No Peace in the World Without Peace Among The Religions

I can’t tell you how I’ve been looking forward to this visit to St. Elizabeth’s… not least because of the inter-religious theme your leadership has decided to emphasize today. I know that, as we celebrate Daphne Cody’s 10th anniversary as Rector of this parish this has long been a high priority for her, it appears to be for this congregation and it has certainly been in my own ministry. Frankly, I can think of few things more important in our day than inter-religious dialogue.
After serving for 13 years as the Bishop of Iowa, I spent 9 more as the Presiding Bishop’s Deputy for Ecumenical and Inter-religious Relations, working out of our Church Center in New York, and engaging in ecumenical dialogue with Roman Catholics, the Orthodox, Lutherans and all manner of Christian communions as well as inter-religious work particularly with Jews and Muslims. So, I look forward to continuing that dialogue during our time following this service.
We engage in this work just a week after the Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis, addressed an inter-religious meeting at Ground Zero in New York City. In his remarks, he said this:
“…I am filled with hope, as I have the opportunity to join with leaders representing the many religious traditions which enrich the life of this great city. I trust that our presence together will be a powerful sign of our shared desire to be a force for reconciliation, peace and justice in this community and throughout the world. For all our differences and disagreements, we can experience a world of peace. In opposing every attempt to create a rigid uniformity, we can and must build unity on the basis of our diversity of languages, cultures and religions, and lift our voice against everything which would stand in the way of such unity. Together we are called to say “no” to every attempt to impose uniformity and “yes” to a diversity accepted and reconciled.” (September 25, 2015)
“Reconciled diversity” has long been used to describe ecumenical cooperation and breakthroughs among the Christian churches, but I think this is the first time I have ever heard it used to point the way forward in inter-religious relations. Reconciled diversity simply means that we can, as the world’s religions, work together toward peace and justice while accepting and even valuing our differences.
Hans Kung, the Roman Catholic priest and Professor at Tubingen University in Germany has often said, “No peace among the nations without peace among the religions. No peace among the religions without dialogue between the religions. No dialogue between the religions without investigating the foundations of the religions.” And, although Hans Kung has often been marginalized by previous popes as being “too liberal,” Francis would at least agree with him on this! He used the word “dialogue” countless times on this recent visit to the United States, and clearly believes in this concept in society, among the religions, and even within our own.
In our Lessons from Scripture today, we have examples of such dialogue within Judaism and Christianity. Today, we begin our reading of the Book of Job as our First Lesson. This masterful book is both prose and poetry, fiction and philosophy as Job and his friends debate and discuss the question of “theodicy” (which technically means “justifying the ways of God to humankind” but often deals with the real-life questions of “why bad things happen to good people.”) It’s a rich conversation, even though, for many of us, it falls short of coming up with a satisfactory answer (perhaps leading us to believe that the conversation is ongoing!). We don’t really know why bad things happen to good people!
Our Gospel reading can be seen as another intra-Jewish conversation as Jesus “dialogues” (even argues with) the Pharisees about a classical text on divorce in order to challenge his hearers to think even more deeply about God’s intention for marriage. We Christians often cast the Pharisees as the “bad guys” in the Gospels, but Jesus was actually closer to them theologically than the other religious and political parties of the day. Maybe that’s why they had so many “dialogues!” You always hurt the ones you love!
And, of course, the Christian church has been “dialoguing” about Jesus’ strict teaching on divorce and remarriage ever since. Paul loosened it up a bit in First Corinthians. The Episcopal Church has taken a much more pastoral approach to such couples for decades now, and it looks as though the Roman Catholic Church, under Pope Francis, may be taking some baby steps in that direction as well.
So, no dialogue between the religions without studying the foundations of our religion: That’s what serious Bible study and Christian formation can do to start the process. We have to understand our own religious tradition before we can effectively dialogue with others.
No peace among the religions without dialogue among the religions: That’s what we’re trying to do here today, and we need to look for opportunities in the future to go much farther. And finally, No peace in the world without peace among the world’s religions:
That doesn’t mean that religions are the cause of all the violence in the world. Often, religion is used as a cover for the real issues of land and power and control. But clearly if we can come to a place of peace among us, as religious people, a place of “reconciled diversity,” we can help the dream of Pope Francis come true:
“Peace in our homes, our families, our schools and our communities. Peace in all those places where war never seems to end. Peace for those faces which have known nothing but pain. Peace throughout this world which God has given us as the home of all and a home for all. Simply.…PEACE!” (September 25 Address)
Shalom…Salaam…

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