Comings and Goings is a blog written by Theology, Formation, and Evangelism Director Charles B. "Chip" Hardwick as he travels throughout the church. God is on the move out and about in the world, working to redeem all things in Jesus Christ. As we join this mission, by the power of the Spirit we see God on the move. This blog contains glimpses of how Chip finds this to be true in his comings and goings.
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At the end of last week, I had the chance to go to the Interfaith Consultation at the Stony Point conference center about an hour outside of NYC. The General Assembly Committee on Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations convened approximately sixty church leaders and scholars to provide input to an upcoming document which will describe the PCUSA’s interfaith stance (to be approved at next summer’s General Assembly). It was fascinating to meet so many interesting people doing such faithful ministry in so many different contexts.
I gained many, many insights during my time at the consultation. One very helpful thought came from Heidi Hadsell, the president of Hartford Theological Seminary in CT. She spoke about the need to frame interfaith activities in a broader theological framework, so that Presbyterians and others who participate will understand why it is that they are engaging their interfaith neighbors. Is it to convert them? To learn more about their faith? To provide hospitality? Without knowing what it is that we are doing when we are talking and working with interfaith neighbors, it is hard to determine the best shape for the engagement.
Hak Joon Lee, professor of theology and ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary in California, suggested that interfaith relations best fit within the ministry of reconciliation to which Jesus calls us. As we interact with people of other faiths, we are getting to know them as people, with a long-term hope that we will no longer stereotype them, but rather build bridges between us and them, and between our community and theirs. With these bridges in place, we can move across previous boundaries of religion, yes, but also of race and socioeconomics in order to be more fully reconciled with them.
Of course, part of our ministry of reconciliation is to be reconciled with God as well, through Jesus Christ. As we interact with others of different faiths, we seek to witness to them in both word and deed—winsomely and carefully and faithfully—embodying Christ’s love by what we say and by what we do. Our success in doing so is not marked by whether or not our interfaith partner comes to faith in Christ; our success is marked by the character of our witness (non-triumphalistic, non-coercive, and non-threatening, yet loving, articulate, and invitational).
What we often discover as well, according to Hadsell, is that our relationships with people of other faith traditions help us to understand our own faith tradition more fully, and to commit ourselves more passionately to Jesus Christ. Their questions help sharpen our own faith, and their commitments inspire us to more faithful living.
Let us pray together for the interfaith interactions of people throughout the world, and especially those of Presbyterians offering a ministry of reconciliation.