A Christian congregation and community of Muslims in Spotswood, New Jersey, are fostering dialogue by creating a friendship group.
Hartmut Kramer-Mills, pastor of Spotswood Reformed Church, recently participated in the Peer 2 Peer Interfaith Leadership Training, a joint program by Resonate Global Mission and RCA Global Missions that equips pastoral leaders across North America in interfaith engagement.
In the past, Hartmut had approached interfaith dialogue through referencing scripture and comparing religions. It only worked to a certain degree. After Hartmut approached his Peer 2 Peer cohorts for a less academic approach, they suggested he emphasize fellowship.
He took the advice to heart and contacted Peace Island Institute in North Brunswick, New Jersey—a community of Muslims who promote interaction and engagement across different cultures, races, religions, and traditions—and pitched the idea of a friendship group.
The leadership agreed, and on April 29, 2018, about 30 people from two different faith groups gathered together to share a meal and conversation.
The group from Peace Islands Institute prepared cards with questions to help facilitate discussion. Some questions posed curiosities about Christianity and Islam; some questions were simply to get know individuals better.
“Theological discussion outside an academic framework can sometimes lead to a clash of ideologies,” said Hartmut. “The trick with ideologies is that they are dehumanizing. They turn people into objects.”
Rather than seeing one another with a religious stamp on his or her forehead, the point of the friendship group is to help people from different faiths see one another as human beings with unique histories, thoughts, and interests.
One woman, for instance, started talking about raising chickens.
“That has nothing to do with interfaith, but that struck someone else’s heart on the Muslim side to say something—and before you know it, they’re talking,” said Hartmut. “I felt it was healing because people didn’t think of each other anymore in terms of labels, but just as neighboring human beings.”
Hartmut hopes that from the friendship group, personal relationships will form. He believes that interfaith dialogue is not only a contribution to world peace, but makes us better Christians in how we respond to God’s call to make disciples of all nations.
“The greatest passage regarding our common humanity will always be the second part of the summary of the law: you shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39),” said Hartmut. “It is also important to keep the incarnation of Christ in mind. By assuming human form and dying a human death, Christ overcame not only our distance from God, he also taught us something about our relationships with one another: If he humbled himself for our sake, we cannot possibly treat each other as less than human.”