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November 27, 2011

Question: How can we improve interfaith dialogue?

 As a religion that honours all true Prophets and holy books, that has the oneness of the world’s great religions as one of its fundamental teachings, and whose scriptures enjoin Bahá’ís to “Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship” (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings, p. 94), the Bahá’í Faith has high regard for the  interfaith movement. Since the early 20th century, Bahá’ís have been participating in interfaith dialogue. 

To offer a more practical answer to today’s question, I consulted Nathalie Thirlwall, the appointed representative of the Bahá’í Community of Ottawa Interfaith Office. Nathalie responded that “The next step in interfaith dialogue is to become more outward looking...and to move beyond just words.” She explains further: “There are many, very real and hard-pressed social justice problems that exist in the general community and the world, issues like poverty, lack of access to health-care and education, inequalities, human rights violation (freedom to believe). Even the environment impacts social justice…Faiths have to learn to address these issues, both in word and in action...With joint learning and slowly built confidence, the tiny incremental steps can gradually and organically increase in size and complexity.”

She gives the concrete demonstration of this aspiration in the recent Call for Leadership and Action on Climate Change, a joint declaration signed on October 26th by 26 Canadian faith representatives. The document is intended to prompt governments to take collective action to  replace the Kyoto Protocol at the upcoming 2011 United Nations Climate Change Conference, Durban, South Africa (Nov. 29-Dec. 9).

But theologically, I feel that something vital cannot be ignored. John Hick (1922-), today’s most respected philosopher of religion, Vice-President of The World Congress of Faiths, said in a 1993 address “Interfaith and the Future” that the important question of “truth-claims” cannot be indefinitely postponed as we pursue polite, non-controversial  conversation: “…genuine questions of belief cannot be avoided and that we must prepare ourselves to face them—not instead of matters of practical cooperation but, for some of us at least, as well as these.”  I submit that we must be willing to learn to dialogue, even on potentially thorny belief-questions, but in a non-confrontational, humble posture of learning.
-  Jack McLean

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