“Rules of Engagement”

Chaplains, whether serving the military, hospitals, or other public institutions, have long known the challenges and the promises of interfaith cooperation. It is no accident that the Interfaith Center at the Presidio in San Francisco is housed in what was the base chapel for the military base there.

In an address to the annual Neighbourhood Inter-Faith Dinner in Toronto in April, retired Navy Chaplain Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff spoke of what he had learned from working with other religious leaders.“The secret of the chaplain corps was not talking about theology first, not talking about the hardest issues first,” he said. “Instead, we rolled up our sleeves and talked about shared concerns – [soldiers] in pain, those in fear, those suffering from doubt or loneliness.”

He offered some “rules of engagement” for interfaith cooperation, which closely resemble Leonard Swidler’s Dialogue Decalogue:

  • Understand that religions are different and used different languages to express their faith; miscommunication can result from different uses of words and ideas. Let the other explain their faith in their own way.
  • Dialogue must be about sharing together, not condemning others. It is important to talk, especially about those things that hurt us.
  • Religions have different views of the “end of days;” it is more important to ask how to work together on the day to day concerns

Rabbi Resnikoff warned of three pitfalls for interfaith dialogue:

  • Do not compare our best to their worst
  • Do not compare our teachings to their actions
  • Do not compare our beliefs to their words. Beliefs are learned in the context of community and interpretation, while words can be taken out of context or interpreted in distorted ways

The heart of interfaith dialogue, he said, “is that we learn not just about the other, but the presence of God in the other.”

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