Sunday, January 08, 2006

Looking Forward to 2006

What can we expect from NCC Interfaith Relations in 2006? This has been in my thoughts for the this first week of this year. The following are my hopes.

1. National Initiatives:

a. Jewish Christian dialogue: This table comprising representatives from mainstream Jewish organizations and Christian denominations have been meeting for over 18 months. Last September we undertook a joint trip to Israel/Palestine. You can read my report here. We returned from that trip with a greater understanding of the complexity of the situation on the ground, and with a greater determination to work for peace. There is clearly a great need for more conversation, building trust, and reaching new levels of understanding. We will attempt to engage Isareli and Palestinian leaders and work to influence US government and influential organizations to engage each other to work towards peace. We also agreed that some of us will find opportunities to speak at local events as pairs of Jews and Christians to highlight the ways we are working together towards peace.

We have begun also to engage our denominations and organizations in a domestic issue. This is in keeping with a long-standing tradition of Jewish and Christian cooperation on domestic matters. Immigration Reform, particularly as it relates to the humanitarian concerns of those cross the border in the southwestern states such as Arizona, has become our primary domestic concern.

b. Muslim Christian Dialogue Table: In the same way as representatives of Jewish and Christians organizations and denominations came together to a common dialogue table, we are inviting representatives of National Muslim organizations in the US to come to a dialogue table with representatives of Christian communions. The differences in the organizations structures of the Muslim community may make this effort more challenging, we expect to get this table functioning this year.

2. Local Initiatives:

a. Interfaith Dialogue Training: Encouraged by two successful pilot projects in Colombus, OH and Queens, NY, we are hoping to take the interfaith dialogue training program to at least 4 local communities in the US this year. Led by Dr. Jeff Spahn, the initial two-day dialogue training event will teach the group skills to

  • Listen without thinking about what to say next

  • Suspend judgment

  • Appreciate others’ beliefs

  • Be self critical about one’s own beliefs

  • Be aware of insights arising from the group.

Following the two-day training, participants will be encouraged to meet for 6 weeks in 2 hour sessions to sharpen their skills. Dr. Spahn will provide before and after coaching to the group leaders by phone.

b. “God Is One: The Way of Islam” curriculum for churches. This primer on Islam written by retired United Methodist minister Marston Speight includes a 6 week study guide written by Dr. Jay Rock (Presbyterian Church, USA). We are encouraging churches to study this as a part of their adult education curriculum. We will conduct one-day seminars to train adult education teachers and pastors in teaching this book. A part of the curriculum is building a relationship with a Muslim person or as a congregation building a relationships with a local mosque.

The first two training seminars are now scheduled:
First, at Hartford Seminary, Hartford, CT on Saturday, March 11th 9:00 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.
Second, at Union Seminary, New York, NY on Saturday, March 25th 9:00 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.

Trainings will be done by Hartford staff who are themselves Muslims. They are open to the Adult Education curriculum teachers and pastors.

Please call 212-870-2560 or email for registration.

c. Continuing Education in Interfaith Relations for Pastors in Local Communities: We are hoping to adapt Dr. Lucinda Mosher’s “World Views Seminar” which is sponsored by University of Michigan, Ann Arbor has had a long run in Detroit, to suit the needs of pastors currently serving in local communities. Those who are ill-equipped to deal with the religiously diverse communities they live in or teach their congregations how to build relationships across religious communities will find this three-day seminar incredibly useful.

3. Theological Conversation

“Christian Theology’s Engagement with Religious Pluralism” which began in November at the American Academy of Religion will continue. We are seeking to become a “Group” within the AAR next year. The papers that were presented will be made available online and the over 200 scholars who attended will be invited to participate in the conversation.

“Thinking Together” a group of scholars and leaders of different religious communities coming together to think together about theological questions will continue. Our previous theme was the Theology of the “Other.” Our current theme is “Conversion.”

4. Education

This year we begin a conversation with leaders of the Education and Leadership Ministries Commission of the NCC to think about how to make Sunday School curricula more open to interfaith concerns – in other words towards a more open theology than a more exclusive one.

5. Organizing for Peace and Justice

This year we will see creative cooperative ventures between interfaith organizations such as Religions for Peace, USA, Interfaith Youth Core, Pluralism Project and Interfaith Alliance. NCC Interfaith Relations will work to position itself to be a catalyst for and in the leading edge of a powerful interfaith movement committed to peace and justice in the United States.


At 12:07 AM, Anonymous Devaka said...

Very important principles you've put forth in the section on dialogue training. However, "suspend judgment," worded as it is, leaves me with more questions than answers. For dialogue to be authentic, one need be careful about suspending his or her deeply-held convictions or right to criticize the Other. I realize that suspension does not mean negation, but one is left wondering: for how long suspension? Paul Knitter warns against dialogue between partners insufficiently grounded in the core convictions of their faiths, dialogue that often ends up as, in his words, theological chit-chat. Especially if one goal of dialogue is to respond to the pressing needs of the day, there is an uncompromisable need for judgments and criticisms, directed both inward and outward. How to balance dialogical openness with prophetic insistence - what a fantastic problem!

At 11:53 PM, Blogger Stephen A. Fuqua said...

With regard to #5: if you are interested in working with the United Religions Initiative as well, please feel free to contact me. E-mail address is first initial followed by last name (not written out to avoid spambots).

Stephen A. Fuqua
North American Regional Coordinator
United Religions Initiative

At 8:13 PM, Anonymous Archana said...

Your guiding objectives for the new year are very impressive. More dialogue and pilot projects that stimulate interfaith discussion are necessary for the healthy future of our country. For a much more informal discussion of these issues, please visit our blog.


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