“Getting to Know Neighbors of Other Faiths”

A Theological Rationale for Interfaith Relationships

The National Council of ChurchesThe term church has come to wide use to refer to the organized and gathered religious community. In the Christian tradition, church refers to the organic, interdependent “body” of Christ’s followers, the community of Christians. Secondarily, church ..., U.S.A
Interfaith Relations Committee


GodGod is a term used to refer to the Divine, the Supreme being, Transcendent deity, or Ultimate reality. and Human Community

As Christians, we affirm that GodThe term god with a small “g” is used to refer to a deity or class of deities whose power is understood to be circumscribed or localized rather than universal, or to refer to a plurality of deities. loves all of creation and that all people are cre- ated in God’sGod is a term used to refer to the Divine, the Supreme being, Transcendent deity, or Ultimate reality. image (GenesisThe first book of the Humash or Five Books of Moses, Genesis (or Bereishit, meaning ‘In the Beginning’) details the Jewish understanding of the creation of the universe, from the seven days of creation, through the Garden of Eden, ending with the even... 1:27). Through God’s love, all people are related to one another as children of God. This common humanity and relatedness are gifts from God to the human race. Relating to people of other faiths strengthens com- munity and encourages human flourishing.

Hospitality to the Stranger

Scripture offers many examples of ethical and pastoral incentives for interreligious relationships. The stories of AbrahamAbraham is the patriarch, acknowledged as the father of the lineage of faith by the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions. He is presumed to have lived sometime in the period 2000-1700 BCE. He is the father of Isaac by Sarah (Genesis 12.25), and the "... and Sarah, Jethro, Ruth, and others, remind us to welcome and treat kindly those from outside our own religious communities. The virtue of hospitality to strangers is amplified in Jesus’ ministryMinister is a general term for a member of the clergy in the Christian church. The term has also come to use in other religious traditions to designate a member of the clergy (as in the Jodo Shinshu tradition and the Nation of Islam). as he befriends the Samaritan woman and shows in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) that caring for those outside of one’s own community is important. In the letter to the HebrewsHebrew is the ancient language of the Israelites in which the Bible and most of Jewish liturgy is written. we read, ‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angelsAngels are a class of supernatural or spiritual beings, imaginatively understood to perform various functions on God’s behalf. Angels are especially described as divine messengers. Angels are common to Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. without knowing it.’ (Hebrews 13:2)

Loving God and Neighbor

Indeed, JesusJesus is the historical figure considered by Christians to be the Christ, the Messiah, whose life and teachings, death and resurrection give clear evidence of God’s love for humankind. Jesus was born shortly before the death of Herod the Great (d. 4 BCE... goes beyond hospitality to suggest that the whole of the law and the prophetsA prophet is one who communicates a divine message or vision, sometimes calling people to repentance or awakening, sometimes predicting future events. Jews, Christians, and Muslims all look to Hebrew prophets, including Abraham and Moses. Muslims believe ... are summarized in the commandment to love God and to love one’s neighbors (Matthew 22:36-40). Loving others means respecting them, listening to them, and treating them as we would want them treat us (Matthew 7:12). Loving means not only the authentic sharing of truth as we see it, but a deep listening to others. Loving one’s neighbors take priority over proclaiming

right doctrine or performing formal worship, it becomes the first and guiding commandment for Christians. (See Matthew 5:23-24 and 12:12).

Reconciliation with God

Christians affirm that all people have been already reconciled to God and to others in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:18ff.; Colossians 3:15ff.). Every person embodies something of the divine image and therefore may possess some ray of truth, some aspect of the Mystery of God we know to be revealed in Jesus Christ. Christians know God through Jesus Christ, but understand that all human understanding of truth is inherently limited and conditioned. The reality of God, in contrast, is intrinsically unlimited. God will always be greater than any hu- man can comprehend or any religion can convey.

Christian Witness and Reconciliation with Others

Christians have been sent into the world to testify in word and deed to the God we know through Jesus Christ (John 17:18). Yet Christians have not always embodied God’s love in their relationships with people of other religious traditions. A lack of understanding and respect for other faiths has often resulted in fear, distrust, and the dehumanization of people in other religious traditions. Christian witness to God’s love seeks to share the GospelGospel means “Good News” and refers to the central message of the Christian tradition: the good news of Christ’s life and message of redemption. Gospel refers more specifically to the four books that tell the story of the Christ event and became par... of Jesus Christ with the world. That means conversing with, listening to, learning from, and living peacefully with those in the world who do not confess Jesus as Lord. Listening and sharing sometimes shows God’s love better than declarations of beliefs.

Peacemakers

As Christians, we are called to be peacemakers in the world. We look for ways to strengthen human life in community. But since Scripture speaks in many voices, it has sometimes been used to discount and divide people of different faiths from one another. Through encounters with people of other religions, Chris- tians hope to find new understanding and to discover fuller and more meaningful ways to live in reconciled communities together.

Person and work of Christ

Through Jesus Christ humanity is invited to speak and respond to God. In Scrip- ture, God not only speaks but listens, not only challenges, but waits. In the death and resurrectionResurrection means rising to life from the dead. In the Christian tradition, it refers specifically to the rising to life of Jesus after his death by crucifixion, signaling the expected resurrection of all who have died. Envisioning the resurrection of th... of Christ, God brings about the possibility for new relationships between God and humanity and between different human persons and communi- ties. The work of Christ is to break down the walls of separation and alienation between peoples with each other and with God. New possibilities for relationship began in the vulnerability, risk, and faith of Jesus. A new reality is now available now for believers in Christ to make ourselves vulnerable and to take risks in our relationships with people of other faiths.

Spirit of God and Human Hope

Christians affirm that the Holy SpiritThe Holy Spirit is the Christian term used to describe the dynamic presence of God. Christians symbolize this presence as breath, fire, and dove, all expressing the mystery and freedom of God’s presence. The Holy Spirit is one of the three aspects or ..., who hovered over the waters when the earth was void and without form (Genesis 1:2), can bring order out of chaos and can reshape warped societies. Relationships with people of other religious traditions are shaped by the Holy Spirit who, like the wind, ‘blows where it chooses’ (John 3:8). While we do not always understand the Spirit’s purposes, we need never be with- out hope, for we nor the rest of creation are ever without the Spirit of God.

[Excerpt from “Getting to Know Neighbors of Other Faiths: A Theological Rationale for Interfaith Relationships.” National Council of Churches, U.S.A. www.nccusa.org.]