Holy Scripture(s) in Interfaith Dialogue

This week the former president of the pontifical council for interreligious dialogue Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald was in Scotland. During a seminar at Glasgow University he talked about some events he organised during his interreligious work in the Vatican. During one of the events they had dialogue between Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Sikhs and Jains about their Holy Scriptures.

They talked about “easy/nice texts” eg Isaiah 9 from the Hebrew Bible, Mathew 5 from the Christian New Testament and Surah 59 from the Quran. But they also talked about “difficult texts” as Joshua 10 from the Hebrew Bible, Mathew 10 from the Christian New Testament and Surah 9 from the Quran. The Archbishop argued for contextual exegetic studying of the scriptures in interfaith dialogue. I support this opinion and from my point of view it is important not to ignore the “difficult” parts of the Holy Scriptures of the different faith communities.Torah_and_jadBut it is important to realize that every religion has a different way to treat their Holy Scripture(s). My personal faith tradition started 500 years ago with Martin Luther’s idea of sola scriptura (religious truth is only in the scripture and not in the tradition or decisions of the pope) and it was the protestant church with its very academical way of thinking which invented the “historical-critical method” from the 17th and 18th century CE onwards. Today even other Christian churches, as for example the Roman-Catholic Church, have accepted the historical-critical method, but other Christian communities for example different evangelical free churches have not. In other faith traditions, for example Islam or Hinduism, they have a very different way of dealing with their Holy Scripture(s). A friend of mine wrote his dissertation at the end of his studies in theology (equivalent to a master thesis) about this topic and it was very interesting for me to see the different ways faith communities use their scriptures, but it even showed me that an interfaith dialogue about scriptures might not be as easy as I or the Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald are thinking.Guru_Granth_SahibI as an academic protestant theologian would read the Quran as a document from Arabia from the 7th century CE in which I find a lot of similarities and some differences to the Bible. And as in the Bible I might find texts in it, which I like and texts which I don’t like. I would assume that this point of view does not exactly fit with the point of view about the Quran of many Muslim believers. On the other hand the view of a Muslim on Biblical texts might really differ from my view on the text.Touba3.jpgDoes that mean that there is no sense in having interfaith dialogue about Holy Scriptures? No! It just means, that the dialogue might be not very easy – but I would think that the most people expect it to be easy anyway. The Holy Scripture(s) are for many believers the most precious texts in the world and because of this importance it might not to be easy to be open to different opinions. But that is not only the case in interfaith dialogue but also in dialogue about texts between believers of the same faith tradition. I would assume that it would be enriching to hear what how believer of different faith traditions read texts of the Christian (protestant[1]) Bible. I would not expect, that we share all of our opinions at the end of a discussion, but I would hope that we learn from each other and get a deeper understanding of the texts we are talking about. I also would hope, that partners from other religious traditions would be happy to hear my opinion about their Holy texts.

One possibility to experience this kind of dialogue is the method of Scriptural Reasoning. You can try this method for example at one of Interfaith Glasgow’s Scriptural Reasoning events, which happen from time to time.

 

[1] Did you know, that the Protestant and the Roman-Catholic Bibles differ no only in the translation but also in the texts? The Roman-Catholic Bible includes texts, which are not part of the protestant Bibles.

Advertisements

Interfaith Dialogue – a uncontroversial topic?!

Two weeks ago I was a part of a delegation from Interfaith Scotland who visited the Church of Scotland’s National Youth Assembly 2017 in Gartmore. The National Youth Assembly (NYA) is a platform for young adults in the church of Scotland where they discuss different topics and the future of their church. It was a pleasure to meet so many young people who engage themselves for their faith and the society.

IMG-20170802-WA0001

 

Saturday evening at the youth assembly the young adults participated in a workshop about interfaith. After a short introduction about what interfaith dialogue is about and about Interfaith Scotland they could meet representatives from the Baha’i, Sikh and Muslim Faith and play a game where they had to relate different religious objects to respective faith. For nearly all of them it was the first time they (wittingly) talked to a Baha’i and a Sikh and for some of them it was the first time they talked to a Muslim as well. When we sat together in the evening or during the meals many of the youths told me, that for them interfaith was the most interesting topic during the NYA, because they did know so little about it before.

 

IMG-20170802-WA0018

The next day Mirella, Church of Scotland’s Interfaith officer, hold a talk about interfaith dialogue from a Christian perspective. After this the participants of the NYA discussed the topic in small groups. I could participate in one of the groups and had the feeling that everyone was very open to interfaith dialogue. The questions that where discussed where among others “What does good interfaith dialogue look like?”, “How can Christians be better in Interfaith dialogue?”, “What can we offer at dialogue?”, “What should the Church of Scotland be doing?”, “What can we do locally?” and “Are there problematic attitudes and events in the past who are connected to interfaith and what can we do about them?”. After the discussions in the small groups the different questions were discussed again in the large plenum.

IMG-20170802-WA0015

I was happy about but even a bit surprised that there hardly weren’t any critical voices about interfaith dialogue. From discussions with young Christian adults in Germany (theologians and no-theologians) I remember much more scepticism about giving up Christian values or fundamentals. From my former experiences, I would have expected to hear a (loud) minority who felt that dialogue maybe might be a good way to proselytize Non-Christians but not a dialogue at eye level. But in the discussion at the NYA no one referred to such sentences as John 14,16 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.“ to prove that interfaith dialogue might not be a “good Christian thing”.

IMG-20170802-WA0005

I was very (positively) surprised that (nearly) everybody seemed to see interfaith dialogue as an important way of making our society more peaceful and just. For the most of the NYA delegates it seemed to be clear that the Church of Scotland should do much more in interfaith work than they actually do. I hope that many of these young adults stay engaged in their church and always remember their positive attitude towards interfaith dialogue, so that there is a strong voice for interfaith work inside the Church of Scotland, other Christian denominations and other faith traditions. What do you think about interfaith dialogue? Is it as easy as it seems for the young adults or do you see any problems? Feel free to leave a comment!

IMG-20170802-WA0026