Interfaith Dialogue: Four Alumni Engaging a "Third Way"
|Left to right: Cory Willson, Melody Wachsmuth, Carrie Graham, Matthew Krabill |
"Our society struggles painfully to figure out how to engage in public conversations about religion and civic life," says Cory Willson (MDiv '09), co-editor of the new Evangelical Interfaith Dialogue journal produced at Fuller. Willson and three other alumni--Carrie Graham, Matthew Krabill, and Melody Wachsmuth--founded the journal to address what they see as the vital need for healthy interaction between Evangelicals and members of other faith traditions.
President Richard J. Mouw often says that Fuller is a place with convening power, and indeed, the seminary attracted four students from very different backgrounds who formed a team based on their shared passion for interfaith dialogue. Carrie Graham (MDiv '09) faced such issues as early as junior high school, when she and a Mormon friend explored ways to discuss their different beliefs while also maintaining a strong friendship. Further work in Latter Day Saints (LDS)-Evangelical dialogue, participation in InterSem (an annual interfaith gathering of seminary students), and forming her own informal interfaith dialogue group helped Graham discover "a personal calling to the intersection between dialogue's theological considerations and the praxis of forming interfaith relationships."
Matthew Krabill (MAT/MAICS '10) spent the first 16 years of his life in Cote d'Ivoire, where many of his friends were Muslim. "Any discussions of truth convictions in the context of those relationships were not hypothetical," he says; "they were everyday realities."
An invitation to participate in an LDS-Evangelical student dialogue was Melody Wachsmuth's (MACCS '08/MAT '09) entrance to the world of interfaith dialogue, where she was immediately both intrigued and stimulated. "I found many of my preconceived ideas about LDS to be shakily ill-founded at best and dead wrong at worst," she shares.
Willson, unlike the others, was not interested in interfaith dialogue until he came to Fuller, where he discovered a third path between what he previously thought were only two options: "either philosophical debate among elite scholars, or a lax form of pluralism with a superficial acceptance of the other's faith." Faculty members like Dr. Mouw, Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, and Dean Douglas McConnell taught Willson how to engage others with convicted civility, to appreciate the role of other religions, and to grow in his understanding of the gospel as he translated it into others' worlds.
Like Willson, interacting with those of other faiths led Graham, Krabill, and Wachsmuth also to discover important truths. As Graham engaged with others in dialogue at InterSem events and in her dialogue group, she found that she also formed deep and lasting friendships. Wachsmuth shares that as she became more involved in dialogue with Mormons, Muslims, and Jews, she "began to see the tremendous value that comes from learning from the 'other' and developing an accurate understanding of their beliefs." Krabill observes that the human tendency to compare "our best" with "their worst" wrongly assumes that a group or organization is homogeneous in its makeup. "There is no such thing as one Islam or one Mormonism or one Evangelicalism," he says, adding that in any of these faiths "there are always radical fundamentalist groups, while the silent majority tends to be quite moderate."
Though these four students have very different stories, Willson explains that their paths converged as "we all felt compelled to respond to the growing need in the Evangelical community to make accessible to the wider audiences a 'third way' of doing dialogue." Wachsmuth shares, "I became concerned when I realized many Evangelicals feel dialogue is diametrically opposed to mission."
Fuller seemed the ideal place to talk openly about such issues--so in early 2009, the team put together a two-day forum entitled "Why Dialogue?" where scholars and practitioners explored questions about and reasons for Evangelicals involving themselves in dialogue. Shortly after, the four students began dreaming about and planning the interfaith journal, in hopes of "encouraging Evangelicals to 'discover' dialogue as central to faith practice," says Graham.
Now looking toward their fifth issue, the team continues to widen the path for other Evangelicals to travel toward meaningful conversations with those of other faiths. "Our aim is to create space for a conversation to be convened within the Evangelical community," says Willson, "and to talk about the opportunities and challenges involved with engaging in interfaith relationships and conversations."
To download issues of the Evangelical Interfaith Dialogue journal, visit www.evangelicalinterfaith.com.