’s granting a building permit to the new mosque although it has now been occupied over a year and several courts have ruled against the plaintiffs, who now want to take their case to U. S. Supreme Court.

On the larger stage, many Christian leaders in our country are considering ways to ministry in what may be the most religiously diverse nation in the world.  Christians are increasingly called to exercise our pastoral practices in a context that requires understanding of faith traditions other than our own.

Three years ago, with the support of the Henry Luce Foundation, the Association of Theological Schools provided grants to 18 theological schools to help prepare their graduates to serve faithfully in a multi-faith environment. The projects funded by the Christian Hospitality and Pastoral Practices in a Multi-faith Society (CHAPP) project are available online. 

The thrust of these projects was not to compromise the Christian faith or “water down the Gospel.”  In most cases the first step was to help theological students understand their own faith commitment better.  In the words of Jewish theologian Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, “Faith must proceed interfaith.”  A person must have a firm grasp of his or her own tradition before entering into dialogue or cooperation with those of another faith tradition.

What is the value of a Christian minister knowing how to function in a multi-faith context?  Let me suggest several possibilities.

First, we can enrich our understanding of our own faith tradition by considering how others see us.  As we attempt to overcome the stereotypes that others have of us, we find new ways to interpret what is vital to us.

Second, as we learn to appreciate the faith tradition of another person, we come to see that person not as the “other” but as a multidimensional human being with many of the same questions, concerns, and values that we have.

Third, we can find areas of mutual concern where we might work together without abandoning our own convictions.  You do not have to give up your faith to work with others on matters of civic or social concern.  We all want things like better schools, less poverty, and healthy families no matter what faith we practice.

Fourth, we can learn how to effectively share resources or space. The resources allocated to ministries such as institutional chaplaincy are limited and becoming more so.  We must learn how to “share space” with other faith traditions while respecting our mutual commitments.

The effective Christian minister in 21st century America must have the skills to function in a multi-cultural, multi-faith environment.  This is not only a reality but an opportunity.

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