When people hear the word “dialogue,” often the first thing that come to mind is a group of old religious leaders having a polite conversation and making an official statement about the things on which they agree. But even though high-level dialogue between religious leaders is important, people are right to point out the limited impact such “dialogue” can have on the lives of ordinary people.
When we say “dialogue,” we mean so much more.
We believe there are at least four different types of dialogue that brings groups of different religions together: dialogue of the hands, head, stomach, and heart.***
Dialogue of the hands – Serving together for the common good of our local communities. By picking up trash together in a public park, sharing meals together with impoverished families, or helping elderly families with home repairs, we change our interfaith relationships from a competition of ideas to an opportunity for collaboration. Dialogue of the hands allows us to stand shoulder-to-shoulder to work together, recognize common goals, and build friendships as we collaborate for the common good.
Dialogue of the stomach – Sharing good food together. Showing hospitality, enjoying conversations over meals, and simply having a good time is another way to build rapport and friendship. As we welcome one another into each other’s homes and places of worship to eat together, people from other faith backgrounds are no longer “them” but become part of “us.”
Dialogue of the head – Learning together about our similarities as well as understanding our irreconcilable differences. When we start with or only engage in theological or theoretical conversations, we can easily build walls rather than bridges because of important theological differences. However, when we work to build friendships in other ways such as collaborating on projects and sharing meals together, then it is helpful to also reduce misunderstandings and learn about our differences by engaging in conversation about what we believe in. We believe that even our theological and ideological differences can be celebrated, not because we will agree with one another, but because listening to different understandings of God and truth will force us to empathize and grow in character to love our neighbor.
Dialogue of the heart – Loving one another and being transformed by relationships with one another. The goal of dialogue isn’t that we only learn things intellectually about one another or that we simply do service projects together. The goal is that we might know, learn from, and ultimately love one another. As we engage in this heart-to-heart dialogue, appreciating and learning from one another’s uniqueness, we believe that people in each religious community will become agents of transformation in their own congregations and the wider community as a whole.
*** Josh Daneshforooz frames dialogue in these four ways in his book, Loving Our Religious Neighbor: Fruit of the Spirit in a Multi-Religious Culture. We’d highly recommend reading it for yourself!