Unification News for October 1998

Faith and Interfaith

by Dr. Thomas G. Walsh-Louisville, KY

Having been involved in the work of the Inter-Religious Federation for World Peace since its inception, and prior to that with its predecessor, the International Religious Foundation, both of which were founded by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, I have paused occasionally to reflect on the differences between various approaches to interfaith. In particular, one thinks of possible differences between interfaith outreach rooted in particular traditions-for example, the interfaith of the Vaticanís Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue or the World Council of Churches unit on inter-religious dialogue, etc.-and what might be called non-aligned interfaith, organizations having no explicit financial or doctrinal relationship with a particular religion. In the case of the latter, of course, its leaders often have profound religious loyalties, but in their interfaith activity evidence no institutional accountability to a particular religion.

The IRFWP receives its financial support primarily from the Unification Church, which claims its founding as linked to a particular religious movement and its leader, Rev. Moon. The IRFWP, in some respects, is closer to the interfaith of the Vatican or the World Council of Churches than to, say, the North American Interfaith Network. Some believe that interfaith organizations coupled with the "scandal of particularity" are necessarily partisan. The question which comes to mind, however, is as follows: does the strong link to a particular religionís vision, and to its resources, weaken the quality of interfaith work carried out by such organizations? Moreover, should this criterion of institutional connection to a given faith serve as a legitimate principle of discrimination? [I am using the term discrimination in a neutral sense. Not all discrimination is illicit or unjust. A person who insists on playing according to the rules of American football is not allowed to play international football (American soccer). Thatís a legitimate point of discrimination.] Is the distinction between interfaith with roots in a faith and interfaith that is institutionally independent useful? I think not, and hereís why.

First, interfaith outreach on the part of particular religions should be encouraged and promoted. If there is a scandal to interfaith and to religion in general, it may be that religions and their leaders do not always participate fully in interfaith outreach. The worldwide interfaith movement should encourage interfaith rooted in particularity. Let a thousand faiths bloom with interfaith activity.

Second, there is a danger that some religions may selectively be affirmed for their interfaith outreach, and others not. In effect, we must guard against illegitimate and unjust forms of discrimination. There is within all religions, although sometimes buried and underutilized, an appreciation and a call to love and respect the stranger, the distant neighbor, the other. I think, for example, of the interfaith ideals within the Bahaíi Faith, and the great work of Rissho Kosei Kai, whose members have done much to promote interfaith, the Brahma Kumaris, and others. These movements are indeed to be applauded for their great work on behalf of world peace. I believe their interfaith work lies at the very heart of their own particular religiosity. Such work, rooted within religion, gives us the brightest hope for a future where religion truly contributes to world peace. In order to bring this about, however, we must expand our hearts of hospitality to include all faiths, encouraging the development of interfaith-religiously aligned and nonaligned-as an outgrowth of each oneís particular tradition.

Third, the interfaith movement must ever guard itself against its own form of exclusivism, i.e., the establishment of any sense of a dominant inter-religious community or culture which could impede the flourishing of insights coming from the margins. There is always the danger of the inclusive becoming exclusive. Inclusiveness itself can establish standards which are themselves exclusivist.

The religious landscape of our world is ever-changing. We have still more peaks of religious, cultural and social transformation to climb, together. Let us encourage interfaith wherever its buds are forming, and let us welcome most wholeheartedly the interfaith which arises from the foundations of religious particularity.

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