EIGHTH COMMANDMENT: Dialogue can take place only on the basis of mutual trust. Although interreligious, interideological dialogue must occur with some kind of “corporate” dimension, that is, the participants must be involved as members of a religious or ideological community–for instance, as Marxists or Taoists–it is also fundamentally true that it is only persons who can enter into dialogue. But a dialogue among persons can be built only on personal trust. Hence it is wise not to tackle the most difficult problems in the beginning, but rather to approach first those issues most likely to provide some common ground, thereby establishing the basis of human trust. Then, gradually, as this personal trust deepens and expands, the more thorny matters can be undertaken. Thus, as in learning we move from the known to the unknown, so in dialogue we proceed from commonly held matters–which, given our mutual ignorance resulting from centuries of hostility, will take us quite some time to discover fully–to discuss matters of disagreement.
Last night I attended a session of the ongoing series “Faiths Learning from Faiths” at the Interfaith Center at the Presidio. The topic for the evening was “Wiccan/Evangelical Dialogue,” with Brooks Alexander, a committed evangelical Christian and founder of the Spiritual Counterfeits project, and Don Frew, a Wiccan priest and longtime interfaith officer for Covenant of the Goddess.
These two have continued an unlikely friendship and ongoing dialogue for over 20 years. Their description of how their friendship began illustrates the importance of trust in building dialogue. Don attended a conference sponsored by conservative Christians on the dangers of the occult. He found many of the presentations disturbing, filled with misunderstanding and distortions of Wicca. But he appreciated that, while Brooks did not disguise his belief that Wicca was not the truth, he was well-informed and spoke only the truth about what Wiccans believed and did. After Don identified himself to the group as a practicing Wiccan, Brooks went out of his way to talk with him, and the conversation has continued since then. Don and Brooks have shared about their dialogue with interfaith groups, at Neo-pagan conventions, and are hoping to speak to evangelical Christians.
They noted especially the trust that makes their relationship work. Each trusts the other to be honest about their own tradition, to be willing to reflect in new ways about questions they might never have considered before within their own tradition. And they trust each other not to twist or manipulate what they learn in order to distort or attack the other’s faith. Trust is closely connected with several of the “Ten Commandments for Dialogue.” The dialogue partner must trust that the other is speaking honestly and sincerely (Commandment #3), that the other is willing to be self-critical (Commandment #9), and that the other will not distort or misuse what has been shared (Commandment #4).
Both Brooks and Don noted the historic conflict and demonization that have characterized so much of the relationship between Christians and Wiccans. It is their trust of each other, and the confirmation of that trust in the respect and listening they experience from each other, that make this significant dialogue relationship work.
- Ten Commandments of Dialogue (Swidler)
- Interfaith Center at the Presidio
- “Faiths Learning from Faiths” Series at the Presidio
- Spiritual Counterfeits Project
- Covenant of the Goddess