The 1999 International Buddhist-Christian Theological Encounter

By Bernstein, Barbara | Buddhist-Christian Studies, Annual 2000 | Go to article overview

The 1999 International Buddhist-Christian Theological Encounter


Bernstein, Barbara, Buddhist-Christian Studies


The 1999 International Buddhist-Christian Theological Encounter (IBCTE), also known as the Abe-Cobb Group, met at the Westin Hotel in Indianapolis, Indiana from April 15 to April 18. There were four papers on the theme "Social Violence." This theme followed last year's, which was "Environmental Violence." Each paper was read beforehand; and to guide the discussion, each session was begun by a respondent.

It was reported at the first session that the 2000 IBCTE will take place August 3-6 at Tacoma, Washington just prior to the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies International Conference on "Buddhism, Christianity, and Global Healing." The theme for next year's encounter will be "The Economic Factors in Social and Environmental Violence." This theme will build on the dialogue generated by the topics of the previous two years, namely, environmental and social violence. Papers will be prepared by Sulak Sivaraksa, John B. Cobb, Jr., Judith Simmer-Brown, and Carol Johnston. Responses will be made by Stephanie Kaza, David Chappell, Valerie Karras, and Terry Muck.

It was also announced at that session that six of our membership will present a panel on the IBCTE at the Parliament of the World's Religions in Cape Town, South Africa in December 1999. That panel will share the fruits of the 15-year history of the IBCTE. Those who will attend this Parliament are: David Lochhead, David Chappell, Schubert Ogden, the Ven. Yifa, Judith Simmer-Brown, and Rosemary Ruether.

The following is a summary of each of the eight dialogue sessions at the 1999 meeting:

FIRST PAPER (April 16 Morning Session)

Discussion began with Taitetsu Unno's response to David Lochhead's paper entitled, "Monotheistic Violence." Unno began by examining the relationship between deep personal faith (vertical) and the social/ethical elements of religion (horizontal). This led to further discussion on violence and the construction of "the other." Unno raised the questions: Who decides what constitutes the other? Further, who ultimately decides if the other is or is not enemy/neighbor? Unno pointed out that, following Matthew 5, if God does not discriminate good from evil, then who can determine who is just and unjust? This comment pointed to the great problem for minorities in North American society.

Unno also made some comments on Lochhead's use of liberation theology: If all economic systems are prone to misuse, then does a critique of capitalism do us much good?

Lochhead's reply to Unno began with the issue of dualism and non-dualism. Here, Lochhead talked about a "soft" dualism, in that our world is constituted by relationships such that God and neighbor are the names that appear in this discourse. Like Martin Buber's path in I and Thou, dualistic construction comes out of relationships. Lochhead clarified that this dualism is not the same as a hard dualism, which is what Unno referred to as subject/object dualism. This led to the relevant question: What kind of violence is involved in the construction of the other? If God is a name for something beyond me, then how can the construction of the self in relationship to God be a form of violence? And would not this nonviolent, soft dualistic construction hold for any other person or living being? Lochhead then suggested that it is when relationships somehow degenerate into I-it, in Buber's terms, that the construction can become violent.

Much rich insight was brought to light when the dialogue opened for general discussion. Jose Cabezon asked if violence demands the construction of the other? He pointed out that for the human realm differentiation is necessary for human life. Stephanie Kaza contributed to the discussion by suggesting that biological necessity is very hard for people to understand. There can be different bases of knowing, and religious knowing is from a privileged point of view for understanding our relationship with the natural environment. …

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