By Bishop Ann Svennungsen
A couple in Chicago recently told me about their practice when visiting dear friends who are Jewish. “When we’re in their home, we’re invited into the prayers of their faith. When they visit our home, we invite them into the prayers of our Christian faith. We’ve found it to be both respectful and authentic.”
Our Fall Ministerium this Thursday invites the synod’s rostered leaders to reflect more deeply on such inter-religious relationships. Hosted this year by the Saint Paul Area Synod, our Ministerium will be led by Bishop Lull who chaired the Task Force that wrote the ELCA’s “Declaration of Inter-Religious Commitment.” Her vital role in that endeavor was not only a great honor – but it also made it much more likely we’d get to hear Dr. Rahuldeep Gill, our featured speaker and fellow Task Force member with Bishop Lull.
BEYOND THE ELCA, the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is committed to interreligious dialogue. Guided by the question of how religious communities live together in “a shared public space,” LWF engages in theological dialogue – but also is committed to “equal rights for all” and “collaboration with interreligious partners in humanitarian work.” Such efforts for mutual understanding and shared humanitarian efforts “constitute a strong public witness” in a world marked by division and strife.
Going to dinner at your friends’ home is not a “shared public space.” In fact, I think private spaces present some of the hardest challenges to our inter-religious commitments:
- What does evangelism look like? What witness do I give to friends, relatives, colleagues of other religions?
- How does one plan an authentic and respectful Christian-Hindu wedding?
- How does one raise children in a Muslim-Christian household?
“An integral part of [our] calling is to be witnesses to Christ – to evangelize. … This sharing occurs in many ways, in word and in deed – always respecting the dignity of the other and always offered in love.”
The ELCA’s Declaration speaks to the question of evangelism: “An integral part of [our] calling is to be witnesses to Christ (Acts 1:8) – to evangelize. … This sharing occurs in many ways, in word and in deed – always respecting the dignity of the other and always offered in love. … We [share] in ways that honor our convictions that every human is made in the image of God and that all of creation is good.”
Questions about evangelism and hospitality and interfaith families are important and significant, ever-present for some families. Our synod’s rostered leaders will be touching the surface of these concerns at Thursday’s Ministerium. I hope that these same questions also arise within our congregations; the conversation will be rich and help us all faithfully live out our Christian vocation in the world in this age.