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Interreligious Relations with a Focus on Peace

A Policy Statement supporting the NCC’s interreligious priority and reaffirming the 1999 Policy Statement “Interfaith Relations and the Churches”

October 2019

In 1999, during the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of its founding, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA adopted a policy statement entitled “Interfaith Relations and the Churches.”  Recognizing “a changing experience of religious diversity in our country,” the NCC’s member churches saw the growing importance of nurturing relationships with communities of other faiths as central to “the work of building Christian unity and [integral to] our efforts for peace and human development” (Par. 2).  The policy statement, which guides our interfaith engagements in the US and around the globe, reminds us of the persistent imperative to “seek God’s grace in our common effort to understand ever more fully how to live as the body of Christ in this religiously plural and culturally diverse time and place” (Par. 1). 

On the twentieth anniversary of the policy statement, the NCC affirms its continued relevance for our life together—ecumenically as churches, and as a witness to our neighbors of different faiths in our country and world. We also acknowledge that our national and global contexts for interfaith relations have changed significantly since its adoption. We have experienced significant demographic changes – within Christianity itself, and in the broader religious landscape. We have seen and strongly condemned violence and terrorism, and the resultant rise of religious bigotry and extremism.  In the aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001, the churches have participated in the corresponding rise of the interfaith movement in response—work to which the NCC has been committed for decades. We are attentive to and becoming better equipped to consider varying expressions of religious identity, affiliation, spirituality, and practice in our work – including inter-religious family life and multiple religious belonging. In the midst of such changes, it is imperative that we give renewed focus to our collective interfaith engagement. 

In 2013, at a moment of ecumenical renewal and organizational restructure, the National Council of Churches adopted two overarching priorities for its work: mass incarceration and interreligious relations with a focus on peace. Today, the world’s many faiths play a crucial role in building peace with justice in local communities and at a global level. Interreligious relationships build bridges of understanding between peoples in an increasingly interconnected world. These connections, which include exploring both differences and common ground, are vital as we seek to understand one another and find mutually beneficial ways to support one another.

This focus on peace draws us deeper into our existing work and commitments in interreligious relations, as individual member churches and together as a council. It calls us to move beyond dialogue and acts of solidarity—both of which remain valuable imperatives of interreligious relations that must continue—into active peace-building with our neighbors of various faiths for our common life as religious communities, for our society, and for our world. It helps us to work together ecumenically to better know one another as Christians and as neighbors in our religiously diverse context.  This further enables us to set a common agenda with our partners for this work in interreligious peace-building. We as Christians in the United States acknowledge our historical and continuing privilege in our society, where we have often presumed the role of host of a common table. Recognizing that this dynamic has often contributed to systemic inequality and injustice, we are called to assume a posture of humility whereby we are both welcomed and welcoming, and to discern mutually and collaboratively a common vision of just peace with our neighbors of various faiths.  

Within our broader culture, we have witnessed growing divisiveness and polarization. Public and sometimes violent acts of racism, white Christian nationalism, anti-immigrant attitudes and xenophobia, along with rising incidents of anti-Jewish, anti-Muslim and other forms of religious bigotry sometimes committed in the name of Christianity, have created an urgency for the churches and the broader culture to recognize the imperative of interreligious engagement for peace-making locally, nationally, and globally. In this year of the quadricentennial of the forced displacement and enslavement of African peoples, we especially acknowledge the churches’ complicity in stripping indigenous and enslaved peoples of their religious freedom. The deeply entrenched legacy of racism, including the current epidemic of mass incarceration, continues to plague us.  As Christians, it is our responsibility to address these ills and to assert that our faith rejects injurious discourse and violent acts as wholly incompatible with Christ’s teachings. For the churches it is an imperative reflective of our belief in the Christ who greeted his disciples saying, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (John 14:27), and indeed whose entire Gospel was a message of peace and justice. 

It is in this ever-changing context that the National Council of Churches has recognized the increasing necessity of interreligious engagement by continuing its longstanding Jewish- and Muslim-Christian dialogues, adding new dialogues with Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs; strengthening its participation in interreligious coalitions, such as the Shoulder-to-Shoulder Campaign to combat anti-Muslim bigotry; and bolstering its advocacy with interreligious partners on US public policy issues. While our churches may engage individually, we have a shared commitment to doing this interreligious work ecumenically.  This shared commitment is based in the Lund Principle—a guiding value of the ecumenical movement—that churches should act together in all matters except those in which deep differences of conviction compel them to act separately.  

Our motivations for interreligious engagement are pastoral, theological, and communal. As Christians, we are called to love our neighbors, which requires that we first get to know our neighbors. In doing so, we often find common ground and differences in how we understand ourselves, in how we understand the divine, and how we envision and seek social justice and peace, respecting every human being, our siblings. Through our engagement with our neighbors, we have the opportunity to grow in our own faith, and find new ways to live out that faith. Even as we affirm our Christian calling to share the good news of Jesus Christ, we reject proselytism as having any place in interreligious engagement. In evangelism, to which we are committed, our love of God is most fully expressed through loving and serving our neighbor, as co-equal members of one community.  This kind of love most truly reflects our belief in God as Trinity.

Our commitment to interreligious relations with a focus on peace calls us to encourage specific actions:  

  • Fostering interreligious engagement locally, regionally, nationally & globally, including mutual education and sharing of stories and experiences, theological dialogue, joint advocacy, and acts of solidarity;
  • Encouraging interreligious work to be done ecumenically whenever possible;
  • Facilitating participation from the member churches in NCC interreligious dialogues;
  • Nurturing continued collaboration across the NCC’s convening tables on work of interreligious relations with a focus on peace;
  • Supporting the NCC’s international interreligious efforts and participation on behalf of its member churches as significant expressions of countering racism and building a just peace;
  • Participating in increased partnership, advocacy, and engagement of the NCC through interreligious coalitions that focus on peace.

In the 1999 policy statement, the member churches “commit[ted] the Council to continue its relationships with people of other religious traditions” (Rec. I).  In this 20th anniversary year of that statement, the member churches reaffirm this calling, while seeking new ways to uphold our priority to work for the peace of the world.

References

Staff: Dr. Antonios Kireopoulos, Associate General Secretary, National Council of Churches