During June and July I plan to drive across the United States again, sharing my interfaith ministry with interested Friends. If you’d like for me to visit your Meeting, please let me know as soon as possible.
Introduction: A Quakerly Approach to Interfaith Peacemaking and Dialogue
in the Twenty-First Century
During this era when religion has become an excuse for terrifying violence and endless wars, we need to take to heart the words of the Catholic theologian Hans Kung:
There can be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions. There can be no peace among religions without dialogue. And there can be no dialogue without a common ethic.
Quakers have had a Peace Testimony for 350 years, but it has become clear we cannot achieve our dream of world peace unless we work in concert with those of other religions who share our vision. As the British Friend Sylvia Stagg put it:
When I joined the Quaker Committee on Christian and Interfaith Relations (QCCIR), interfaith work was of general interest. Now in 2005… interfaith relations has become an over-riding necessity in all our community relations. It is no longer a choice but an absolute necessity.
This handbook consists of writings by Quakers who have played significant roles in the interfaith movement and have helpful advice and insights to offer. While this book is mainly intended for Quakers, we hope it will be useful for all who are concerned about interfaith peacemaking and dialogue.
The book begins with “Advices and Queries,” the traditional method used by Quakers to stimulate reflection through pithy quotations and open-ended questions. Quakers feel that before considering the ideas and opinions of others, it is important to reflect upon one’s own experiences, motivations, and inward wisdom.
The first section deals with reasons why the interfaith movement is important and describes various approaches to interfaith peacemaking. This article was the first to be published on this topic by a major American Quaker magazine.
The second section deals with compassionate listening (one of the most important Quaker contributions to peace making) and offers practical advice on how to organize encounters that can build trust and understanding among people of different faith traditions.
The third section contains essays by leading Quaker scholars/activists who examine interfaith dialogue in depth from various theological perspectives. Michael Birkel is a professor of religion at Earlham College, which was founded in Richmond, Indiana, by Quaker in 1847. A liberal Christian, he worships in an unprogammed meeting and engages in interfaith dialogue both locally and through the World Council of Churches. His colleague, Stephanie Crumley-Effinger, belongs to a pastoral Quaker tradition and is a campus minister. Sallie King, on the other hand, is a Buddhist Quaker who teaches comparative religion at James Madison University in Richmond, Virginia. Finally, Rachel Stacy is a young Friend who recently graduated from Earlham School of Religion and describes herself as a Universalist Christian Quaker.
The fourth section describes Quaker Universalist Fellowship (QUF) and the Christian and Interfaith Relations Committee (CIRC) of Friends General Conference (FGC), Quaker organizations that promote interfaith dialogue and understanding. It also contains an essay about the Parliament of the World’s Religions, which helped to launch the modern interfaith movement at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. Quakers played an active part in this extraordinary interreligious gathering, which led to the formation of CIRC.
The last two sections deal with how Friends can reach out to Muslims and Jews. It includes my pamphlet “Islam from a Quaker Perspective,” as well as my writings on the Qur’an and the Bible. Also included are excerpts from Michael Sells’ translation of the Qur’an, with an insightful commentary.
The final section of the book also examines the question of Israel/Palestine, the most divisive issue for those involved with interfaith work. Because a considerable number of Quakers are of Jewish background, and because Friends have had a deep commitment to this region for over a hundred years—since the formation of the Ramallah Friends School—Friends have played a small, but not insignificant role in the search for a just, compassionate and lasting peace in this region.
Those who wish to learn more are encouraged to go to the QUF blog: quakeruniversalist.org or our website: universalistfriends.org. The QUF blog contains lively and up-to-date information about what Friends and others are doing to promote Universalism and interfaith understanding. The QUF website is an online library of introspective pieces from renowned Friends, historical overviews and incisive book reports, and over 40 pamphlets downloadable for free. As QUF continues to put ever more content online, this Quaker Library will grow to become a great index of contemporary Quaker writings.
Because much of this material has been used in workshops I have facilitated at Friends General Conference, Pendle Hill, Quaker Center Ben Lomond, and various other Quaker venues, I would like to thank those who have taken part in these workshops, and are involved actively in nurturing what Martin Luther King called “the Beloved Community.”
I also want to express my heart-felt appreciation to QUF and CIRC, and to the numerous Friends and faith leaders who have made my interfaith ministry not only possible, but joyful: Stanford Searl, Diane Manning and Kathy Forsman (members of Santa Monica Meeting who are part of my accountability/support committee); George Amoss, Larry Spears, Sallie King, Sally Rickerman, Lynn Cope, Steve Angell, Michael Birkel, Jim Rose, Rachel Stacy, Mark Kharas (members of QUF); Tom Paxson, Dorothy Walizer, Michael Birkel, Charley Earp, Brad Oglivie (members of CIRC). I am also deeply grateful to my various interfaith colleagues and friends: Joseph Prabu, Ruth Broyde-Sharone, Noor Malike Chisti, John Ishvardas Abdallah, Rev Jeff Utter, Rev Jan Chase, Rev Richard Rose (Parliament of the World’s Religions); Milia Islam-Majeed (South Coast Intefaith Council); Steve Rodhe, Grace Dyrness, George Regas, Shakeel Syed, Cheryl Johnson (Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace); and many others too numerous to name.