Remarks at the 2nd Annual Interfaith Dinner for Clergy

Remarks at the 2nd Annual Interfaith Dinner for Clergy at the
Sheraton Premiere Hotel.
We are living at a time when new models of interfaith dialogue
are emerging. These models invite us to live within our tradition
and find reasons within our tradition for the commitment to
dialogue and peaceful coexistence. The older model that denies
differences and focuses on a generic spirituality and generic
ethics is disappearing. Instead we work with our differences and
learn from these differences. This new approach creates options
for persuading our undialogical co-religionists. In so doing we
illustrate how we can serve God and serve humanity. (summary
provided to the organizers).
A kid turns to his Dad. “Dad, I notice when you come out to
preach, you spend a few moments with your head down and
your eyes closed. What are you doing”. The Father looked at
his son: “I am praying that God will give me a good sermon”.
The kid paused, looked puzzled, and finally said: “So why
doesn’t he?”
We all want to be servants of the Lord God; yet it is difficult.
Perhaps working for peace is some of the hardest work of all. I
think we are living at interesting times. It is a time when an
older model of interfaith dialogue is dissipating and a new
model is emerging.
The older model stressed the need for us all to become a little
less committed to our tradition. So, said this model, be more
relaxed about those doctrines that divide us. So Christians were
told “stop believing that Jesus is the Incarnation of God and the
“way, truth, and life”; Muslims were told to “apply critical
approaches to the Qur’an”; Jews were told to stop talking about
a connection between the Land and their faith. The hope was
we would all be more relaxed; and we would ussher in peace
between the world religions.
The problem was that those most committed to our respective
tradition saw this as a ‘selling out’ – as unacceptable
compromise. It meant that it was only the liberals involved in
the hard work of peace making; it meant that those who needed
to be invited into the circle were asked to make an unacceptably
high price for admission. Those most committed where asked to
be less committed. And anyway, traditions have a system for
knowing what God wants; the liberals were destroying that
Then the world changed. It was through dialogue that a new
model started to emerge. This was one which invited us to be
deeply committed to our tradition; to believe with all our heart
our distinctive truth claims. And then to find within our
tradition reasons why the God we worship is calling us to
peaceful coexistence. It was a completely different model.
All traditions have their examples of such advocates. Advocates
who argue out of the particularism of their tradition for peace
and dialogue. However, my favorite is Beduizzaman Said
Nursi. It was Nursi who argued that it is because he was a
deeply committed Muslim who believes in the infalliability of
the Qur’an and the reality of Muhammad’s prophethood that he
is a person of peace. It is because he believes in Islam that he
wants Muslims to be at peace with their neighbor. He called for
a jihad of the word that demonstrates the power and elegance of
the message of Islam to persuade. A self-confident Muslim he
argued will never resort to violence.
This new approach is one that doesn’t require us all to give up
our beliefs, but to live within those beliefs and see them
differently. It invites those who are most conservative to be part
of the conversation – the price for entry is no longer disbelief or
skepticism. This new approach is to be welcomed. This might
well make a difference.
What we end up preaching, might still be boring to a child, but
at least we can explain how and in what way we trust it is from
God. This is a big improvement.