Paul L. Caron

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Inazu: Interfaith Doesn't Mean Compromise

John Inazu (Washington University; Google Scholar), Interfaith Doesn't Mean Compromise:

Uncommon GroundOne of the things I most appreciate about my friend Eboo Patel and his colleagues at Interfaith America (where I serve as a Senior Fellow) is that they take seriously the religious differences that divide us. I remember interfaith efforts when I was in college in the 1990s. Their general vibe suggested that religious differences didn’t really matter, all roads pointed to the same God, and we could do great things together if we stuck to the lowest common denominator.

That’s not how religion works for most people. It’s not how it works for Eboo or me. A genuine interfaith effort takes seriously our differences and works on relationships across those differences. ...

The reality of an interfaith America provides an opportunity for Christians like me to engage with confidence and compassion in a world of difference. This opportunity is captured in the verse that Tim Keller and I selected as the epigraph for our book, Uncommon Ground: Living Faithfully in a World of Difference. In Ephesians 4:1-2, the Apostle Paul exhorts Christians to: “Walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love.”

Paul’s charge to Christians applies to anyone seeking greater empathy and understanding without minimizing significant differences. As I wrote in Uncommon Ground:

Many of our differences matter a great deal, and to suggest otherwise is ultimately a form of relativism. But we can still choose to be gracious across those differences. When we demonize the other side, we miss important insights that can only be learned through charitably understanding a different perspective. We lose the possibility of finding common ground.

Seeking common ground not only advances common interests but also bridges relational distance, a lesson that I have learned through my friendship with Eboo Patel. Eboo and I speak, teach, and write together. We talk about each other’s backgrounds, families, and dreams. We debate theories of change and great books. We laugh at each other’s jokes—at least the first time we hear them. And we mourn together. After my father was diagnosed with cancer, Eboo checked in regularly with phone calls and texts. And when my dad died, Eboo was one of the first people to reach out to me. Eboo’s prayers are quite different from mine, but I am grateful when he prays for me.

My friendship with Eboo shows how we can find common ground even when we disagree about significant matters of faith.

But what about my gratitude for Eboo’s “quite different” Muslim prayers? Does that gesture toward a kind of relativism that values all prayer the same? To the contrary, the depth of our relationship honors the depth of our disagreement. I am confident that Eboo does not share my Trinitarian understanding of prayer (e.g., Matt. 6:6-13; John 16:23-24; Rom. 8:26-27, 34). But I know that he is sincere when he prays for me, and I know that he does so because he cares about me. That itself is an expression of friendship centered around our most important convictions—and differences.

Christians also believe that God promises to bless those who bless his people (Gen. 12:3). Perhaps God in his great mercy and grace in Christ receives the prayers of my friend for my blessing. I won’t know for sure in this lifetime, but my uncertainty does not diminish my gratitude.

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