Editor’s Introduction: The Ethics of Interfaith Dialogue

[1] This issue of Journal of Lutheran Ethics invites thinking about the ethics of dialogue. This has been a common topic in the last several issues for the Journal, as dialogue between people with different life experiences, politics, and faith perspectives continues to be one of the most pressing demands for pastors, professors, and members of a democratic community.  The focus this issue is specifically on interfaith dialogue.  How do we talk to those who believe differently than us?

[2] Of course, many of us who have engaged in interfaith learning, dialogue, and prayer services find that we often have more in common with others who hold a different creed than those who claim to hold no creed, and sometimes we find more in common with those who have a different faith tradition than those who share our own. Yet, constructive conversations (as several of the articles note) can be difficult.

[3] While one ethical danger is othering those who hold a different faith, another ethical danger can be in collapsing the faith of another into our own, not listening to the nuances of important differences.  The first article, by David Grafton, discusses specifically these dangers in teaching Christians about Islam and the importance there is for seminarians to learn how to teach their students and congregants appreciative inquiry into other faith traditions.

[4] The second essay, by Linda Morgan-Clement, gives specific advice on leading and participating in thoughtful and transformative inter-faith conversation.  Her anecdotes from the discussions she held with her students are hope-filled and inspirational.

[5] Learning about other faith traditions in an academic setting (whether that be in a college classroom, a seminary lecture hall, or an adult education or confirmation class) is a different experience than learning through worship and prayer. Gregory Walter’s article on the interreligious engagement in prayer will help the reader think deeply about the ethics and  experience of praying together with those who have different creeds.

[6] Importantly, as many of us have experienced, our fiercest disagreements often come, not with those who belong to a different religious tradition, but to those who share our own. David Braatson’s essay has a unique take on the question of interdenominational conversation.  He insists that rather than focusing on how denominations differ and what paths towards reconciliation can be taken, Christians ought to spend their time discussing and acting on those ethical commands that we know we all share, especially taking care of the poor.

[7] All of these essays are timely and relevant. The Supreme Court has recently made a few rulings that expand the interpretation of the freedom of religion clause in the Constitution.  As we live together in a democratic society, talking about our own religious foundations with those whose foundations are different is essential for learning how to cooperate ethically for the common good.  This is especially important as we seek to discuss our understanding of our own foundations with those who share our creeds but interpret them in ways that we believe impact our own flourishing or the flourishing of others.  The final essay in this issue is a piece about how to preach a sermon that empowers trans people to flourish and thrive in a time when some claim that the exercise of religious conscience allows, or even requires, them to speak against, vote against, and act against the LGBTIQIA+ community’s full inclusion in society. Kayko Driedger Hesslein’s essay first discusses the ethics at play and then gives an example of a sermon that uses Lutheran theology to welcome, include, and protect the rights of trans people.

[8] There is a lot of buzz, including here in this Journal, about how divided Americans are.  I hope that this issue of JLE helps readers consider the way that dialogue, teaching, preaching, and prayer can open our minds and hearts to listening in a way that helps all people grow in wisdom and love.

[9] In the spirit of dialogue, the Journal of Lutheran Ethics invites readers to consider entering into dialogue with the editor and the readers about the issues presented in the Journal.  We invite thoughtful, critical, constructive letters between 100-500 words to be considered for publication.  Letters should respond to specific essays in the issue published.  Those letters which add significant information or thoughtfully invite further reflection will be published in the upcoming issue.  Please send Letters to the Editor to Jennifer.Hockenbery@elca.org with Letters to the Editor in the subject headline.




Jennifer Hockenbery

Jennifer Hockenbery serves as Editor of the Journal of Lutheran Ethics .  She is Professor of Philosophy and Dean of Humanities at St Norbert College. She attends Grace Lutheran Church in Green Bay, WI.