We Christians are notorious for fighting. We fight among ourselves over subtleties of doctrine. We fight with other faith traditions over what constitutes Truth. The Crusades, an extreme example of fighting if there ever was one, are a horrible stain on our history.
Fortunately, some Christians have made good progress in dialogue over the past few decades, especially in the field of interfaith dialogue. That is a very good thing indeed. It puts us in line with a Savior who, I think, would heartily approve.
It is true that the biblical accounts of Jesusâ€™ life make no mention of dialogue. But Jesus in these accounts waxes eloquent about the ideals and objectives behind dialogue. In the Sermon on the Mountâ€”perhaps his most sweeping single statement of his approach to faithâ€”he says, â€œBlessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of Godâ€ (Matthew 5:9). A bit later in the same sermon, he exhorts his followers to â€œlove your enemiesâ€¦that you may be children of your Father in heavenâ€ (5:44-45).
This label, â€œchildren of God,â€ fascinates me. It speaks, I think, not of mere familial relations but rather of affinity: people who, out of their deep connection with the Divine, reflect Godâ€™s orientation toward the world. People who reflect God are peacemakers. People who reflect God are committed to love.
What does this have to do with dialogue? Well, how can I love you most effectivelyâ€”how can I act in your best interests, for your greatest goodâ€”unless I know you? And how can I know you unless I listen to you?
Listening also reflects what we read about Jesus. Among the numerous accounts of him preaching, challenging, probing, and delivering his message, several stories show him listening as well. He heardâ€”and was amazed byâ€”the faith of the centurion who asked for his servantâ€™s healing (Matthew 6:5-13). He listened to the woman who cleverly parried his understanding of Jewish-Gentile relations (15:21-28). One might argue that he posed his famous questionâ€”â€œwho do people say that I am?â€â€”not as some test of his disciplesâ€™ understanding but honestly to seek their insight.
This same Jesus also prayed for another fruit of dialogue: unity. â€œI ask not only on behalf of [my disciples], but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be oneâ€ (John 17:20-21).
Thatâ€™s what I hear when I read the Bible. What does your faithâ€”Christian or from another faith traditionâ€”tell you about the need for dialogue? I would love to hear your thoughts.