Seeking common ground: Interfaith dialogue goes beyond evangelism

Op-ed about interfaith dialogue published in The Collegian on Nov. 11, 2011.

The Washington D.C. Mormon Temple is among the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

I had the opportunity to visit it last summer. Although I live just miles from the building, I had never stopped to see it for myself before. The sheer white walls and golden spires literally sparkled in the sunlight and the grounds around the building appeared otherworldly – encompassing almost every color imaginable.

The highlight of my visit, however, was not the splendor of the building but the beauty
of Jesus Christ. Visitors to the Temple are met by a majestic statue of our Savior and surrounded with quotations from Scripture and plenty of warm, smiling faces. These things, along with the beauty of the Temple itself, reassured and encouraged me in my belief in a God of overwhelming love and beauty.

Had I begun my visit focused on how Mormonism diverges from what I believe to be orthodox Christianity, my experience would have been far less valuable.

I think it is the same with interfaith dialogue. It is unfortunate that the whole concept of interfaith dialogue has become somewhat discredited, often associated with pluralism or secular humanism. It is not that such connections are never warranted – Christians are wise (and obedient) to be cautious when they deal with other religions, and many alleged interfaith” attempts are little more than a disguised mockery of religion altogether.

But just as often, I see Christians (including myself) engage in a “conversation” with non-believers that lacks sincerity. They do not try to learn and do not ask honest questions; the “dialogue” is just subtle deception with proselytizing as the ulterior motive.

But there are useful ideas, even truths, to be gained from an honest exploration of other faiths. For students pursuing a liberal education, it is necessary to try and understand the doctrines of other religions before discounting them.

John Fischer alluded to this during chapel three weeks ago. Though he did not specifically mention interfaith dialogue, he encouraged the student body to seek common ground with the secular culture, and to build trust and honest relationships with nonbelievers in the process. Edification, he said, can be found outside of the Christian subculture.

In the same way, interacting with those of other religious beliefs should be an honest and humble endeavor. It is important for Christians to guard themselves from deception by recognizing the differences between Christianity and other faiths. However, focusing on those differences can blind Christians to the beauty and truth other faiths can offer.

Practically, Christians should refrain from judging the truth or merits of another faith before they fully understand it. I know little about Mormonism, and I am told many different (and contradictory) things about it from friends and mentors. But that day at the Temple, I learned from the Mormons that Christ is the Redeemer and is the only name by which one can be saved. I could not argue with this.

To apply John Fischer’s challenge more directly, I believe that it is fair and prudent to recognize the truth of other faiths wherever they align with our own. Mormons, for example, uphold Scripture as God’s revelation to man. Islam likewise mandates a reverence before God.Followers of Christ should not fear such honest evaluation and dialogue. We engage each other in this manner often at Grove City College, where denominational differences rarely get in the way of friendship and mutual understanding.

But on the flipside, there is no reason to fear being honest about where other faiths differ from our own and where we believe they fall short of orthodox Christianity. Because their God is the only true God, Christians should not fear mingling with those of other faiths nor avoid honest dialogue with Muslims, Mormons, Jews and others. Through such interaction we can proclaim the kingship of Christ.

What better way to conquer the world for Christ is there than to view everything – even the relics and symbols of other faiths – as a testament to Christ’s glory alone, capturing all truth for his name?

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