This was the theme of the Elijah Interfaith Institute’s international gathering of religious leaders in Oxford, England that I attended in March, where Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jews, Christians, and Muslims, shared religious perspectives on ‘friendship with the other’, such as:
– a Jewish idea that the friendship between God and Abraham suggests that “equality is not a necessary condition for friendship”.
– a Christian offering that Jesus’ befriending of publicans and sinners means “friendship can exist among those who differ in virtue and lifestyle”.
– a Hindu position that friendship “transcends the dualism of friend and enemy, giving equal regard to each”.
– a Sikh insight articulated “the perennial spring of spirituality that is the core of every religion and any real friendship”.
– a Muslim perspective that friendship “manifests out of a shared sense of the ultimate concern and in the pious competition to do good”.
– a Buddhist view expressed “that friendship starts with encounter”.
Inspite of the wisdom, everyone agreed that when it comes to interfaith friendship, the practice is ahead of the scholarship, that “the theory follows praxis”.
Just this week, to make that point, my close friend and blog partner, the Rev. Joanna Adams, invited me and Rabbi Mario Karpuj to speak to a group of 18 Presbyterian ministers preparing to tour Israel. She wanted us to give them a taste of the Palestinian and Israeli issues and postures they are soon to confront. Rabbi Mario and I have been on several World Pilgrimages together, and share a genuine friendship. Although our perspectives and presentations differed considerably, our close relationship remained intact. Friendship doesn’t require agreement, but it does require a search and appreciation for truth, which inevitably turns arguments into discussions.
One important postscript. Only 17 of the 18 Presbyterian ministers will make the journey in June. The Rev. Elward Ellis died this week in a traffic mishap on North Druid Hills Rd. He will be deeply missed and remembered by his wife, Dr. Dawn Swaby-Ellis, his son, Dwayne Ellis, many relatives and friends, including 17 men and women of God, who will send forth prayers in the Holy Land on his behalf and will see him in each other, from now on. And that, too, is friendship.