By: Rabbi Anson Laytner
Sardines don’t do interfaith…..
but a capacity crowd crammed the Casey Commons to commemorate Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry’s second annual observance of Interfaith Harmony Week with a banquet, talk and discussion.
Interfaith Harmony Week was unanimously adopted by the United Nations in 2010 at the initiative of King Abdullah of Jordan to be observed during the first week of February around the world. It provides a platform annually for people of good will, both religious and spiritual, who recognize and demonstrate that the common values they hold far outweigh the differences they have.
Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, Spehar-Halligan Visiting Professor of Ecumenical Collaboration and Interreligious Dialogue was the guest speaker. In addition to his academic credentials, Rev. Dr. Kinnamon is a past General Secretary of the National Council of Churches and he brought his vast experience to bear on the topic of the challenges about doing successful interfaith dialogue.
He first called our attention to the challenges we may confront in our communities:
1. There is often resistance within our own religious communities. The more committed we are to constructive relations with other religious communities, the more difficult it is to have constructive relations with more conservative parts of our own faiths.
2. We need to know when and where to draw the line between religious diversities that are morally “acceptable” and those that are not. Saying yes to neighbors of another faith means saying no to those things that harm or diminish people, including things done in the name of religion.
3. The question of religious identity in our post-modern context blurs boundaries, which may threaten–or at least appear to threaten–the integrity of our communities.
Too often, people engaged in interfaith dialogue fail to realize that there are stages to the emerging relationships. Prior to dialogue, faith communities exist in a state of competition, in which a faith community sees itself as basically self-sufficient and in a state of rivalry with other communities which it regards as wrong in their religious claims. Gradually, a religious community moves into a state of co-existence, in which it agrees to live alongside others but has little interest in dialogues or in structured relationships. As the relationship builds, a faith community recognizes others with sufficient warmth to cooperate with other faiths in order to undertake certain tasks in a real, if limited, partnership. Lastly, the parties move into the state of commitment, in which the degree of mutual recognition felt between the religious communities has led to existence of lasting bonds greater than expedient collaboration.
Dr. Kinnamon closed by dwelling on the qualities of the committed relationship, the better to focus our sights on the ultimate and desired stage:
1. A relationship of commitment would go beyond trading information, beyond getting to know one another better, to a willingness to learn from one another in ways that potentially enrich, even expand, our own faiths.
2. A relationship of commitment would go beyond periodic acts of cooperation to sustained collaboration, based on a conviction that our work for justice and reconciliation require the participation of the other.
3. A relationship of commitment would involve staying together even in the face of significant disagreement about matters of real importance.
4. A relationship of commitment would recognize that we face common challenges that demand shared responses.
Thus challenged, each table of participants—arranged so that each had people of different faiths at it—convened its own discussion and concluded by offering suggestions to the School of Theology and Ministry about how the School could assist with interfaith dialogue in the community in the years ahead.
Speaking personally, any interfaith gathering that doesn’t end in a food fight leaves me hopeful for the future.
Rabbi Anson Laytner is program manager of Seattle University School of Theology & Ministry’s Interreligious Initiative.