April 19, 2018

United Methodist Candler School of Theology Hosts Panel on Interfaith Engagement

On March 23, United Methodist Candler School of Theology hosted an interfaith panel discussion exploring ways to create vibrant local faith communities as part of its collaborative Initiative in Religious Practices and Practical Theology program.

Speakers included Evangelical Left author and activist Brian McLaren, Episcopal author and scholar Diana Butler Bass, and Abdullah Antepli, chief representative of Muslim Affairs at Duke University. Candler’s Laney Professor of Moral Leadership Robert M. Franklin Jr. moderated the conversation.

Franklin welcomed attendees and offered a brief commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the 50th anniversary of his assassination. Franklin recalled how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy is a reminder of the significant role “Church women, students, Sunday school teachers, and preachers” played in dismantling Jim Crow laws and transforming American democracy.

Franklin insisted that if the “faith and practices of common people” could help transform society for the better then, “it can happen now, wherever the zeitgeist urges.”

To begin the discussion, McLaren articulated multiple, practical proposals to help construct interfaith partnerships, with a special concern for the common good. One such proposal was liturgical renewal. McLaren pointed out the need for an enrichment of traditional liturgies and a “developing and redeveloping of life-giving liturgies that are more vigorous and delightful than the death-dealing liturgies that surround us.”

Another proposal is creating intentional time and space for interfaith fellowship. “One of the downsides of institutional religion is it’s often tended to be afraid of people’s individual spiritual experience, rather than understanding itself as a curator…,” McLaren said.

McLaren, a chief figure within the nearly-extinct Emergent Church movement, believes one reason it has become difficult to instill an appreciation of the faith in younger generations is that “we’ve lost the art of storytelling of spiritual experience.” He encouraged better incorporation of contemplative and mystical spiritual experience.

White Christian churches especially need reform, according to McLaren. “The degree to which our faith and our theological categories and to which degree our liturgy were all formed in a slaveholder religion and is part of the Western colonial project because all of that is so deeply embedded.”

Next, Bass discussed the urgency of creating more vibrant and resilient faith communities by stepping outside of our respective sanctuaries. “We need practices of spiritual buoyancy that are going to help us survive the coming flood,” explained Bass.

One example Bass offered is for Christians to rethink our inward-looking approaches to the Eucharist. “The only reason we have those practices of thanksgiving within a church is not for our own personal salvation, which way too many Protestant churches are still caught up in no matter how conservative or how liberal,” she observed.

Bass continued: “I am strongly convinced that finding the core of gratitude within our religious traditions, being able to affirm and form people within those, but also recognizing in our neighbors’ moral traditions and thanksgiving traditions how we can be buoyant together in a world that is now in threat of going under.”

Finally, Antepli encouraged faith communities to take an honest evaluation of their traditions’ decline. “We cannot deny that large scale of numbers are declining. Young generations’ ability to hold on to religion and get involved in organized tradition are significantly declining.

“Vibrancy is dying,” Antepli said. “If we don’t have vibrancy and talk within our faith traditions, our faith will be represented by the most narrow-minded folks.”

While the panel was informative about how to approach interfaith engagement for the well-being of  local communties, the Christian panelists seemed to overlook the significance of the Great Commission. Interfaith partnerships in an effort to build a more peaceful society is commendable, but need not suppress our ultimate mission to share the Good News with our neighbors.

7 Responses to United Methodist Candler School of Theology Hosts Panel on Interfaith Engagement

  1. Brad Pope says:

    How ironic & indicative of the UMC decline that this panel is focused on “core gratitude” which is certainly not a bad thing but it is sad attempt at finding the source of peace or remedying the decline in our membership as mentioned. If the goal of the UMC is to have intellectual & open minded panels at Candler then we are on the right track here. If renewing “vibrancy” if our denimination is our goal I think it will only be achieved as a byproduct of actually making our goal knowing, following & obeying Jesus. If we wonder where our congregants are going w/this decline, it is to churches who are focused on Christ alone… and then, not surprisingly, things like peace and good relations with other faiths become a natural byproduct of that focus.

  2. William says:

    Dear Candler School of Theology,

    Jesus said —-

    “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me”

    Hope you called this panel together to proclaim this truth.

  3. Jim says:

    Vibrancy and buoyancy – right. it’s about repentance, forgiveness and salvation. Faith comes by hearing, hearing by the word of God. Romans 10:17. Biblical teaching mr McLaren not storytelling.

  4. Rebecca says:

    Franklin wants to transform society according to what the zeitgeist urges? How unchristian can you get? The Methodists have a great record of bringing people of all races to Christ, but even with that, today they are writing revisionist history books on their past. Now I know why, the zeitgeist is making them do it. A new idol has been created.

  5. Jeff says:

    Blah, blah, blah

  6. United Methodists will not become vibrant until those serving in churches discover God’s call and follow it rather than pursuing a “profession” which guarantees retirement, health benefits, etc. like a CEO of an organization.

  7. Brandon says:

    A one world government will need a one world religion

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