world council of churches

What Difference Does Religious Plurality Make?
Sung-Hee Lee-Linke

1. My life story and religious plurality

I was born in Korea and grew up in a Christian family. The Christian education at home through my mother and her mother was Calvinistic like the denomination of our church, the Presbyterian Church of Korea. Although in my country other religions - Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Shamanism, Chundoism and others - exist, I had no chance of contact with these. Because of this and other reasons, I had neither feeling nor sensitivity towards them. Since my Christian life and theological thinking were affected by Calvinistic dogmatics like "sola fide, sola gratia, sola scriptura", I considered religious plurality as a sign that this world is sinful and against the Only God, Jesus Christ.

After finishing my theological studies in Korean universities, I came to Germany in 1977 to write my doctoral thesis. During my stay in Tübingen, I came in contact with different kinds of theological traditions and religious expressions in German Christianity. It was my first conscious encounter with theological and religious plurality within Christianity. At the beginning, I was very critical of this, because I had considered the Christianity of my Korean church as the best one. But slowly, I began to understand the background and the context of religious plurality in Germany.

When I returned to Korea in 1983, I became sensitive to religious plurality in the Korean society. My encounter with Minjung Theology - which tries to find the history of God's presence with the Korean people before the coming of the Christian mission - opened my eyes to see this plurality.

During my activity as a member of the Standing Commission on Faith and Order (1987-1990) I had the opportunity to meet and learn about the wide spectrum of Christian denominations. I have learned many refreshing and life-giving forms of religious expressions for Christian faith. These ecumenical experiences I could bring into my teaching and research work at the University of Marburg/Germany.

2. My professional work in interreligious dialogue

Since 1994 I have worked at the Evangelische Akademie Mülheim as a conference leader responsible for interreligous dialogue. The Rhineland, in which our academy is located, is characterized by religious plurality in the midst of the majority of Christians, through a large number of Moslems, and a rather small minority of Jews. My main task is to build up a constructive dialogue which leads to a trialogue.

This dialogue does not result from dogmatic teachings or from utopian ideas for a new harmonious world. The existing reality of religious plurality requests it, even though many people still want to ignore it. In many cities of the Rhineland, there are areas where more than half the residents are Moslems. In many kindergartens and public schools about two-thirds of the children come from families who profess Islam or other religions.

Two years ago, in one of our neighbour cities, there was a violent conflict between Christians and Moslems. The reason was the "Muezzin call" of a mosque which called the Muslim believers to Prayer using a magaphone. Many Christians, not only in the area, felt threatened by the Moslems, by what they perceived to be an overwhelming power of a foreign religion. They considered the actions of the mosque as an attack against their Christian tradition and also against God. The peaceful coexistence between these religious groups was broken. Finally the Evangelische Kirche im Rheinland mediated in the conflict and suspended the pastor who had fought at the front against the mosque. Officially, it is still not permitted for Moslems to broadcast this call.

3. My vision for a refreshing and life-giving interreligious dialogue

I have shared with you a typical example of an exclusivist attitude between religious groups, having no knowledge of the other religion and no acceptance of religious plurality. This kind of behavior is that of a frog in a jar. The religious life of this world can in no way be explained by the dogmatics of one religion. On the contrary religious life is conditioned in space and time, realized by individual persons or in liturgy, practiced in contextualized form. The plurality of religious life challenges us to meet each other, and the variety of expressing faith in different ways invites us to exchange our religious experiences, to work together for a world of justice and peace.

For these reasons, at least as far as Christian-Jewish-Moslem dialogue and trialogue are concerned, I would like to focus on two points: one is to learn the teachings of other religions, and the other one is to exchange daily life problems. This means, to get to know each other and the religious theory and praxis of the other. This kind of dialogue - dialogue from below, dialogue from religious plurality - encourages me and gives visions for my work.

Interreligious dialogue is for me like a pilgrimage, it is concerned with social ethics and oriented on eschatology. This dialogue should be a pilgrimage of all people to a new Jerusalem (/Mecca), to God's kingdom of peace and justice.

Religious plurality is like the playing-together of different musical instruments in an orchestra. Regarding the future of this orchestra, the crucial question is what kind of music its members are willing to play? They can play splendid and harmonic music only if they accept and respect the tones of every colleague.

Sung-Hee Lee-Linke is a theologian teaching at the Evangelische Akademie, Mülheim

Go to Contribution by Christine Lienemann
Return to Current Dialogue (34), February 2000

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