Interfaith dialogue focuses on understanding the differences in theological doctrines. Intercultural dialogue focuses more broadly on the ways those doctrines, once internalized, cause us to live in society.
John L. Allen Jr., the best Vatican observer around, writes in this intriguing piece that Pope Benedict XVI seems to be emphasizing the need to move to intercultural dialogue versus interfaith dialogue, especially between Christians and Jews.
On the whole, I think the pope is right. I might word it a bit differently to suggest that it's important at least to understand first our theological differences so that we can move more honestly and openly into intercultural dialogue.
If, for instance, Jews and Christians in dialogue aren't at first open and honest about their differences over who Jesus Christ is, then there's not much hope for open and honest discussion beyond that.
The trick in all conversation among and between people of different faiths is not to get stuck at the theological level but to be able to move beyond that to find common ground on which we can work together as neighbors and friends.
This is true even in ecumenical dialogue -- that is between, say, Catholics and Protestants or between Sunni and Shia Muslims or between Reform and Orthodox Jews. Each group must know what drives the other theologically but once that is known the door to broader conversation is open. This is especially true, perhaps, with dialogue between people of faith and atheists or agnostics.
(By the way, for a good commentary on Jewish-Catholic relations by a rabbi deeply involved in that process, click here. And for an interesting commentary by someone who thinks journalists covering the pope's recent visit to the synagogue in Rome got it mostly wrong, click here. AND: For John Allen's follow-up piece to his original column to which I linked you above, click here.)
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FREEDOM FOR SUDAN'S SLAVES
In response to my latest column in The Presbyterian Outlook, I heard yesterday from a Presbyterian pastor, Heidi McGinnis, who is director of outreach for Christian Solidarity International, a Christian human rights organization. In that role she has spent time in tumultuous Sudan, and she passed along to me this YouTube link about the work she and others have been doing there to free slaves. (When you view this Part 1 video, notice that Part 2 is available on the right side of the page.) I'm always amazed at how many people of faith are working around the world to better the lives of others, including the work of organizations I've never heard of before. Perhaps this is an agency you'd like to support.