ST. PETE BEACH, Fla.

Who was Lao Tzu? What is a Sikh house of worship called? What is the name for the teachings of Buddha? What is the sacred river for Hindus? What are the five pillars of Islam?

Needless to say, participants in a workshop entitled “Faithful Discipleship in an Interreligious World” at the 2014 Evangelism and Church Growth Conferenceof the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) struggled to varying degrees to come up with answers to these and other questions posed by Christine Hong, the denomination’s associate for interfaith relations.

“If you’re not learning something every day, you are not doing interfaith relations right,” Hong told workshop participants reassuringly.

Why, with limited resources and limited time, do Presbyterians and PC(USA) congregations need to be involved in interfaith relations? “There are issues in our world that we cannot solve on our own,” Hong said, citing hate crimes, climate change, human need, conflict around the world often driven by religious differences and the increasing exposure of young people to persons of other faiths in their day-to-day lives.

A greater understanding of other faiths is also a practical matter for PC(USA) congregations, Hong added. “According to most recent research, 45 percent of all marriages are interfaith and at least one-quarter of all PC(USA) congregations include at least one interfaith family,” she explained.

“And an increasing number of our young people are leaving religious institutions,” Hong continued. “Are we ready to have those conversations with them?”

Relating to the growing interfaith reality in our communities is a much larger issue than just evangelism, Hong noted. “Christian witness encompasses evangelism but incorporates so much more than evangelism,” she said. “Interreligious appreciation must arise out of our most profound religious beliefs — for Presbyterians that includes our interpretation of the Bible, the church’s confessions and the Reformed tradition.”

Presbyterians must remember that all major religions “have a common thread of truth that runs through them: love of God and love of neighbor,” said Daryll Young, a workshop participant who holds a doctorate in interreligious studies.

Hong outlined several guidelines for Presbyterians who wish to engage in interfaith dialogue and understanding:

  • Relate to people, not religions: “You are not ‘dealing with Islam,’ you are encountering persons.”
  • Personal relationships come first
  • Approach people with openness and trust
  • Respect and affirm the living faith and religious freedom of others: “The other person’s faith is not your truth but it is their reality.”
  • Share your commitments but also listen intently to others.
  • Discern whether evangelism is the appropriate form of witness: “There are times when evangelism is the question of the day, but there are times when evangelism is not the appropriate form of witness. Service, relationship-building, faith seeking understanding — understanding and trust precedes evangelism, always listening to the Spirit.”Spirit.”

For PC(USA) congregations interested in getting started in interfaith dialogue and understanding, Hong offered a few tips:

  • Do a Google search of houses of worship in your neighborhood: “Start by finding out who your neighbors are”
  • Don’t get stuck in the “Abrahamic clique”: “It’s not all about Christianity, Judaism and Islam.”
  • Start with rationale: “Why are we doing this?”
  • No bending or trimming faith to get along: “Be upfront about your own core faith values,” Hong said. “Hiding things never gets us to trust and respect.”

The key to successful, meaningful interfaith relations, Hong said, “is humble modesty. Humility is internal, modesty is external. They go inseparably together if your interfaith relationships are going to be authentic.”

The answers to the questions:

  • Lao Tzu is the Chinese religious leader who founded Taoism.
  • The Sikh (pronounced “sick”)house of worship is called a gurdwara.
  • The written teachings of Buddha are called Tripitaka.
  • The Hindus’ most sacred river is the Ganges in India.
  • The five pillars of Islam are “Shahadah” (faith), “Salat” (prayer), “Zakat” (giving to the poor), “Sawm” (fasting), and “Hajj” (pilgrimage).