|Baptists wrestle with ways to find common ground with other faiths||| Print ||
By Sue H. Poss
ATLANTA-As Baptists seek common ground to work with people of other faiths, they face the challenge of finding ways to be relevant in an interfaith context while retaining their own distinctive identity.
"We often don't reach out to other faiths because we are scared of losing what's essential about our Baptist faith," said Noel Erskine, associate professor of theology and ethics at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, Ga. "We are so afraid of losing our identity that we are not relevant in a multi-faith context."
Erskine was one of three participants on a panel that discussed "Can we all get along? Finding common ground with other faiths." Others on the panel were: Faysel Sharif, People of the Book Ministry; Virginia Baptist Mission Board in Falls Church, Va., a former Muslim who converted to Christianity 28 years ago; and Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance in Washington, D.C.
"Many Baptists have not been good at dialogue in the interfaith context," Erskine said, "because you cannot have dialogue if you start from the idea that others are religions of unbelief."
"We better act the way Jesus Christ has called upon us to act," Sharif said. "We need to practice true faith-not Christianity as a religion but Christianity as a true relationship with God."
Cultural differences play a part in understanding religious differences, Sharif stressed.
Gaddy, who works daily with 75 different religious traditions in the United States, said he believes the future of the church will be interreligious in nature.
"In that future, distinctions of diversity must be preserved," he said. "We do not need a religious community shaped by the lowest common denominator. That would rob us of the symphonic-like nature of the people who make up this nation."
Gaddy said that differences should not be ignored but should be recognized and respected if possible. One value that Gaddy said is shared among virtually all religions in the United States is religious freedom.
"Religious freedom is what has made the U.S. the most religiously pluralistic country in the world," he said, noting that he subscribes to the motto "Out of many, cooperation," not "out of many, one."
Some specific suggestions the three panelists offered for churches and individuals who want to understand other religions better include:
Sharif said the secret to good interfaith relations is not complicated. "Just be a true Christian in the way that Jesus Christ modeled for us."
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