intra-faith dialogue.

kathyescobar dreams, incarnational, relationships, spiritual formation 30 Comments

colossians 3

last week i was in a fun conversation with some dear friends (planning our next theology camp!) about how hard it is to hold the space for differing theological perspectives on really big issues. it’s tough because so much of our thinking has become “either/or”.  you’re either this type of christian or you’re that type of christian. you’re either conservative or liberal. you’re either evangelical or mainline, for this or against that.

we have built some scary divides between each other and it feels like the gap continues to widen. one hour on facebook when there’s a hot topic making its rounds and the comment threads reflect how crazy it’s become.

it made me think about inter-faith dialogue and how it’s gained a lot of traction over the years. i have many friends who are sitting at much bigger tables than ever before and learning, loving, and practicing with people from other faiths. because of the nature of the work i do at the refuge, honestly, i don’t have that many opportunities to connect with people from different faiths.  most of the folks i meet with regularly come from either no-faith backgrounds or some-form-of-christian ones and are much more focused on how they’re going to make it through the day than on talking theology.  however, it’s totally easy for me to hang with people from different faiths.

over time, i’ve found that it is far more difficult to have safe and loving conversations with other christians who are on a different page theologically.

when we do intersect on some of these hot topics, it seems like it’s tricky to feel safe. often for both sides, it can feel like our faith is being questioned. we can become defensive, protective, or feel like we’re misunderstood. our motives feel threatened. we start to get that ache in the pit of our stomach warning us, “uh oh, this isn’t going to end well.”

it makes me so sad to see the splinters and divisions all over the place between supposedly  “conservative” and “liberal” christians. often, i have felt the most resistance and judgment from my own christian brothers & sisters, not my non-christian ones.

as i was driving home from our meeting, this word came to mind to describe what we were hoping for in our theology camp dreaming–intra-faith dialogue.

when i got home googled “intra-faith dialogue” to see what was being written on it, thinking i was way late to the party.  interestingly enough, there was little to nothing about intentional intra-faith conversations related to christianity.

i think we need more spaces and places for intra-faith dialogue, where christians with vastly differing views can be together face to face, eye to eye, heart to heart, to listen and learn from each other.  

we need ways to practice dignified dialogue, ways to talk about our differences that are safe, loving, kind, respectful, and challenging. we need spaces to find what we have in common instead of only focus on our differences. we need people who are brave enough to hold in tension radically different biblical interpretations in love and respect.

i am so thankful for the refuge because we do attempt, as best we can, to hold this kind of space in community. it hasn’t been easy and our hardest divide is between conservative and progressive views of the Bible. we most certainly haven’t played this out perfectly and keep learning as we go, but it does seem like our best hope always comes back to relationship.  when we’re friends, real friends, everything changes.

i am painfully aware, though, of how hard it is to hold these kind of theological differences in tension.

i know why people are afraid to try, especially when we have had so many examples where we have felt unsafe & somehow threatened.  but my hope is that with God’s help, we could find new & creative ways to sit at the table together.

a safe intra-faith dialogue would help us:

learn to be okay with different interpretations of scripture. of course, this is probably our trickiest sticking point but we have to find a way to do this!  (in my opinion the best starting point is to take out the language “but the Bible (or God) says…” and replace it with “my understanding of the scriptures is…” that helps so much in every direction.

discover what we do have in common.  sure, we believe things about Jesus in all different ways and the various strands of our faith reflect that, but there’s so much that we probably do have in common  that we could celebrate.

learn to own what we believe in the open. i think there is a deep fear in a lot of people that we will somehow end up in a bad place if we are fully honest with each other (in either direction) so we tiptoe around it or start to “come out” on facebook and find ourselves in hot water. learning to own what we believe and be okay with it in mixed company is good practice.

practice humility.  that should be enough of a motivator, really. we’ve got to learn to humble ourselves and listen and learn from each other.  this one’s the hardest for me out of all of them and really the main reason i avoid these kinds of conversations (in addition to so many of them just feeling unsafe & unfacilitated)

stay in relationship.  i am indeed so grateful for my friends of a more conservative persuasion who love me even though they don’t agree with my theology, and i hope they know how much i love them even though mine’s different than theirs. we’re trying to trust the holy spirit to guide us & put relationship above belief.

become less afraid.  fear shows up fast and often. we need to move out of fear the fear that rules our primitive brain and practice a third way.  our primitive brain is living from our natural fight or flight reflexes, while the third way is reflective of Jesus’ call to us, to be true peace-makers (not conflict avoiders), and show up in love & grace & truth & peace. parker palmer says that “when the primitive brain dominates, christianity goes over to the dark side..[we] self-destruct over doctrinal differences, forgetting that our first calling is to love one another.”  he adds, “when our primitive brain is in charge, humility, compassion, forgiveness, and the vision of a beloved community do not stand a chance.”

i’m continually reminded of how broken & fragmented & wounded Christ’s body has become. i confess that i have contributed to it over the years in different ways both subtly and very directly.

i don’t want to be ruled by my primitive brain–fight or flight.  i want to be ruled by love.

God, help us believe in the miracle of true blue intra-faith dialogue! we want to become safer people who can listen & learn from each other and honor & respect our differences while noticing and celebrating the beautiful things we share.  

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ps: the first tuesday of every month  i write a down we go column for sheloves magazine.  april’s theme is “home” and the post i wrote is called mobile homes (not that kind).  i do pray that we’d be “people sent out in a broken and disconnected world to somehow create a strange and beautiful sense of belonging wherever we go. people of hope.  people of love.  people of presence.  people who are beginning to feel more at home in our own skin and can help others feel more “home,” too…”