Paul Raushenbush reminds us that not only is Inter-Faith dialogue hard, but also Intra-Faith dialogue is hard, and perhaps harder:
Christian Civility: The Test of Intra-Faith Relations
In The Huffington Post
Recently, I read an article featuring a pastor with whom I had strong disagreements. The more I read, the less I liked -- and it was a long article. That pastor made statements about the nature of the Gospel and society to which I took personal offense. Unfortunately, this happened right before I went to bed and I spent an hour or so awake and fuming, wondering how this person could read the same scriptures and see such a different Jesus than the one I call Lord. The more I thought, the more I began to view a fellow Christian, whom I had never met and to whose beliefs I had been introduced third hand, as "the enemy." Like cement carelessly poured on a sidewalk, my thoughts hardened my heart into a stumbling block for my faith. Of course, my reaction isn't particularly unique or even surprising.
Religion evokes intense responses because it plays an essential role in our lives. Our beliefs reflect who we are, what we care about, our purpose -- what Tillich would call our "ultimate concerns." I serve as the Associate Dean of Religious Life and the Chapel at Princeton University. Much of my work involves encouraging interfaith dialogue between students of different religious traditions, including a group of 30 students called the Religious Life Council who have committed themselves to being part of a community of diverse faith traditions and beliefs (including atheists and agnostics) that acknowledges difference while maintaining respect and friendship. This stretches the students as Muslims and Jews, Hindus and Sikhs, Christians and Buddhists articulate their disagreements on questions of the existence of God, how society should be structured, the relation between religion and international politics and the nature of salvation. When speaking to someone from a different faith, we start out with the basic understanding that we will and should disagree, but we can sit down and have some tea and talk together.
Inter-faith dialogue is hard, but intra-faith can be harder. Every Christian claims Jesus, so essential questions of how we understand Jesus, his earthly ministry, the meaning of the crucifixion, the nature of his call upon our lives (questions to which a non-Christian is largely indifferent) become the grounds of our essential debate and, literally, a matter of life and death.