In our politically polarized society, discussions rarely result in accepting the opposition’s opinions as a valid perspective while remaining true to one’s own beliefs in a calm and civil manner. Taking offense to something that is said, or another person’s belief, is unfortunately the norm. Some see any form of discussion on the basis of their beliefs as an attack on their very being and react accordingly. When people like myself engage in a discussion on hot button topics with people of differing beliefs, the goal is to promote dialogue and informed discussions to better educate all parties present in the conversation, while potentially changing some minds in the process.
Applying this principle to religious discussions, the interfaith movement at Concordia has been hard at work promoting dialogue about various faith traditions to change people’s biased understandings of varying religious traditions. Personally, I used to dislike the interfaith movement at Concordia College. Because interfaith dialogue is never looked at as a form of conversion, I thought that any Christian engaging in this dialogue would be forsaking what Jesus commanded his disciples to do in the Great Commission, which is to make disciples of all nations and baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Why else would you engage in this type of dialogue, if not to potentially convert the other person?
Currently, interfaith dialogue has a completely different connotation in my mind after having a massive realization. Christians aren’t forsaking the Great Commission when engaging in interfaith dialogue, but are indirectly fulfilling it through the sharing of their testimonies, while empathizing with and expressing neighborly love for the other person, regardless of what they believe. It is through this neighborly love that the Holy Spirit can begin to positively work to soften the hearts of those who do not ascribe to the Christian tradition. Coupled with intentional prayer for these individuals, this is the best way for Christians to go about bringing God’s love to all who need it.
After further contemplation, discussions with many other students, and applying this understanding to the broader interfaith movement, I finally came around to really supporting interfaith dialogue for what it is: an opportunity for individuals of differing faith backgrounds to share their life experiences and faith journeys with each other, and to build a mutual understanding and empathy for one another. It is an opportunity for not one, but both parties involved to share their personal testimonies with one another, which involves deeper discussions and vulnerability to build a deeper understanding of each other’s faith traditions and upbringings. Who’s to say that Christians cannot also learn a thing or two about other faith traditions? Through this intimate sharing of experiences and hardships, both parties involved can potentially inspire each other to continue living more purposeful lives.
There are two main takeaways from this article that I want to convey to everyone. First, it is impossible to convert others through logical arguments alone. That is not what God calls Christians to do. It is through the power of the Holy Spirit, as a result of hearing personal testimonies and experiencing genuine neighborly love that individuals are more likely to have an open mind towards Christianity and freely choose it. It is also incredibly ignorant and irresponsible of Christians to live out the majority of their lives in a Christian bubble. Jesus interacted on a daily basis with people who adamantly opposed who he was and the kinds of things he was preaching. We as Christians have to venture out and converse with other people with whom we disagree with if we are to live a life that best resembles the life Jesus lived.