Monday, November 22, 2010

Some Thoughts (Someone Else's Good Thoughts) on Interfaith Encounters

Years ago I served in a hospital where we used volunteers quite extensively.  We trained them ourselves to provide some basic introductory visits and help us identify patients who would need or want more attention from a staff chaplain.

One year an employee expressed an interest in becoming a volunteer.  He was a nurse aid working the night shift (11:00 p.m. tp 7:00 a.m.), and a minister in a small storefront church.  He offered in no small part to save us staff chaplains some relief with on call.  He could, he felt, respond himself, in that he was already in house (at least in the worst hours for us), and provide appropriate care.

That said, we quickly discovered that he wasn’t going to fit our structures.  His interest was in bringing patients to Christ, and especially in helping them see their need of Christ in the midst of a health crisis.  As such, he wasn’t really showing respect for patients in the terms of their own spiritual journies.

One night we met with him after the training session.  Being in Detroit, with the largest Muslim population in the country and also a large Jewish population, we asked how he would care for patients from those communities.  “Oh, I’m happy to care for Jewish or Muslim patients.  For the Jewish patient, I would speak of Jesus as the fulfillment of prophecy.  For the Muslim patient, I would speak of Jesus as a prophet, and also more than a prophet.”

After that, we pretty quickly determined that we couldn’t work with him as a volunteer.  We pointed out, too, that as one of the few aids working the night shift, his manager wouldn’t want him running all over the hospital providing spiritual care when that wasn’t part of his job expectations.

So, how is a Christian to approach folks of other religions, and appreciate how we might address those persons?  Well, Frederick Quinn, a colleague of mine at Episcopal Café has posted three essays on the subject, and I commend them to your attention.  They are:

I grant you that Quinn is an Episcopalian writing for Episcopalians.  However, for me and for my chaplain and clergy colleagues who are Episcopalians, this is a meaningful approach to the discussion.  For my chaplain and clergy colleagues who aren’t Episcopalians, I would suggest it is still worthwhile, at least to stimulate thought.

So, give these essays a few minutes.  Pluralism is the most common (and much argued) attitude that folks bring to interfaith relations.  Quinn’s essays can bring us back to foundations, and as his last essay suggests, see where we might yet go.

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