Interfaith Relations and Christian Living

Session Three

Prepare your meeting room

1. Display the map you prepared during Session II.

2. Arrange an area in your meeting room for posting the cards participants bring from home, as assigned in Session II. Plan a way to differentiate the cards with questions and those that applaud ideas.

3. Have Bibles distributed for use.

4. Prepare information and instruction handouts, if you are planning to visit another religious group as your next group activity:

a. As you meet with community leaders of the other religion, collect some basic self definitions and information about basic beliefs and practices that they will consider appropriate for you to supply to your members.

b. Ask the religious community’s leaders about etiquette for your visit and/or arrange instructions taken from a resource such as How to Be a Perfect Stranger (see closing item in bibliography ). Remember that others may assume certain behaviors that you do not understand (e.g., forms of dress, appropriate posture for standing or sitting, patterns of speech or quiet) and may not mention important concerns, especially if they are not accustomed to receiving guests.

5. Decide how you will make the material in Box 4 available, through passing out copies or having participants bring Interfaith Relations and the Churches to your meeting. If you will have the material read aloud, ask someone in advance. Alternately, all participants may review the material silently.

Prepare for issues you may face during discussion.

1. In the previous session, you mapped the religious picture of your community, which you viewed from a geographic perspective. For this session, be ready to emphasize the human community brought into being by God’s acts of creation. You may wish to find your own quotation about this for use during the Biblical Perspectives section (see below). (Be aware that, if you look up references to "community" in a Bible dictionary or similar resource, you may find materials describing the covenant community brought about by God’s salvific acts rather than the human community formed by God’s creative acts. New Bible translations, such as the Contemporary English Version (CEV) published by the American Bible Society, use the word "community" applied to the "community of Israel" and, minimally, the community that is the church. You will need to distinguish carefully between the forms of community as you lead discussion in this session. Do not raise issues about these various forms unless necessary.)

2. Read one or more commentaries and Bible dictionaries for background on the biblical passages for this session

3. Be prepared to read the posted theological questions as they arrive to be sure that there are no concerns best handled during this session on human community. Otherwise, be ready to deal with the cards’ questions in future sessions. Read participants’ selections of ideas to applaud to get a sense of where the groups’ thinking is.


God and Human Community

Goals for this session:

• To explore our understandings of community

• To reflect on the significance of God’s creation of humanity for our relations with men and women of other religious traditions

Welcome and Opening

As group members arrive, invite them to post any cards they have prepared in response to your invitation in the previous session’s homework assignment. Other participants may want to read the cards as they are posted. Do not attempt to discuss the content of the questions at this time but thank those who brought cards, indicating you will study them carefully.

Follow your established means of opening with worship or prayer. You may want to use a prayer that speaks about love of neighbor.

Experience (25 minutes)

Ask each person to turn to another person sitting nearby and quickly to share one specific image, or one story, that expresses their experience of community at its most meaningful level. (Do not offer definitions of community as you assign this work in pairs.) (5 minutes)

Call the group together to share insights. You may wish to write highlights of the discussion on a blackboard or flip chart, as a means of visualizing the conversation.

• What are the elements that make up, or mark, community for you?

• What are the kinds of actions that bring about community?

• How important is community in our lives? To our faith? (20 minutes)

Exploration and Reflection

1. Biblical Perspectives (15 minutes)

Read Genesis 1:26-31. Recall that God’s act of creation has been explicitly connected with the concept of community in such places as the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Brief Statement of Faith, which reads, "In sovereign love God created the world good and makes everyone equally in God's image, male and female, of every race and people, to live as one community." (You may use another quotation, as available, if it better meets the ecclesial identity of your participants.) Do you agree that all people, because of their creation in God’s image, are equal in God’s sight? What are the implications of your answer? If you do not agree, what kind of differences do you see?

Read Luke 12:15-32. Ask, In what does one’s life consist? The Lukan passage suggests that our main concern should be the establishment of God’s reign ("the kingdom of God"). Does living in this way—making this one’s primary commitment—reflect what it means to be made in the image of God? What else does our creation in the image of God imply about us?

2. From the Policy Statement (30 minutes)

Continue your exploration by reading the section of Interfaith Relations and the Churches on God and Human Community (Box 4). Discuss your responses to the section, in light of your biblical reflection:

• What do you think the stature of being made in God’s image means about the capabilities of every individual?

• Does being made in the image of God serve as a basis for your understanding of how people should treat each other?

• Do you agree that God’s will is for community?

Response (20 minutes)

Discuss further questions in light of your explorations of the biblical passages and the policy statement:

• What kinds of communities do we want to build? How will men and women of other religious traditions be part of them?

• Do women and men of other faiths have things to tell us about God as well as about human nature? Why?

• What should be our goals in relating to people of other religions?

For Next Time

If the group will make a visit to a "congregation" of another faith tradition, this will best occur before one of the next two regular sessions. (See planning notes in this guide.) Make clear to participants where they will be going, where they are to meet, and when. Talk about any questions concerning etiquette of visitation that may require attention. Distribute basic introductory material about the practice and beliefs of the host community, and appropriate etiquette, for participants to read in preparation for the visit.

Invite participants to read the section on Jesus Christ and Reconciliation, paragraphs 30-35, in Interfaith Relations and the Churches.

Closing

Close with a hymn of the group’s choice and/or a prayer.

Box 4

19. God and Human Community

20. Understanding the churches’ relationship to people of other religious traditions begins in the recognition of God’s many gifts to us, including that of relationship. All are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). When we meet a human being, no matter what her or his religion, we are meeting a unique creation of the living God. "One is the community of all peoples, one their origin, for God made the whole human race to live on all the face of the earth." All are equal in God’s sight; each is equally the object of God’s love and potentially open to receive "a ray of that truth which enlightens all [humanity]." Because we are all children of the one God we are all related to one another. It is in this sense that we may call all men and women our brothers and sisters. (We also recognize a specific use of this familial language to refer to those within the household of Christian faith.) Community is itself a divine gift which we are called to make real in our lives.

21. In our Christian understanding, relationship is part of the nature of God. In God’s own essence, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are in dynamic interrelationship, a unity of three in one. Similarly, humanity is created in diversity. In the scriptural account of creation, it is the first humans in community who together constitute the image of God. Being made in God’s image we are created to live a life of relationship and called to claim the unity in our human diversity.

22. We recognize, however, that though we are given this gift of community, we act in ways that break or undermine it. Too often we set ourselves against each other. We become separated from God and alienated from God’s creation. We find ourselves in seemingly irreconcilable conflict with other people. We confess that as human beings we have a propensity for taking the gift of diversity and turning it into a cause of disunity, antagonism and hatred—often because we see ourselves as part of a unique, special community. We sin against God and each other.

23. This is part of the reality of our human condition. We see it in the ease with which our father Adam accuses our mother Eve: "The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree" (Genesis 3:12). Within a generation the vision of the community for which we are created had become so distorted that Cain can challenge God with the question, "Am I my brother’s keeper?" (Genesis 4:9).

24. Scripture suggests that our responsibility extends not only to a brother or sister, but also to the stranger. Hebrew Scripture celebrates the wider community to which humanity is called in the stories of Melchizedek, Jethro, Rahab and Ruth, and the Hittites who offered hospitality to Abraham. In the Torah God enjoins the Jewish people to treat the sojourner as part of their own community. Throughout the Bible, hospitality to the stranger is an essential virtue. We recall both the words of the Epistle to the Hebrews (13:2), "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it," and the example Jesus gives in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37).

25. In the churches’ long history with people of other religions, as we have struggled to make actual God’s gift of community, we have acted both faithfully and unfaithfully. While Christians have suffered persecution at the hands of those of other faiths and from each other, we have much to repent. Christians have persecuted Jews, and crusaded against Muslims. Christians have enslaved Africans and other peoples, and have participated in subordinating indigenous peoples and erasing their religious traditions. Many Christians have accepted or perpetuated the use of their religion to bless the imposition of western culture and economic domination. Anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim biases, together with racism and ethnic biases have flourished among us.

26. We can rejoice that Christians were leaders in the anti-slavery movement, and have worked for the human and communal rights of many peoples. Christians have fought oppressive economic and social systems of many societies, including our own, and have resisted injustice without regard to cost. Christians also have invited transformation of those ways of living that damage others and undermine the one human community. In many of these efforts Christians have worked closely with people of other faiths.

27. Our experience, therefore, is a mixture of successes and failures in building loving community and in exercising our stewardship of God's creation in justice and peace. We must struggle to reject or reform all those human actions and systems that destroy or deny the image of God in human beings or that tear down the structures of human community. On the other hand, we must seek to affirm all human impulses which build up true community.

28. Because God is at work in all creation, we can expect to find new understanding of our faith through dialogue with people of other religions. Such interaction can be an opportunity for mutual witness. Mutual witness, however, does not always take place in a context of mutual respect. We may fail in our efforts to reflect God’s love for all and, even on those occasions when we succeed in the practice of a respectful presence, we do not always find our success mirrored by our conversation partners.

29. We find ourselves in need of repentance and reconciliation. Again and again we are reminded "of the Christian Church as a sign at once of people’s need for fuller and deeper community, and of God’s promise of a restored human community in Christ." As we wait for the fulfillment of God’s promise, we commit ourselves to work for fuller and deeper community in our own time and place.

Interfaith Relations and the Churches

Contents    Intro   Session I   II   III    IV  V  VI   Visit  Adapting This Study   Resources    Policy Statement

Interfaith Relations Home Page    NCC Home Page