Cutting Edges: Education for Redemptive Community
By Dr. Jack Seymour, Professor of Religious Education at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
The young Muslim scholar who had just completed his Ph.D. quietly rose and spoke to those of us—Christians, Muslims, and Jews—who had participated with him in an international conference at Cambridge University on Commitment, Character, and Citizenship: Religious Education in Liberal Democracy: “I thank you for including me. Here I have been able to share my passion both for my faith and the world we share. I have been free to talk about the communities I love and their needs.” Many of us nodded in assent. Together we were freed to share our differing religious traditions and build shared commitments. Truths were claimed, risked, and challenged in order to learn how to teach for both faith commitment and civic participation.
We all identify with the struggles facing our shared planet from environmental degradation to armed conflict. We know that many of these are rooted in deep and long-standing religious differences. We hope that our faiths can inform and mobilize our work for living in a redemptive, healing community. I am convinced that we cannot make any progress toward that hope alone— partnerships and coalitions are needed. Only together can we glimpse redemptive community.
This has been an aspect of my research and ministry. For the last ten years, I have edited RELIGIOUS EDUCATION for the Religious Education Association (REA). Last year, the journal included essays from 14 countries and three religious traditions. Learning and mutuality has occurred as scholars share their commitments to their own traditions, point to common struggles, and seek ways of making a difference. Dr. Deborah Court, who teaches at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat-Gan, Israel, and I have been working on an interfaith education project. We have discovered diverse motivations – from apologetic and information purposes to coalition building. Yet, above all, we have discovered a spiritual outcome. As Professor Court well states: human connections across traditions “move us from a lonely spiritual quest to seeking and recognizing shared connection and insights about creation and community”—embodying our mutual seeking to respond to the invitation of God.
As examples, I point you to the interfaith action on college campuses stimulated by Interfaith Youth Core (www.ifyc.org) and to efforts of the Parliament of the World’s Religions – “Interfaith Shows Philanthropists Why Religion is a Force of Good” (www.parliamentofreligions.org; July 12, 2014). Three suggestions for your ministry:
1. Teach truthfully our traditions. While deeply immersing ourselves in our commitments, also be truthful about the ways we have hurt and excluded others.
2. Teach our scriptures and traditions in partnership with members of another religious tradition. Studying our traditions in the presence of others helps us learn more about each other and ourselves.
3. Build local coalitions of religious groups working for healing. Here we discover our common concerns. Neighborhoods are increasingly diverse. A faithful question is, “How are we working to be a force of good?”
How are we learning both about our faith and the faith of others, as well as embodying our mutual seeking to respond to the love and call of God?
These questions will be the focus of a conference on Educating for Redemptive Community at Garrett- Evangelical on November 10, 2014. Dori Baker, chaplain at Sweet Briar College and scholar in residence at the Fund for Theological Education and Mai-Anh Le Tran, associate professor of Christian Education at Eden Seminary and president-elect of the REA will focus our reflections. Denise Janssen, assistant professor of Christian Education at the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology, will chair a panel of Garrett-Evangelical faculty on our plans to expand our work to include child advocacy and teaching religion in public schools. We will let you know what we learn.
Hanan A. Alexander and Ayman K. Agbaria, eds. Commitment, Character, and Citizenship: Religious Education in Liberal Democracy (Routledge, 2012).
Sheryl Kujawa-Holbrook. God beyond Borders: Interreligious Learning among Faith Communities (Cascade, 2014).
Jack Seymour. Teaching the Way of Jesus: Educating Christians for Faithful Living (Abingdon, 2014).