It begins, "In the Chicago- Lambeth Quadrilateral, the Episcopal Church articulated the basis on which it participates in ecumenical conversations. In this statement we will articulate a similar rationale for the Episcopal Church's engagement in interfaith dialogue." That's a tall order.
I must say the text does not "sing" in a the way that the Chicago version of the Quadrilateral did. That text was more than a rationale, it was a heartfelt plea for something that happens slowly and with great difficulty. But it sang because it came from a deep yearning to move beyond all division, including those preferences of our own in order to be One in Christ. This text has a harder job, for while the hope for dialogue and even joint action is there among many of the world's religions, it is not easy to see how we might be subsumed in that quest to cease being, say Anglicans. So the end looks different.
The closing parallel to the Lambeth Quadrilateral is I suppose the Anaheim Triad,
(p.162 Blue Book)
"We offer three gifts from The Episcopal Church and the Anglican way:
- Our comprehensive way of thinking by which we balance Scripture, reason and tradition in relationship building;
- Our belief system that centers on the Incarnation of God in Christ, and on the Crucified One who leads us to self-emptying, forgiveness, and reconciliation; and
- Our practice of focusing mission in terms of service, companionship, and partnership between people as demonstrative of God's embrace of human life."
I would think our interfaith partners in dialogue would find these ends clear grounds for dialogue and work. They don't have to accept how we got there as their way of getting there.
In the middle of the document, which it is proposed that we adopt "as the foundation upon which it (TEC) engages in interreligious dialogue," there is an important series of paragraphs on "Soteriology and Interrreligious Relations." In that section which is very dense and I think very good, there is this paragraph,
(25) "How might we deal with those faith claims as we engaged with other faith traditions in dialogue? Our claim about Jesus as the Way need not discount the authentic nature of the claims of other faiths as ways to find salvation. As Christians we are not confined to saying Jesus is the Way only for those who believe. We are willing to learn from other faith traditions such insights and understandings as can enrich our own salvation story. Learning such insight is a major purpose of dialogue."
This needs to be read carefully. As I understand it it holds several thoughts that might be seen as in tension, but holds them as facets of one gift. The text couches everything in the language of "salvation." "Salvation" is itself a dense word - meaning everything from being healed or cured, or made whole, to being taken from sure condemnation and separation from God to the sure love of and inclusion in God. Here are the facets being presented without the salvation language:
We know Jesus as the Way; we don't have to discount what others claim in order to know what we know in faith and experience.
We know Jesus as the Way; we don't by that deny that others may find in our knowledge and insights things of great value.
We know Jesus as the Way; we may find in the insights and knowledge of others things of great value.
Ah, but are they saved without Jesus Christ? and are we saved unless it is Jesus Christ and only him? That is of course an ongoing matter of great interest to Christian apologists. I do not believe it is the primary interest of this text, which is not about defense of the faith, but the sharing of faith and finding common grounds for work together. This text is about dialogue with others who do not believe as we do. In that context it is important not to discount, deny or shun gifts. I think that is what this paragraph is about.
My sense is this document ought to be passed and with real thanks to the Standing Commission. This stuff is hard work and the resulting document, even if it doesn't sing, speaks to us who are working hard at interfaith dialogue on a local level.
This week here in Lewes, the area Rabbi is coming to speak at a summer Spirituality Series at St. Peter's. My hope is that our conversations will be guided by the sort of respect and care that this document proposes.