Ask most people what their minds conjure up at the mention of interfaith work and you will usually get visions of reverends and rabbis hobnobbing over tea in a leaky church hall, thrashing out their differences over the Trinity through tight-lipped smiles. Thankfully, I have yet to come across stuffy platitudes like these in the interfaith activities I have witnessed and participated in.
Instead of spending hours discussing every theological difference under the sun – in mind-numbing detail, no less – these projects seek to unite people based on their shared concerns and interests. Take, for example, the Three Faiths Forum Women ARTogether project where women from different faith backgrounds use their passion for art to break down barriers between communities. Or the Interfaith Youth Trust, which has funded many similar projects, including a cemetery cleaning project run by Christians and Jews.
The vast majority of theologians happily propagate and even spearhead these kinds of initiatives; just witness Shaykh Hamza Yusuf’s enthusiastic participation in interfaith youth conferences. However, there remains a fringe of religious leaders who see diversity as a threat to their authority. Of course, they would be the greatest beneficiaries of interfaith dialogue – if only they knew! Exclusivist approaches to religious diversity – and the arrogance that usually accompanies them – are not only the biggest threat to interfaith relations, but do tremendous damage to intrafaith relations, too.