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Best Practices for Interreligious Ministry

By Ruben Habito


In addition to adequate theological grounding on how to situate the religious other within the framework of one’s faith tradition, there are certain attitudes, virtues, and skills that would appear to be crucially needed in being able to creatively relate to, engage, and cooperate with religious others. In an excellent volume specifically addressing the subject, Catherine Cornille has laid out humility, commitment, interconnection, empathy, and hospitality as five such key elements to be nourished and cultivated in this regard.1

Humility, to be distinguished from “modesty” that entails a reluctance to acknowledge a due honor or rightful claim, is an attitude and virtue that ensures an openness and capacity for growth in our search for truth. If we look at members of other religious traditions with an attitude that we hold the truth, that they either do not or have only a partial grasp of it, and that we have nothing to learn from them, we are not only closing off all doors for a veritable heart-to-heart communication with others, we are also depriving ourselves of the possibility of seeing new horizons, and obstructing growth and deepening in our very own understanding and appreciation of what is true, both in the worldly as well as in the religious sense.

Good food, singing, and even a line-dance, caught at this North American Interfaith Network dinner, enhances hospitality, a sense of connectedness, and the friendly relations that nurture healthy interfaith relationships.

Good food, singing, and even a line-dance, caught at this North American Interfaith Network dinner, enhances hospitality, a sense of connectedness, and the friendly relations that nurture healthy interfaith relationships.

Yet genuine humility is not to be equated with an attitude of religious relativism, but can and should come hand in hand with a firm commitment to one’s own faith tradition. Such a commitment on the one hand may be seen by some to be an obstacle to interreligious dialogue and cooperation with members of other faith traditions. Quite the contrary: without such a commitment, interreligious interaction on different dimensions will remain on the level of bland cocktail party discourse. It is only as I remain committed to my own Christian faith and engage with others also committed to their own respective religious communities and traditions that true learning and broadening of horizons can result on all sides, as we challenge one another grounded on mutual trust and friendship.

A sense of interconnection between members of different religious communities comes home to us as we consider what we do have in common as persons committed to a faith tradition, with loyalties to something bigger than our own individual self-serving interests, with a shared openness to Mystery even if we may relate, and understand and interpret it in diverging or contrasting ways, and in our contemporary global society, especially with the manifold challenges of healing our global society faced by all of us as inhabitants of Planet Earth.

This interconnection that undergirds our solidarity with peoples of differing faith traditions is further enhanced by an attitude of empathy, the human capacity to “stand in another’s shoes,” to put oneself in the place of another, and see, think, and feel from the perspective of the other. The activation of such a capacity in our interactions with religious others can effectively and definitively broaden our own horizons, and not only enable us to see through own biases and overcome our prejudices, but also broaden and deepen our own understanding, appreciation, and theological articulation of our own faith tradition.

Hospitality, understood as a virtue that welcomes and embraces the other as one’s own in a spirit of kinship, also involves an acceptance of the other as other in the face of religious differences, and in this context of interreligious encounter and dialogue, implies “an attitude of openness and receptivity to those very differences as a possible source of truth.”2 Recognizing those differences, with earnest attempts at sorting them out with all the intellectual and other tools at one’s disposal, but with the honesty to acknowledge where differences remain as differences, that is, with a willingness to “agree to disagree,” keeps the relationship within a spirit of mutual respect, without engulfing the other unwarrantedly into one’s own self-defined and determined theological framework or worldview. In other words, while welcoming the other into one’s own circle, allowing space for Mystery to be an active element paves the way for continuing growth and dynamism and mutual challenge in the relationship.

The virtues and attitudes outlined above issue forth from a basic spiritual attitude, that of an openness to listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit as she speaks in the depths of our hearts. It is the work of Holy Spirit that will open to us new horizons in understanding, and will assure us, as we go about our tasks of healing the wounds of our global family in cooperation with our brothers and sisters of the different faith traditions, that the kingdom is in our midst.

1 Catherine Cornille, The Im-Possibility of Interreligious Dialogue (Crossroad, 2008).

2 Cornille, 177.

This essay is excerpted from The Gospel Among Religions: Christian Ministry, Theology, and Spirituality in a Multifaith World(Orbis Books, 2010) by David Brockman and Ruben Habito.