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Rev. Dr. Brian Arthur Brown Headshot

I Believe in Now: The State of Interfaith Dialogue

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I believe that America is ready to take its religious culture to a new level. There is not really as much atheism around as there is religious apathy, with people dialing out or practicing their religion with less passion. It's like switching the channels before simply turning the television off. This trend is not from disbelief but weariness with the exclusivity of religious dogma at a time when most people are actually ready to see God in their neighbor's eyes, as well as their own, in a burgeoning of mutual respect that reflects well on the religious spirit in this part of the world, if not always upon our religious institutions.

The negativity associated with exclusive claims of religions may be about to be reversed in the hearts of individuals, and also in the lives of institutions. The interfaith movement has moved quietly from the special interest of a few to an audible call, involving whole congregations from worship to social action.

This was largely the inspiration for "Three Testaments," a book I've arranged with leading scholars to compile the Torah, New Testament and the Quran together in a single volume for the first time. We don't only reflect in the commentary on the shared values and variation in tradition of the Abrahamic faiths, but engage in outside sources like Zoroastrianism and the Vedic traditions.

The progressive edge of theological thinking in the first decade of the 21st century was eco-theology, expressed in statements from religious leaders, courses in seminaries, programs in congregations and in the practices of believers in the goodness of God's creation. For many, animal rights, organic food production and recycling became religious issues. Now, the interfaith movement is pushing us reevaluate more than our relationship with the planet, but our relationship with one another.

I recall years ago when one congregation in a neighboring town from where I live in Ontario decided to take the issue of recycling. Eager to widen their impact, they began reaching out to other congregations to join them, eventually courting other faith traditions as well. Their common action -- amazing as it was -- wasn't the lasting legacy. The relationships were. This "dialogue" may be as simple as talking about the latest in hockey (I'm Canadian, its what we love!), serving together, or most importantly, learning about the deeper parts of one another's theology and sacred texts.

This is not a watering down of anybody's faith, nor is it a homogenization of beliefs. In a context of mutual respect, people are finding that they can understand, develop and articulate their own faith with the help of light from other traditions. This phenomenon is active in all the major world faith traditions, more so than some of the newer movements, but for demographic and other reasons it is especially pronounced in relationships among Jews, Christians and Muslims in what is often called the family of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar.

The alternative to this narrative of pluralism is stark. This week I'm in New York for our book launch at St. Peter's Church (this Sunday 2 p.m. if you care to join), and the significance of our work has never been clearer. Two reminders of what's at stake a walking distance: the first being the World Trade Center, which has become the epicenter of the quakes of global religious conflict; the second is Park51, the contested Islamic community center wrongly dubbed the "Ground Zero Mosque." For me, having our book launch there is a reminder of what the world looks like if we don't begin to "know one another" as the Quran calls us to.

Though the inspiration for "Three Testaments" predates the issue of the threats of one extreme pastor to "burn the Quran," it certainly made the impetus of our undertaking clear. I couldn't help but think of the irony that when this "Christian" leader would burn a copy of the Quran, it would include the 25 mentions of Jesus in those pages consumed in flames. It tells us that you can't destroy another's religious text without damaging your own. "Three Testaments" is our answer to this paradigm. Whether used for personal reflection or academic instruction, we hope that this work illuminates your neighbors faith and strengthens your own. That is why, as a UCC minister of over 45 years, I believe we are at the cusp of a new wave of interfaith understanding, from textual to talking, art to action. I believe in now.

Join the Book Launch of 'Three Testaments' this Sunday at 2 p.m. at St Peter's Church, 22 Barclay, New York, N.Y.