Interfaith Relations and Christian Living

Session Two

Prepare your meeting room

1. You may wish to sketch a rough map of your city, your state, or the U.S. in advance, to be used for the mapping project. Make your map in some form that can be saved for later display. Decide what use you will make of different colors, if any (e.g., using different colors to differentiate individuals and institutions, or to identify particular religions), and get the necessary chalk or felt tip pens.

2. Have Bibles distributed for use.

3. Plan the method you will use for reading the Marks of Faithfulness – either duplicating Box 3 or asking group members to bring their copy of Interfaith Relations and the Churches. If someone will lead a responsive reading, ask the person to prepare in advance.

4. Be sure all participants have a copy of the full Interfaith Relations and the Churches at home or have available copies of the portion to be assigned as homework. Bring copies of denominational materials about interfaith relations, as available, for distribution as homework.

5. Have small cards available to pass out as you make the homework assignment.

Prepare for issues you may face during discussion.

1. In the mapping activity, the group will pool its knowledge to construct a "map" of individuals and institutions of other religions known to them. Do the research necessary to gauge in advance what context you should use. If there are no such individuals and institutions in your town, you can ask participants to think about their state, region of the country, or nation as a whole. If you discover there is religious diversity in your own geographic area, however, plan a local mapping exercise.

2. Assign one or more participants to do research ahead that might help fill in the "map" you choose to make. The Worldwide Web is a particularly useful source. For example, visit the directory of religious centers at the Pluralism Project. This step will be particularly important if you gauge that there will be little immediate knowledge in your group.

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

4. For your own background, think about broad forms of hospitality that are practiced in your town or city. Imagine which of these—or what innovative forms of hospitality—might be employed if Christians were to practice hospitality as part of their discipleship.


Living Among Women and Men of Other Faiths

Goals of this Session

• To construct a "map" of known people and institutions of other religious traditions in the community

• To examine hospitality as a form of faithful living for Christians in situations of religious plurality

• To introduce the Marks of Faithfulness in Interfaith Relations and the Churches

Welcome and Opening

Begin the session with an opening prayer, hymn, litany or an office such as Vespers—possibly picking up a theme for this from your Session I discussion.

After welcoming participants, invite them to introduce themselves once again and to reiterate, in one or two sentences, what they hope to learn.

Experience (30 minutes)

Introduce the "mapping" activity by reminding individuals that, in the previous session, we talked about Christian discipleship. We are called to live faithfully in the specific context where we are placed. Therefore, it is important to recognize the nature of our context. In this session, we will map out religious characteristics of our environment in order to identify those with whom we share our lives.

Ask the participants to identify actual individual persons who are adherents of other religions and to connect them with specific places. For example, if you have decided to map your local community, there may be Ali, a Muslim man, whom a participant knows at school; someone may be aware of a Buddhist woman connected to the local hospital; Martha, who is a Baha’i, may be a colleague at work; a woman in the group may have a Jewish husband who works as a lawyer. Are there individuals who run the neighborhood market? Or share in a volunteer activity or organization? If you have decided to map a national picture, what public figures are known to be members of another religious community? What persons, if any, are related to participants by sharing the same profession? Where do they live and what do they do? This is not the time for sharing stories about how people met or what they are like. As group members provide data, record the information on a large piece of paper or a board, roughly arranged geographically. (10 minutes)

Now ask the group to add the names of institutions of other religious traditions known to them, either by precise designation or by a generalization such as "the synagogue on Elm Street" or "the Muslim day school out by the mall." Record the information as part of the same schema used for individuals. (10 minutes)

As a group, look at this quickly sketched map of interreligious relationships based on knowledge of the group. Tell people that more can be added to the map later, if they remember new things or acquire new facts. As appropriate, motivate participants to look for additional information.

How do you respond to the picture you see? What sort of connectedness to communities of other faiths does it portray for individual participants and groups of Christians? What changes does this map suggest about our society? What are its implications in terms of a common life in the civic sphere? What are its implications for the church? (10 minutes)

Exploration and Reflection

Refer to Interfaith Relations and the Churches, paragraphs 1–10. The mapping project has created your own picture of your context among people of other faiths. Especially as our inter-connections with people of other religious traditions grow, we have an increasing need to understand how to live as faithful Christians amid religious diversity. Scripture offers insights into this question, and the statement on Interfaith Relations and the Churches devotes considerable attention to describing the nature of such faithful living.

1. Biblical Perspectives (30 minutes)

Read Genesis: 23:1-19. We know that the Hittites—inhabitants of the land before Abraham arrived—were not monotheists and that God warned the Israelites not to worship their gods (cf. Exodus 23:23-24). It is clear, then, that whatever hospitality is found in this story is not based on shared religious beliefs. What is the relationship between Abraham and the Hittites? What is your reaction to the Hittites offer and to Abraham’s response? In what way does this story give us a model of hospitality?

Read Paul’s message in Romans 12:12-21. He specifically talks about hospitality to strangers. Who are the "saints" referred to in verse 13? Who, in this context, are the "strangers"? To whom do you believe the other verses apply? Are there significant differences in the behavior Paul suggests be shown to the saints and that he recommended toward strangers?

Compare the Genesis and Romans passages. How might you apply the understandings of hospitality to your relations with men and women of other religious traditions here in the U.S.?

2. From the Policy Statement (5 minutes)

The Marks of Faithfulness found in Interfaith Relations and the Churches (Box 3) are a response to the biblical call to hospitality. Read the Marks aloud. (You wish to use responsive reading, with one person reading the underlined selections and the group reading the remaining material in each numbered section.)

Response (15 minutes)

We will come back to consider these affirmations in more detail in a later session. What questions or comments does the group have about these Marks of Faithfulness at this point in your thinking? What consequences do you think this kind of faithful living has for your daily life?

For Next Time

In preparation for the next session, assign the perusal of Reflections on Theology and Practice in Interfaith Relations and the Churches, paragraphs 16-44, with special emphasis on paragraphs 19- 29. If you have access to documents of your own church(es) which present a theological framework for relations with people of other religious traditions, distribute them for reading at home. Ask group members to think about their own theological questions and to bring these to the next session, in writing, using cards you provide as they leave. Suggest that, as they are reading Interfaith Relations and the Churches, they write on a card the one idea in it that they would most wish to applaud.

Closing

Take a few moments for each person to share one thing they learned during this session. Close with a prayer or hymn.

Box 3
MARKS OF FAITHFULNESS

1. All relationship begins with meeting. The model for our meeting others is always the depth of presence and engagement which marked Jesus’ meeting with those around him. In our everyday lives, we will meet and form relationships with men and women of other religious traditions. At times these may be difficult relationships, based on bitter memories. However, we have been created for loving community and will not disengage from trying to build bridges of understanding and cooperation throughout the human family.

2. True relationship involves risk. When we approach others with an open heart, it is possible that we may be hurt. When we encounter others with an open mind, we may have to change our positions or give up certainty, but we may gain new insights. Prompted to ask new questions, we will search the Scriptures and be attentive to the Spirit in new ways to mature in Christ and in love and service to others….

3. True relationship respects the other's identity. We will meet others as they are, in their particular hopes, ideas, struggles and joys. These are articulated through their own traditions, practices and world-views. We encounter the image of God in the particularity of another person's life.

4. True relationship is based on integrity. If we meet others as they are, then we must accept their right to determine and define their own identity. We also must remain faithful to who we are; only as Christians can we be present with integrity. We will not ask others to betray their religious commitments, nor will we betray our commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

5. True relationship is rooted in accountability and respect. We approach others in humility, not arrogance. In our relationships we will call ourselves and our partners to a mutual accountability. We will invite each other to join in building a world of love and justice, but we will also challenge each other’s unjust behavior. We can do both only from an attitude of mutual respect.

6. True relationship offers an opportunity to serve. Jesus comes among us as a servant. We too are given the opportunity to serve others, in response to God’s love for us. In so doing, we will join with those of other religious traditions to serve the whole of God's creation. Through advocacy, education, direct services and community development, we respond to the realities of a world in need. Our joining with others in such service can be an eloquent proclamation of what it means to be in Christ.

Interfaith Relations and the Churches, paragraphs 45-52

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

Interfaith Relations Home Page    NCC Home Page