Are interfaith advocates “unrepresentative”?

On Monday, February 6th, the Rev. Dr. Hans Ucko, Director of Interreligious Relations for the World Council of Churches, delivered the annual Paul Wattson lecture at the University of San Francisco.

At one point, he mentioned the criticisms leveled against those engaged in interfaith efforts: that we are engaged in covert efforts to convert the other, that we are compromising the truth, or that we are “elitist or marginal” because we are “unrepresentative.”

There is some truth in the latter statement. Compared to the huge numbers of adherents of the world”s religious traditions, those who are open to and engaged in interfaith dialogue are, at present, a small proportion. Given that reality, it is perhaps descriptive to say that we are “unrepresentative.”

But what is descriptive is not always prescriptive. Pioneers in any human endeavor never start out being “representative.” They are the ones who move into new territory, into new ways of thinking, into new possibilities. If it were not for those who were willing to be “unrepresentative,” there would be no progress in human affairs, no one to scout the way ahead, to blaze the trail that will only later become the “representative” highway.

Dr. Ucko suggested that even those who have been involved in interreligious dialogue may need to push into new territory. He quoted Harvey Cox, “We as religious thinkers must stop simply making nice about this age of ecumenism, interfaith dialogue and fuzzy feelings among priests, imams, and rabbis. We need to take a step toward candor.”[see “Religion and the War Against Evil” below]

Dialogue becomes important, he said, when it moves beyond being a method to reduce our fear of each other or to prepare to deal with future conflict. When we realize that we need each other, that we have something to learn from each other. “When we realize that the other has something that I can never lay my hands on and never claim as mine, when the only way of enjoying the resources of the other is to stay close to him or her.”

Dialogue, Ucko reminds us, is a spiritual pilgrimage as, together with pioneers from other traditions, we move more deeply into the mystery of the Divine.

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