Character Building Through Interfaith Ministry

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More and more, people of other faith traditions are settling in Canada and the United States and becoming our neighbours. As we navigate a changing world and society, we are seeking to integrate witness and dialogue—but how do we best approach interfaith dialogue?

I am currently taking an ethics course as part of a doctor of practical ministry program. While missional outreach is my main research focus, ethics is a part of any research program. I have really been benefiting from this course, particularly in learning about pursuing ministry in a professional and ethically rigorous way. Many ministers and other ministry leaders run into moral problems not because they lack a code of ethics, but because they have not developed a deep character formed by Christ. Such a character is further reinforced through spiritual disciplines such as prayer and accountability.

In the book Ministerial Ethics, Joe E. Trull and James E. Carter describe 10 marks of emotional maturity that are important for ministry. In reflecting with a particular focus on engagement with people of other faith traditions and interfaith dialogue, I think these 10 marks are helpful to identify and practice. The 10 marks, slightly paraphrased, are:

  1. Capacity for healthy self-acceptance
  2. Capacity to maintain durable relationships
  3. Capacity to work with people who hold different value orientations
  4. Capacity to delay instant gratification for future outcomes
  5. Capacity to cope with indecision (or I might add liminal places of uncertainty)
  6. Capacity to achieve a larger measure of objectivity
  7. Capacity to really hear others’ views and values without becoming dogmatic or defensive
  8. Capacity to smile (a sense of humour)
  9. Capacity to love
  10. Capacity to care

Listening

I am convinced numbers 3 and 7 are important character traits for positive interfaith dialogue. To be able to dialogue openly and honestly with someone who holds a very different worldview, set of values, and cultural beliefs, is challenging, and it is necessary to do so without becoming dogmatic or defensive. It is important to maintain integrity, which is also an important virtue for ministry, to speak the truth in love.

Love

Love (number 9) is the other important mark. I recently heard of a meeting to discuss Muslim immigration. I understand the need to have open and honest conversations about the impact of an Islamic worldview in our society today as Muslim immigration is a major policy issue. I have no problem with a realistic approach to some of these inter-religious and inter-cultural issues (an important distinction in itself). The ultimate question is: is there love there? Is this discussion happening in an atmosphere of love or is it coming out of fear—especially fear of the unknown? Is the discussion happening with dialogue partners from the other religious groups? Is it being done in isolation?

Empathy and Integrity

Another character trait useful for inter-faith dialogue is empathy. Empathy is placing yourself in the place of the other, in trying to understand what their experience is like. Though not easy, this is an essential skill for anyone in ministry. The particular challenge in interfaith ministry, if one is honest, is that the more you identify with the other, and empathize with their experience, the more you appreciate them, and in some sense, want to be like them. The danger then, of course is the possibility of conversion to the other religious tradition. This is a fear that holds people back from interfaith dialogue and it is a reasonable fear. That is why it is important to cultivate the trait of integrity.

Spiritual Health

It is also important to be emotionally healthy and to practice the spiritual disciplines, especially prayer and accountability. In this case, the danger is not so much moral failure but spiritual failure. Those who enter into interfaith dialogue must be self-aware, both emotionally and spiritually. They must accept themselves for who they are (number 1) and for who they are in Christ. Their identity in Christ is very important for healthy dialogue.

Rewards of Healthy Interfaith Dialogue

There are many rewards for those who do enter into interfaith dialogue in an emotionally healthy way. One can grow a great deal in appreciation of one’s own faith in a dialogue with other religious traditions. One can also learn about the rich and diverse world of religious practice. I know that I have been personally touched by the knowledge that our Creator God loved us so much that he sent his own Son to become one of us, and to give his life for the complete forgiveness of all our wrongdoing. That is a really unique message among the religious traditions and spiritualities around us.

We at Resonate Global Mission care very much for a respectful and Spirit-led witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ which is the gospel of truth. We are looking for individuals to come alongside us and support programs such as Salaam 2.0, Peer to Peer Interfaith Network and Training, and new initiatives focusing on befriending our neighbors from other cultures and religions. For more information please contact [email protected].

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