Interfaith Work (A Lament)

I attend an “interfaith trialogue” when I was in college. We traveled across the city to a synagogue, mosque, and a church to learn more about each respective faith traditions. What I appreciated about both the Jews and Muslims was that they unapologetically represented their own faith traditions. They stood in front of us and told us who they were and what they believed.

It was most disappointing when the Christian Leader got up in front of us, said nothing of our tradition and then proclaimed that we basically believed the same things as each other. An opportunity to tell everyone about Jesus and what he means to those who follow him was missed.

I had developed an allergy to inter-faith work after that. Well, maybe not an allergy, but I didn’t go seeking out inter-faith work.

It seems to me that people get together for interfaith work for many reasons. I am particularly proud of the group that I’m part of now because we do work that helps serve the community while at the same time learning about each other traditions.

What triggers me still are not people of other faith traditions but the Christians who still want to claim that people of all faith traditions essentially worship the same God. We don’t. We shouldn’t pretend like we do. I am also triggered when I am asked to water down my own faith, not pray in Jesus name, or talk boldly about what I believe.

When we speak with other traditions and claim that we are essentially the same, we set ourselves up as the authority and not as students. The height of arrogance as a Christian is to tell another faith tradition that we know their tradition better then they do. It seems to me to be another form of appropriation or colonizing.

There is a church I went to once where saints are painted on the walls. In the great and beautiful mural I saw some who did not identify as Christian being claimed with the Christian saints. I wonder if they would want to be counted as one of the saints on that wall? Would they want their image in a Christian church since they weren’t Christian? My guess is probably not.

It really does seem like it’s a form on appropriation to claim them for our tradition that they did not or would not claim for themselves.

I recognize that Christianity has had a place of privilege that others may not have had. The best way to deal with that privilege is to let other traditions speak for themselves and for us to listen and learn from them intently.

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