Friday, September 09, 2011

Reflections on "Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero"

Watch the full episode. See more FRONTLINE.

This week I caught the majority of a rerun of a special edition of Frontline, Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero on 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 that made me think of my work in religious studies and dialogue.

First, there is the story of a Lutheran minister in the program where he shares his experiences after praying and participating in a multifaith 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 of not only 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.

Second, there is a comment by a rabbi that was spot on. 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.

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.

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