This week I re-watched my DVD copy of a special edition of Frontline, Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero, from PBS that looks at 9/11s impact on people of faith. If you haven't seen this, it is an amazing, emotional, and thought provoking program. (You can watch it online here.) Seventeen years after 9/11 and the ongoing "War on Terror," this program still has much to say to me as I reflect on my work in religious studies and multi-faith engagement.
First, there is the story of a Lutheran minister in the program where he shares his experiences after praying and participating in a multi-faith memorial service in New York on Sep. 23, 2011. Unfortunately, after participating in this memorial in pastoral fashion, the minister received hate mail from his own denominational members accusing him not only of heresy, but also of being a terrorist attacking the faith he is sworn to protect. This is a reminder of the challenges the Evangelical community faces in a pluralistic environment where pastoral and dialogical issues arise concerning those of other religions. See my past blog post on this.
Second, there is a comment by a rabbi worth considering. He stated that some have looked at those who engaged in the terrorism of 9/11 and said that this is not true Islam, while others have said it is the only true expression of Islam. The rabbi feels that this is misguided. He says that the terrorists of 9/11 tapped into something in their tradition that motivated the attacks, just as members of other religions have tapped into aspects of their religious traditions as justification for violence. In his view we have to acknowledge the dark side of religion which can be both a great and motivating power for good as well as for evil. Not do to this, in the rabbi's view, is to sanitize our religions inappropriately. Religions are as they are lived, for good and evil, rather than idealized and objective things, in my view.
Third and finally, watching this program it made me realize even more that dialogue certainly includes elements of persuasion and proselytization, but these should not be the only (or perhaps even the primary) reason for engaging in dialogue. With the world in need of understanding, peace and justice post-9/11, dialogue has far greater potential beyond our ability to persuade the other toward conversion. Unfortunately, when they are willing to consider dialogue as something beyond taboo, many Evangelicals view it as little more than another form of proclamation and evangelism, and miss out on greater opportunities for what this form of communication and relationships can achieve.