Workers seek to improve interfaith engagement
Anabaptists are seen to have strengths that enhance ability to relate across faiths
AKRON, Pa. — As religious hostility, Islamophobia and anti-Semitic acts surge, a group of interfaith, peacemaking and mission workers from six Anabaptist agencies met to explore ways to improve interfaith engagement.
“I think religious minorities in this country, no matter who they are, are feeling under threat,” said Trina Trotter Nussbaum, interim director for Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Interfaith Engagement.
The Feb. 15-16 meeting, facilitated by Mennonite Central Committee and Mennonite Mission Network, gave participants a chance to look critically at their agencies’ roles in interfaith engagement and develop best practices for relating across faiths.
Other attendees represented Mennonite Church USA, Eastern Mennonite Missions and Christian Peacemaker Teams.
Gathered at MCC’s Welcoming Place, representatives helped each other identify weaknesses in the way their agencies, and the U.S. Anabaptist community as a whole, approach interfaith engagement.
One problem identified was a tendency to retreat into enclaves and not engage with those who are different, including non-Christians. Other weaknesses included insufficient passion for sharing the gospel, congregations’ fear of relating to people of other faiths and the involvement of Anabaptist churches in the U.S. culture wars.
Participants also agreed Anabaptists have strengths that give them great potential for rich interfaith engagement. Anabaptists have had a disproportionately large influence, relative to their size, on interfaith relationships. Anabaptist strengths include development and disaster response efforts worldwide, a history of respectful cross-cultural engagement, and pacifism, which has helped build trust.
Representatives wrote a list of 18 lessons learned from each other to shape future interfaith engagement. The first three lessons were to practice hospitality, to practice self-reflection before undertaking interfaith engagement and to approach interfaith engagement with humility and a readiness to repent.
MCC strategic planning and learning director Alain Epp Weaver said he came away convinced that Mennonites have an important niche in the work of interfaith engagement.
Jonathan Bornman, a member of EMM’s Christian/Muslim Relations Team, said the need for better interfaith engagement can be felt locally. Recently a friend, an asylum seeker from Iraq, told Bornman he feared a hearing to determine his status. If he is sent back to Iraq, his life will be in danger. But as a Muslim immigrant he is afraid he will not be allowed to stay in the U.S. He asked Bornman to pray for him.
Other attendees included James Krabill, MMN senior mission advocate; Rebekah Simmerman, research assistant at EMU’s Center for Interfaith Engagement; Jonathan Brenneman, coordinator for Israel/Palestine Partners in Peacemaking with MC USA; Jason Boone, MC USA peace and justice minister and a member of CPT’s steering committee; John Kampen, professor of biblical interpretation at Methodist Theological School in Ohio, who also works as a Jewish-Christian relations consultant with MC USA; and EMM global consultant David Shenk.
New Anabaptist frontier
“An explicit attempt to address the issue of interfaith relations is a relatively new agenda for the [Anabaptist] body,” Kampen said. “We come from very different places and experiences.”
Not everyone agreed how interfaith engagement should happen.
“We made some important steps toward common affirmations on how to proceed and agreed that we needed to give more attention to how our agencies equip the church to more effectively understand and engage our neighbors of other faith traditions,” Krabill said.
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