Washington's Mt. Pleasant riots last week were a fresh reminder of how deeply this country depends on the ability of people of different ethnic groups, beliefs and cultural backgrounds to get along with one another. Baltimore has its share of racial and ethnic tensions, but it also has some reasons for pride. High on that list is the Institute for Christian-Jewish Studies, which in its four years has broken new ground in fostering innovative and substantive community dialogue between religious groups.
A program last week brought together two distinguished scholars, Rabbi Eugene Borowitz and the Rev. Martin Marty, to address the issues that arise when people of different faiths seek mutual understanding. This dialogue between Christians and Jews is not a process of erasing differences but of coming to see that differences do not preclude respect. As Borowitz noted, the point of dialogue is not to talk politely about areas of agreement, but to discuss "where we differ and where we think the other is wrong." Then, he said, it would be possible "to understand why, in mutual respect, we profoundly disagree with one another."
Marty emphasized that dialogue involves more than talk -- that, in fact, "some things can only be addressed by listening." Moreover, listening and responding may mean that you have to change, not by erasing differences but by understanding and respecting them. What religious dialogue should seek to build, Marty added, isn't so much "tolerance," as "counter-intolerance."
These are not lessons just for religious groups, but for the wider community as well.