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What follows is reprinted from the “Ecumenical and Interfaith dialogue” blog on christianscience.com. To find this blog online, and to join the discussion about it, go to: csjournal.com/read/getting-our-assumptions-right-in-interfaith-work

Getting our assumptions right in interfaith work

From the February 2012 issue of The Christian Science Journal

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In preparing to understand and engage in interfaith activity, it’s helpful to look at the Preamble of the United Religions Initiative (URI) charter. Its first four sentences read:

“We, people of diverse religions, spiritual expressions, and indigenous traditions throughout the world, hereby establish the United Religions Initiative to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence, and to create cultures of peace, justice, and healing for the Earth and all living beings.

“We respect the uniqueness of each tradition, and differences of practice or belief.

“We value voices that respect others, and believe that sharing our values and wisdom can lead us to act for the good of all.

“We believe that our religious, spiritual lives, rather than dividing us, guide us to build community and respect for one another.”

These statements articulate so well the framework and perspective for doing interfaith work. Because the URI is a well-conceived grass-roots approach to interfaith work, it’s worth a look for a URI Cooperative Circle in your area to experience something of what interfaith work is. They would welcome you.

Initially, when exploring interfaith work, there is often an inclination to compare our faith with the faiths of others in the group, and the tendency can be to judge other faiths as inferior to our own. While we are free to do that—and may feel inwardly compelled to do so at the beginning—this approach tends to subvert our genuine respect for those in the group who are of different faiths.

In contrast, the need to discuss our common and distinct Christian beliefs is essential when we are in ecumenical dialogue—when Christian faiths are trying to establish the basis around which they can join in unity. This effort to gain some unifying Christian understanding doesn’t occur in interfaith work.

Interfaith work is not focused on any need to unify theologically. In interfaith work the diverse religious individuals unite around common causes, committed to working together to ameliorate community and global problems. The URI states their common goals in its first sentence: “to end religiously motivated violence and to create cultures of peace, justice, and healing for the Earth and all living beings.”

The first presupposition in interfaith work is to acknowledge that each individual coming to the table is practicing the one true faith—for them. Then, discussions of faith, which happen often, are not to see whose faith is right or best, but to understand and appreciate the diversity of religious paths and persuasions. I have rarely been involved with clergy and lay groups of this sort where others tried to convince me my faith was wrong, nor I that theirs was inferior. That’s because our motive in our work together was never to change others’ religious views. Those deep religious discussions often have led me back to the Bible and Mary Baker Eddy’s writings to understand more clearly what Christian Science really teaches on a given subject—and as a result, my faith and understanding of Christian Science deepened.

You can find the whole URI charter on their website at: uri.org/about_uri/charter/preamble_purpose_and_principles

Brian Talcott is a Christian Science practitioner, teacher, and lecturer from Berkeley, California.

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