I’m an advocate of dialogue in everything, certainly including matters of faith. Sometimes, however, dialogue is confused with seeking. There’s nothing wrong with seeking, but it is not identical with dialogue, though they do overlap.
Dialogue can and should occur between people who do have an idea what they believe. It’s hard to have an exchange about beliefs if you don’t actually have any. This describes an extreme case, however. Seekers are rarely totally without beliefs, and someone seeking dialogue is unlikely to be locked in on everything. But I wanted to start with the contrast.
For good dialogue to take place, I believe, one needs to identify what one believes and also distinguish between core beliefs, things that anchor you spiritually, and those beliefs that you hold more loosely. Not everything is of equal importance, after all.
This is the idea of an ecumenical center. That’s not a middle of the road or moderate set of ideas. It doesn’t mean that one is a centrist. It simply means that certain ideas are central to your system of beliefs. In one sense you might say these are the things you’re going to hang onto. But I think it’s more a matter of these are the things that feel secure to you. In fact, you can discuss them without feeling threatened because they are so much a part of you.
For example, I would place the belief that Jesus has come in the flesh, the incarnation, as my core belief. I talk about everything in those terms. I even talk about my understanding of scripture from that perspective. One can debate this on a chicken and egg basis, and I wouldn’t be able to tell you which came first. It is just central. When someone challenges the incarnation, it doesn’t bother me. That’s something that is firmly founded in my thinking and my spiritual life, reinforced by study and experience.
I think some people are uncomfortable with dialogue because they believe they can’t have firm beliefs and still dialogue. I disagree. I think having a few firm beliefs is a good starting point for dialogue. It gives you something to say. It may make you a bit more interesting, even!
Dr. Bob LaRochelle has done a good bit of thinking about this idea of an ecumenical center, thinking in particular about the things that we share between denominations and how that can be a basis for cooperation. He’s one of our Energion Publications authors, and he’ll be talking about this on a Google Hangout on Air tonight, October 21, at 7 PM central time. I invite you to watch this and think about what things are central to you.