For the past twenty-five years I have been a Christian teaching theologian. I also have had the privilege of friendship with practicing Jews and Muslims. One of my foremost academic and personal challenges has been guiding myself, my students, and people in parishes to think about how to be faithful as Christians and welcoming of those with other ways to God.
I begin with a bit of what I have learned through interfaith encounters during the last few years and then discuss how the Bible can both complicate and guide the task of embracing simultaneously the gospel and interfaith relations.
In 1990 a small group of Muslims and Christians initiated the Minnesota Muslim-Christian Dialogue, sponsored by the Minnesota Council of Churches. At our first two or three monthly meetings, instead of comparing our abstract concepts of God we each shared our earliest awareness of God. A person raised in a family only nominally Christian recalled hearing about God mainly at Christmas and Easter. A Muslim from India said he was taught to pray at a very early age and began learning Arabic at age four. Two of us, one Christian and one Muslim, remembered our childhood awe at seeing God's natural creation. As a result of these personal and informal conversations, the Muslims were surprised by how serious the Christians were about their relationships with God. The Christians came to believe that it was the same God we were all seeking.
At a Lutheran World Federation Consultation in Brazil in December 1999 I was not with Muslims at all but rather with Lutherans from around the world. The head of the Lutheran Church in Bolivia spoke eloquently of combining the spiritual sensitivities of his Andean Indian upbringing with the theology of Martin Luther. Pastor Emmanuel Grantson, who came from his native Ghana to study and to serve an urban mission in Baltimore, led us in a ritual appropriated from non-Christian African practice, a ritual of prayer, pouring water on a plant, and remembering one's departed ancestors.
Diverse persons--Lutherans, other Christians, and other monotheists--all have influenced my understanding of God and have repeatedly reminded me how much more God is than what I as Lutheran biblical scholar can articulate about God. Sigvard von Sicard is a Swedish Lutheran scholar using ELCA Division for Global Mission funding to serve the Centre for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations at Selly Oak Colleges in Birmingham, England. In a 1994 presentation for the ELCA summer missionary conference, von Sicard shared this from Muslim thought: "Anything we can say about God, he is not." (1) Perhaps that conviction prompts Muslims to focus on the ninety-nine names of God more than on systematic propositions about God. At any rate, von Sicard suggested that these names could be a bridge for discussions between Muslims and Christians.
Contrast that openness to theological conversation with comments by leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod denigrating the very idea of God for Muslims and thus closing off any possibility of dialogue. The dispute about Pastor David Benke's participation in post-9/11 interfaith prayer services received attention even on New York City's National Public Radio station in 2002. The discussion on Brian Lehrer's morning program presumably came in response to an article in the New York Times in July, 2002. Reporting on the charges against this LCMS Atlantic District president, the Times quotes LCMS pastor Joel Baseley: "Instead of keeping God's name sacred and separate from every other name, it was made common as it was dragged to the level of Allah." (2) That this skewed and limited understanding of Islamic theology came from this particular pastor is both ironic and sad. His city is listed as Dearborn, Michigan, which is home to tens of thousands of Arab Muslim immigrants and American Muslims of Arab ancestry.
I am no stranger to such responses to religious pluralism in the United States today. Another part of my experience was living and teaching for several years in the southern Bible belt region of western North Carolina. In my commute between Hickory and Winston-Salem, I found bumper stickers to be one fascinating indicator of the ideologies and theologies of the region. Once I was driving on I-40 behind a church van. A large placard above the rear window exhorted "Win the lost at any cost." My Lutheran-based sensibilities immediately resisted on several counts. Objection #1: Humans don't win the lost, God does. Was the placard commanding God to do that? Objection #2: Even if we Christians are called to bring other souls to Christ, my Lutheran ethical upbringing opposes this ends-justify-the-means posture. I've seen too many cases where believers dying of terminal illness receive from their relatives not support and understanding but the incessant advice to confess Jesus as personal savior in order to be spared the fires of hell. Objection #3: The Bible tells me that only God can judge who is lost. The parable of the wheat and weeds in Matthew 13 cautions against trying to separate believers from unbelievers in these centuries before the eschaton.
Among the many things I will not claim to know about God is whom God is planning to save. In John 4:22 Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that "salvation is from the Jews." Does that mean only those who come to God through the Jewish Christ are saved? Or might it mean something larger, something akin to the many Second Isaiah passages such as 42:6-7 and 49:6 that urge Israel to be "a light to the nations"? Using this broader perspective, we might conclude that God called Israel to be a humbled servant people so that all the nations might come to honor God, not so that all would become religious Jews.
All of this is a roundabout way of getting back to my own recent internal dialogue with Paul Sponheim's comments at the convocation of Teaching Theologians in 1996. (3) First, he noted that we often experience religious pluralism as "interruption"; or, to use the words of Emmanuel Levinas, "the other disturbs one's being at home with oneself." (4)
This feeling of interruption is only partly true for me. Indeed, I experience a disturbance of being at home with my Christian identity much more often when facing extremist Christianity than when meeting moderate Islam or Judaism. My father served as a chemist in the Manhattan Project during World War II, so I was born in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. In the 1950s it was the U.S. town with the highest percentage of Ph.D.s per capita. Oak Ridge also had a thriving Reform Jewish population, and I grew up thinking that positive relations among Jews and Christians were the norm.
Then in 1981 my spouse was awarded a Fulbright Senior Lectureship, and our family spent a very rewarding year in Damascus, Syria. From that experience I came to view positive Muslim-Christian relations as normal, too--a view that has been reinforced by years of friendship with Muslims in Minnesota, North Carolina, New York, and even north Yemen, where we spent another Fulbright semester. But please do not assume that I am ignorant of the historical and present-day negative instances of interfaith relations. As a student of the three Abrahamic traditions, it is imperative that I know that other reality too, even if the negative is not reflected in my own experience.
A second point Sponheim made in 1996 is that we Lutheran Christians need not develop a formal "position" on pluralism. He says, "We are on a journey in these matters, but we do have an orientation. We do have a direction, as we travel." (5) I am grateful for this permission not to decide finally whether I am exclusivist, inclusivist, relativist, or pluralist!
At the May 2002 International Scholars Annual Trialogue in Skopje, Macedonia, I had mealtime conversations with leading interfaith theorists including Leonard Swidler and Paul Knitter of the U.S. and Alan Race of the U.K. Along with our Lutheran colleagues Sponheim and Carl Braaten, these scholars have done the speculative task of developing Christian theologies of the world religions. Rather than engaging that mainly abstract project, what I propose to contribute is a focus on the concreteness of biblical texts and of lived experience, my own and others', a focus that can take us beyond the religious-pluralism debate. Somehow I have found a way existentially to interact with religious others without having a "finished" Christian theology of the religions and their efficacy. Maybe that is one of the best things, for me, about being a student of the Bible rather than of systematic theology. The plurality of the Bible's portrayals of God and of the ways to God has helped liberate me from the need for unambiguous clarity. The Bible's own diversity has enabled me in interfaith encounters to "walk by faith, not by sight," as Paul writes in the second letter to Corinth (2 Cor 5:7). The Bible has thus helped me to make a distinction between two aspects of such encounters: (1) the need to evaluate the doctrinal truth of what I hear from the religious other and (2) the experience of meeting God in and through the other." (6) In other words, the Bible has given me not a "position" but an "orientation" for traveling with religious others.
One year during Advent, one of the more overtly Christocentric seasons in the church year, while receiving the Eucharist I experienced the clear sense that my salvation is not dependent upon a particular systematic position on the other religions. That salvation is not even dependent upon what I know about God as a Lutheran versus what is known about God in the religions. What matters is not what I know but by whom I am known. Ironically, it was the thoroughly Pauline and essentially Lutheran words of Galatians 2 that came to me at that moment: "yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ" (Gal 2:16). And to paraphrase Paul in a way I doubt he would appreciate, I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through a particular doctrine of God or a particular theology of the religions, then Christ died for nothing (Gal 2:21). The freedom from forming specific assessments of the faiths of others allows me to "travel light," as Sponheim advises, and even to take "an extra empty bag," (7) in case it is truth that I encounter on that pilgrimage.
I have explained something of what I have learned about this pilgrimage from interfaith experience. Now I want to consider how the Bible can both complicate and guide our task of holding the gospel and interfaith relations together.
There are some well-known examples in the Bible of destructive engagement of the religious other, such as Elijah killing the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. Without a full recital of textual examples, however, I begin by claiming that the Bible's many books taken together as a whole impel us to embrace the other as neighbor. From Levitical requirements of hospitality to the stranger, to the Samaritan parable of Luke 10, to the missionary impulses of the Acts of the Apostles, the Bible calls us both to serve and to witness to the religious other as neighbor. When my friend Khader El-Yateem, pastor of Salaam Arabic Lutheran Church in Brooklyn, ministers to Muslims in New York hospitals, he well knows that few of these encounters will lead to baptism. Yet he continues to serve these immigrant Muslims and by his serving to embody God's love in Jesus the Christ. The biblical mandate to love others and provide hospitality to the stranger was well articulated at the 1996 convocation by Patrick R. Keifert, L. DeAne Lagerquist, J. Paul Rajashekar, and others. (8)
The Bible gives us numerous models for serving the neighbor and for evangelizing the religious other in a respectful manner. Although hospitality, evangelism, and service are not the same as dialogue, the Bible's guidance on those ways of dealing with the other is also applicable to dialogue with the other. I also want to consider some scriptural models for engaging the religious other not only with respect but with an orientation of openness to finding God and/or God's revelation in the other. Indeed, such openness is central to my working definition of interfaith dialogue, which I see as a quest for mutual understanding and mutual truth-seeking, but not only that; interfaith dialogue in my experience also entails mutual guidance in the task of discerning and living according to God's will for God's creation.
Beginning with his 1983 Christians and Religious Pluralism, Anglican pastor Alan Race has worked to orient himself and his fellow Christians for interfaith travel. His latest book, Interfaith Encounter: The Twin Tracks of Theology and Dialogue, warns about uncritical use of "isolated texts" such as John 14:6, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." Instead Race advises seeing the more nuanced "broad picture." (9) He believes "the question is how to interpret the Bible's 'particularity' (or set of particularities) in relation to its 'universal' impulses." Race summarizes the assessment of Catholic writers Donald Senior and Carroll Stuhlmueller that "the activity of God extends beyond the immediate experiences of Israel and the first churches in complex and dialectical ways--in the validity of the religious experiences of other peoples/cultures and through the pervasive divine presence in creation and world history." Conclude Senior and Stuhlmueller, "the God of the Bible sends his people out to reveal and to discover his love in places beyond sectarian borders." (10)
Even while urging attention to the whole Bible and not only to specific exclusivist passages, writers such as Race are also explicating the particular historical situations that yielded these passages. Writing about "anti-Jewish Christian exclusiveness associated with Abraham," Karl-Josef Kuschel places John's Gospel in a time of intense conflict between Jewish-Christian groups and the synagogue. He claims that the Gospel's "polemic can be explained not least from its situation of persecution: an exclusivism 'from below' in reaction to the experience of one's own exclusion." (11)
Doing a historical critical survey of texts hostile to interfaith relations is a subject for another essay. Instead, let us examine briefly some biblical passages that provide strategies for holding together the good news and interfaith relations. First, the Bible's diversity in portrayals of God and of ways of relating to God helps us respond to such phenomena in other religious traditions. Second, some texts demonstrate constructive ways of engaging the religious other. Third, biblical models move us beyond interfaith dialogue to shared life and joint action in the world today.
Much of my teaching has consisted of helping undergraduates navigate the Bible from Genesis to Revelation in fourteen weeks. One way of seeking coherence for such a blitz course is to consider the evolving and differing portrayals of God in the Bible. Analyzing the contrasting God concepts assumed by the Bible's diverse authors in their particular cultural contexts (12) should make us more open to the possibility of truth about God coming from a variety of sources, even outside of our own canonical scriptures. This was one of my arguments when I was asked by the online Journal of Lutheran Ethics (LEJ) to answer the question, "Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?" I wrote,
In many ways there is as much diversity in the conceptions of God in the Hebrew Old Testament as there is between conceptions of God in the Bible and those in the Qur'an. As portrayed by the Deuteronomistic historians, God consistently rewards those Israelites who are faithful to the covenant and punishes those who are unfaithful. As portrayed by the wisdom writers of Job and Ecclesiastes, God's ways are inscrutable and God does not necessarily deliver success to the virtuous or defeat to the wicked."
Then I quoted several examples of similar descriptions of God in the Bible and the Qur'an: for example, from Psalm 145:10: "All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your faithful shall bless you," and a parallel line from Surah 59:24, "All that is in the heavens and in the earth magnifies Him, the Almighty, the all-wise." (13) Taking account of the numerous understandings of God in my own sacred text has made me much more open to encountering the understandings of religious others.
In response to the same LEJ query about whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God, Prof. Walter Bouman seems to take a very different view when he claims that "because Jesus alone reveals and embodies God in history, nothing else does." (14) Perhaps Bouman is using "embodies" only in the very particular sense of "incarnates," i.e., in the sense of John 1:14: "And the Word became flesh and lived among us...." If, on the other hand, he means "embodies" more broadly, it is puzzling to know what Bouman would do with the words of the Hebrew prophets, with the testimony of natural creation, with Luther's concept of being "little Christs" for one another, and with the possibility of God's presence in religious expressions other than Christian.
An approach much closer to my own is that of Theodore M. Ludwig, professor of world religions and ethics at Valparaiso University. He points out that many Muslims know the Christian belief that God "self-reveals through prophets, and ... continues to be present and active in human history" and are thus baffled by Christian refusal to grant that God could be speaking through the prophet Muhammad or in the words of the Qur'an. Ludwig counsels Christians to understand Islam in order to better "take up the theological task of discerning what God is doing in Islam and through Muslims--as St. Paul did with respect to the religious traditions of the Athenians (Acts 17:16-34)." (15)
Paul, as portrayed in Acts 17, acknowledges the Athenians' worship of "an unknown god" (17:23). Instead of immediately dismissing them as idol worshipers, Paul invites the Athenians to embrace "the God who made the world and everything in it" (17:24). (16) Indeed, Acts yields a number of examples of my second point about biblical strategies for holding together the good news and interfaith relations: constructive ways of engaging the religious other. Like Paul preaching in Athens or Philip counseling the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8, we can meet the religious other with gentleness and forbearance rather than with arrogance and condemnation. Anyone who has read the Pauline letters knows that the canonical Paul is capable of this latter behavior. But he is also the one in 1 Cor 9:19-23 who stresses the importance of adapting oneself to the needs of others for the sake of the gospel and of service. As the central character in the second half of Acts, the Lukan Paul retells his Damascus road experience from Acts 9 for two very different audiences. In Acts 21:40-22:22 for a mixed Gentile-Jewish audience in Jerusalem he stresses his Jewish upbringing (22:3-5), uses Isaiah-style terms for God and Messiah (22:14-15), and prays in the temple (22:17). Several chapters later he again tells the story, this time in Caesarea for the Hellenized King Agrippa and his sister Bernice. Paul praises Agrippa's knowledge (26:3) and tells a Greek proverb on the theme of resisting fate (26:14), a proverb that does not appear in the Acts 9 and Acts 22 versions.
In addition to numerous texts in Acts, 1 Peter 3, with its setting in a Greco-Roman culture hostile to Christianity, is often cited as paradigmatic for interfaith dialogue and relations. "Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence (3:15-16). M. Thomas Thangaraj, a pastor in the Church of South India, makes "gentleness and reverence" the theme of a chapter dealing with interfaith relations. (17) Another religious leader from India, Israel Selvanayagam, in a paper presented to the Theology Colloquium at the 1998 Congress on the World Mission of the Church, recalled J. N. Farquhar's appeal for missionaries to embody Paul's teaching in 2 Corinthians 4 about being slaves for Jesus' sake.
The missionary's life must be a daily death to self in every aspect of his behavior, if he is to exercise his full influence for Christ. No words are sufficient to tell how meek and lowly in heart the winner of souls must be, what humility of speech, what quietness of manner, what superlative self-effacement are necessary, in order that the light of Christ may shine through him into Hindu eyes. (18)
These examples illustrate that when one is from a religious minority one has more to gain by taking a gentle and humble approach with those who are the majority. Practicing humility is much more difficult when one represents the dominant religious presence in the United States today. Although the self-effacing homiletic approaches used by Paul in Acts and his admonitions in 2 Corinthians are intended to further the goal of evangelism, these strategies are equally applicable to conversations with persons of other religious faiths, conversations aimed more at mutual understanding than at conversion.
Let us consider how biblical models might move us beyond interfaith dialogue to shared life and joint action in the world today. Rajashekar counsels, "In a religiously pluralistic society, a proper Christian posture is learning to participate in the life of another. Put differently, it is learning to be guests, not hosts, in the midst of people of other faiths." (19) Reflecting on Muslim-Christian relations, Ludwig reminds us that "Christians believe they are the body of Christ in the world" and that in order to love our neighbors as ourselves, "we must know the neighbor!" Are there biblical models for the important strategies of learning to be guests, for being the body of Christ in the world, and for knowing the religious other?
All three of these strategies are present in Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well--an ironic phenomenon considering that John's Gospel is the source of some of the most exclusivist claims in the Christian tradition. I am by no means the first scholar of interfaith issues to cite John 4 as an example of diplomacy in embracing the religious and cultural other. In this text Jesus is pictured in serious dialogue with one who is other in terms of gender, ethnicity, religious praxis, and alleged moral character. (20) And even though there are important ways that John 4 is unlike our present situation of religious pluralism, Jesus and the woman model interreligious dialogue by using plural pronouns, as if they are representing their two faith groups (4:9, 12, 19-22, 25), and by frankly acknowledging their religious differences. Further, both demonstrate that which is necessary to avoid wrong conclusions about the religious other: knowledge of the other, listening to the other, and openness to having one's prior assumptions altered. Especially noteworthy is the willingness by both Jesus as character and John as narrator to meet this female religious other in all her particularity. She is not simply a foreigner to be evangelized. She is an individual to be known in what Martin Buber called an "I-Thou" relationship. (21) Postmodern critic Gary Phillips says the story as told by John 4 resists attempts to view this woman merely as a type of the outsider who becomes a believer.
Ironically, and this is the deconstructive point, she is textually central and necessary for the success of the narrative and its theological reading because she is Other--outside of normal culture, outside of typical patterns of giving and taking, outside of women-at- the-well scenes. It is the Samaritan woman as Other that enables belief, reading and meaning to happen. (22)
Scholars and homilists who conclude easily that this woman is either a symbol of Samaritan idolatry or a "prototype of sexual sin" (23) need to think about whether she may indeed have outlived her first five husbands or have been unfairly divorced by them. Perhaps she currently is a slave or concubine not by her own will. (24)
What does this woman's story have to do with our own dealings with persons of other cultures and religions? Consider how often American journalists and policy makers and religious leaders function with stereotypical notions of Islam and Muslims rather than take time to get to know actual Muslims in their cultural contexts, as Jesus does with this woman. I once heard a highly respected Christian missionary claim that only ignorance of true trinitarian theology would prevent Muslims from seeing the light and becoming baptized. If such is the case, what am I to make of the faithful Muslims who took every one of my undergraduate biblical courses and still "begged to differ" on the matter of the incarnation? Or of my Minnesota Muslim-Christian dialogue co-chair, who as a Muslim investment advisor from Sri Lanka had taken the time to read Luther and Tillich and still chose to remain the spiritual leader of the Twin Cities Islamic Center? John 4 teaches us that whether our goal is evangelism or authentic encounter with the other or both, it is crucial truly to know the other and to see the other in all her particularity.
For most of this essay my explicit focus has been interfaith dialogue. But I want to conclude by emphasizing the importance of being the body of Christ in the world not only in religious conversation but in shared life and action.
For six years I had the immense privilege of serving on the board of the ELCA's Division for Global Mission. In meetings twice each year I met missionaries, DGM staff, and international church partners--all of whom know firsthand that holding the gospel and interfaith relations together is nonnegotiable, especially for Lutheran Christians. The Division's Strategic Priorities for 2002-2006 stress a trinitarian understanding of God's mission in the world and list such programmatic emphases as a commitment to women, children at risk, leadership development, evangelism, and health ministries. (25) In other words, there is no being the body of Christ in the world apart from shared life and action.
At the 2002 Global Mission Events in North Carolina and Minnesota the speakers included Bishop Mounib Younan of the Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) and his wife, Suad, director of the Helen Keller School for the Blind in Jerusalem. I cannot think of two individuals who better epitomize a biblically based life with religious others. Both are leaders in formal and informal dialogue among Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Israel/Palestine. Both daily live and work together with Palestinian Muslims. Twenty percent of the enrollment at the five ELCJHL schools under Bishop Younan's oversight consists of Muslim children from the West Bank, as well as Christian children from many denominations. Suad is continually challenged to protect and nurture her Muslim clients and staff members as they brave curfews, checkpoints, circuitous travel, and even gunfire simply to come to the Center in Jerusalem each day.
Lutheran Christians need not live in Palestine to share daily living with religious others. Those of us in North America can become much more intentional about knowing and encountering our neighbors of other faith traditions.
Reflecting on the shared lives and aspirations of the Palestinian Muslims and Christians I know best, I wish to return to the theme of "Save the lost at any cost" and the question "Who will be saved?"--matters that can affect for good and ill the tenor of our interactions with religious others.
Rereading the papers from the 1996 convocation of Teaching Theologians, I was struck by Braaten's admission that he is an "eschatological agnostic.... That all shall be saved in the end ... is not something we can know." (26) Yet we do know that Christ died for all, and Braaten concludes by alluding to the ta panta passages of 1 Corinthians, Colossians, and Ephesians. At the 1998 Congress on the World Mission of the Church, David Tiede used Matthew 28, Romans 11, and Acts 17 as examples of "God's Mission to All!"--his title for a series of plenary Bible studies. A third commentary on this theme of eschatological hope comes from Jurgen Moltmann, who spoke at Wake Forest University on the topic "Is There Life after Death?" (27) When asked who will be saved, Moltmann said he rejected the notion of a separate heaven and hell. I paraphrase what he said next: "I'm not a universalist with regard to heaven, as there are a few people that I don't want to see again. But God made me a universalist since he created them and he does want to see them again."
In this eschatological vein, I close with the judgment parable of Matthew 25. When Jesus commends those who have served the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned, he is not giving us a prescription for how to get saved. Rather, he is giving us a description of behaviors characteristic of those who are saved, who are in authentic relationships with the author of life.
I lived in Sana'a, the capital of Yemen, for five months in 1992 with my husband, Ryan, and our daughter when Ryan had a Fulbright grant to teach American literature at the national university. One week-day morning Ryan and I were shopping in downtown Sana's when we heard rumbling and shouting. Instantly shopkeepers yanked corrugated metal doors down over their storefronts. The two of us stood looking very bewildered and out of place, the only Westerners for blocks around. A Yemeni man came up to us and explained in English that we had better take shelter or leave by a nearby alley, as a hostile mob was approaching the area where we stood. It seems that these men were outraged by a sudden steep rise in the price of sugar. That price, tied to the American dollar because of Yemen's oil-based economy, had inflated beyond the economic reach of many Yemenis. Apparently most Yemenis are as addicted to their sweet hot tea as North Carolinians are to their sweet iced tea.
The ensuing weeks of rioting endangered the lives of foreigners, particularly of Americans. The three of us were living without benefit of car or telephone in university housing on the edge of the city. American embassy officials, ensconced in their Western-style enclave and relying on their chauffeur-driven Land Rovers, mainly ignored us. It was my husband's Yemeni Muslim university colleagues who stopped daily to check on our welfare, brought us groceries, and invited us to their stay in their homes should we feel threatened. Now, many years later, some of these Yemeni Muslims are among our most treasured friends, and the Internet and jet travel make ongoing relationships possible. Are these Muslim friends among the "lost" we must "save at any cost"?
As a Lutheran Christian living in relationship with religious others, I am called by the gospel to witness to God's saving actions for all in Christ Jesus, and I willingly do so in word and deed. But I also am called by the gospel to be open to God's presence and revelation as I meet them in the lives of faithful others, such as Mohammed Sharafuddin, who headed the English department where Ryan taught while in Yemen. A published authority on "orientalism" in American literature, he is also a practicing Zaidi Muslim with Sufi leanings. Zaidi Islam is a branch of Shi'a Islam, but a form much more open and flexible than what we sometimes see in places such as Iran. During his own Fulbright-sponsored visits to the United States, Dr. Shara-fuddin has shared his interfaith vision at colleges and universities where Ryan and I have been working. Always his focus is on the moral and spiritual values shared by Muslims and Christians and on ways we can make common cause in responding to global ills.
Learning to make common cause with other believers is part of our present reality as Christians living in the world's most powerful and wealthy nation. This is especially true now as the U.S. government conducts its "war on terrorism" and as politics and economics exacerbate global religious conflicts. In our journey of holding together the gospel and interfaith relations we may need to begin with hospitality to the stranger and respectful dialogue. But we must go much further to embrace shared life and action with religious others, a task for which we do have constructive biblical models. In the process we may be surprised by how much God has to teach us.
1. ELCA Summer Missionary Conference, Kenosha, Wisconsin, July 26, 1994.
2. New York Times (July 10, 2002), Metro section, p. 3.
3. Paul Sponheim, "Concluding Reflections, 1996 Consultation of Teaching Theologians," Currents in Theology and Mission 24 (1997), 452-56.
4. Sponheim, 452.
5. Sponheim, 453.
6. LaHurd, "Walking by Faith: Witness and Dialogue in the Multifaith Americas, Multifaith Challenges Facing the Americas ... and Beyond (LWF Studies 2002), ed. Hance A.O. Mwakabana (Geneva: The Lutheran World Federation, 2002), 52.
7. Sponheim, 454.
8. See essays in Currents in Theology and Mission 24:5 (October 1997): Keifert, "The Congregation: Critical Location for Faith and the Other," 404; Lagerquist, "The Promise and Problem of Pluralism: A Response," 449; Rajashekar, "Faith and the Other: Theological Perspectives," 438.
9. Alan Race, Interfaith Encounter: The Twin Tracks of Theology and Dialogue (London: SCM Press, 2001), 12.
10. Donald Senior and Carroll Stuhlmueller, The Biblical Foundations for Mission (London: SCM Press, 1983), 345, as quoted in Race, Interfaith Encounter, 24-25.
11. Karl-Josef Kuschel, Abraham: Sign of Hope for Jews, Christians, and Muslims, trans. John Bowden (New York: Continuum, 1995), 117.
12. For relevant discussions of such texts in the Hebrew Bible see Theodore N. Swanson, "Christianity and World Religions: A Biblical Understanding," The Bulletin of the Henry Martyn Institute of Islamic Studies 12:3-4 (1993), 61-77; and Christopher J. H. Wright, "Interpreting the Bible among the World Religions," Themelios 25:3 (2000), 35-54.
13. "This Lord Is Near to All Who Call on Him," Journal of Lutheran Ethics, February 2002; http://www.elca.org/jle.
14. "Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?" Journal of Lutheran Ethics, March 2002; http://www.elca.org/jle.
15. Theodore M. Ludwig, "Studying Islam at Valparaiso University: An Interview," Cresset LXV/2-3 (December 2001): 23-27.
16. For more on Paul's speech as a model of interfaith dialogue, see Theodore M. Swanson in ELCA's Global Gleanings, April 1994, and Colin Chapman, "Rethinking the Gospel for Muslims," Muslims and Christians on the Emmaus Road, ed. J. Dudley Woodberry (Monrovia, CA: MARC, 1989), 114.
17. M. Thomas Thangaraj, Relating to People of Other Religions: What Every Christian Needs to Know (Abingdon, 1997), as reviewed by Kathryn A. Kleinhans, Lutheran Partners (March/April 1998), 42-43.
18. J. N. Farquhar, The Crown of Hinduism (London: Oxford University Press, 1920), as quoted by Israel Selvanayagam in "Towards an Evangelical Theology for a Pluralist Age," St. Paul, Minnesota, June 1998.
19. Rajashekar, "Faith and the Other," 436.
20. Scholars disagree on the matter of whether the woman's five or six "men" or "husbands" serve in the narrative as symbols for the false gods and cults of Samaria. See Robert Kysar, Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament: John (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1986), 65, and Joseph P. Cahill, "Narrative Art in John IV," Religious Studies Bulletin 2 (April 1982): 41-48.
21. Edward K. Kaplan, "Martin Buber and the Drama of Otherness: The Dynamics of Love, Art, and Faith," Judaism 27 (Spring 1978): 196-206.
22. Gary Phillips, "The Ethics of Reading Deconstructively, or Speaking Face-to-Face: The Samaritan Woman Meets Derrida at the Well," in The New Literary Criticism and the New Testament, ed. Edgar V. McKnight and Elizabeth Struthers Malbon (Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 1994), 311.
23. Linda McKinnish Bridges, "John 4:5-42," Interpretation 48:2 (1994), 173-76.
24. Winsome Munro, "The Pharisee and the Samaritan in John: Polar or Parallel?" The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 57:4 (1995), 710-28.
25. From "God the creator and sustainer of life" comes the imperative "that the church engage in the struggle for peace, justice, and the integrity of creation." From "God the redeemer and reconciler of life" comes the mandate "that the church engage in witness to the redemption that is in Christ (evangelism) and engage in the ministry of reconciliation (creation of community out of diversity)." From "God the giver and transformer of life" comes the imperative "that the church be an agent of both personal and communal growth and transformation (capacity development, leadership development, church growth)." See "Division for Global Mission Strategic Priorities 2002-2006," sections 1.1.1, 1.1.2, 1.1.3, and 4.1.
26. Carl Braaten, "Hearing the Other: The Promise and Problem of Pluralism," Currents in Theology and Mission 24:5 (1997), 400.
27. Margaret A. Steelman Lecture Series, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, N.C., April 16, 2002.
Carol Schersten LaHurd
Adjunct Professor, Fordham University, Bronx, New York