Inter Faith is a Waste of Time!

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The headline probably got your attention, please read on {now with added spoilers}.

For the inter faith campaigner, defending the value of inter faith is a staple of the speaking circuit. We are often defensive and on the back foot, trying to persuade others that, despite exclusive instincts and missionary impulses, inter faith should be at the heart of how we live our faith. This provides a great opportunity for those who think differently to come up with great counter-intuitive challenges, there’s always a lot of power in going against the grain, whether it was Jesus Christ saying, ‘You have heard it said, but I say!’, or the Prophet Muhammad (pbut) suddenly being asked to ‘Recite!’ in the cave.

So what if a national advocate of Christian-Muslim engagement said that inter faith is a waste of time? Well, here goes:
 
Inter faith is a waste of time for the following reasons:

1. It has not yet been proved – however positively any of you feel about inter faith, we are still asking the question. It is not a problem that has been cracked. I’m not going to offer any proof. Despite all the investment in inter faith since 9/11, which lurks behind inter faith initiatives, it has not attained generally accepted status.

2. It is a fringe activity – a minority of people are involved in inter faith initiatives, they are not mainstream. Those who do it, even those with doctorates and long beards, are viewed as not being fully on board with their own faith. You may have seen how they are insulted and accused of apostasy or syncretism by their fellow believers, especially on social media. How can one follow one’s own faith and be open and loving to others?

3. It’s all about the mission and da’wah – how can anyone who follows a ‘missionary’ faith, particularly the two largest faith groups, with which I am most familiar, do inter faith? I recognise that this doesn’t apply very much to other faiths. I am told repeatedly, even by those involved in inter faith, that at the heart of how ‘we’ live out our faiths is inviting others to share it and that we harbour hopes that dialogue partners will switch religions and join us.

4. Our beliefs are exclusive – there isn’t any room for inter faith dialogue, we can’t have a conversation because there is nothing to talk about and the only thing that needs to be said is that you’re wrong, and on the road to hell. Yes, this is part of some inter faith conversations. And those who do inter faith are on the wrong road too, serving the Devil and/or the Antichrist, according to emails that I receive occasionally. Or, have a look at this road.

5. Safe in our own spaces – go back to your own place of worship and make inter faith part of the regular programme of your congregation! Often this unsettles people, you  may hear it said that the place that nurtures people in their own faith is not the place for confusing things by introducing the religious other. And if it isn’t something that you hear from the pulpit then what space or hope for it can there be?

6. Inter faith = syncretism – building on the other problems, if you haven’t taken any notice of exclusivist or missionary hurdles and want people to meet, dialogue, read scripture and pray together then you’re obviously a syncretist. And I can prove this one, not by being syncretist you understand (I hope), by the number of times this is mentioned when we try to expand the inter faith orbit. So far I have only come unstuck once by pre-empting the syncretism objection when I mentioned ‘syncretism’ to some senior religious leaders and one of them didn’t know what syncretism was.

7. Inter faith is not the problem that our communities are trying to solve -  Or, it’s not scratching where people itch. I have proof of this one too. At a community development conference I was asked by a friend to run an inter faith workshop, the handful of people in my group showed that it was far and away the least popular issue. Virtually everything else is more important in our communities, whether it is adequate or flexible worship space, styles of worship, unrepresentative or out of touch leadership, how to cope with a post-religious, secular society, etc.
   
8. Not enough time and resources – how can you expect inter faith to be on the agenda if there isn’t enough time and resources for everything else, especially for precarious communities and places of worship? Plus our ministers and imams are overloaded so how can they take a lead on inter faith.

9. The name is wrong – it’s an unusual word or phrase with no history behind it, no wonder it doesn’t sell! Perhaps we should just call it faith

Julian Bond
Director
Christian Muslim Forum
11 May 2014
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