Greenbelt 2007
Eight Reasons to Go to Greenbelt Next Year

Ford and Ellis Clash at Greenbelt

Sunday afternoon's panel discussion on interfaith relationships was an enjoyable and interesting conversation. Present on the panel were David Ford (Regius Professor of Divinity, Cambridge and Director of the Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme), Keith Ward (former Regius Professor of Divinity, Oxford), Mona Siddiqui (Professor of Islamic Studies and Public Understanding, Glasgow) and Marc Ellis (Professor of Jewish Studies, Baylor University). Ford and Ellis clashed quite heatedly around whether interfaith discussion and in particular scriptural reasoning was worthwhile and making a difference. Ellis believes that the majority (if not all) interfaith conversations avoid the big issues, in particular, the Israel-Palestine question. He believes in the liberation of the Palestine people from Israeli oppression. He is a Jew. So enterprises like scriptural reasoning fail to address the important issues and Christians, Muslims and Jews avoid the task of being critical friends with one another. Ford's assertation was that you've got to start somewhere and that private discussions between proponents of different faiths was the way more political and public change would occur. Peter Ochs, a friend of Ford and founder of scriptural reasoning, can under some flak from Ellis for avoiding the Israeli-Palestine question. Ellis asked where was Ochs' book on Jewish theology of liberation (Ellis wrote his book in 1987). I like both Ellis and Ford. Ellis tends to talk in simple black and white language and I agree with a lot of what he says. But I think Ford is right that scriptural reasoning and other conversations are the beginning points.



They should come and visit the various interfaith groups here in Leicester...we do discuss the difficult questions. The Israel-Palestine issue was discussed here at the height of the recent conflict with Muslims, Christians and Jews ('The Family of Abraham' as its known here) present.

The women's group recently discussed the life of Jesus and the Muslims brought up the 'Gospel of Barnabas' which floored all the Christians! I now have a copy I have yet to read!


I'm a fan of SR, largely because it is far more substansive and authentic than the old "inter-faith" approach that really represented no-one point of view (well no-one apart from a small clique). But I"m also totally in agreement with sketch of Ellis' position. A talking shop that breeds "understanding" but no political solutions is pretty pointless *in the long run.* I can see what Ford is trying to claim, but unless the process has practical teeth, then it's no better than what it set out to replace.


As a practice of Muslims, Christians and Jews reading together to promote understanding of each other's differences, and ways of dealing with those differences, Scriptural Reasoning is an absolute gift. I think it has worked amazing things in the United States.

In the UK where so much interfaith dialogue is in reality more like an interfaith "monologue" of a few fine chaps in dog collars, and some Indian imam or two telling the rest of us how we all agree about everything (Christianity is never political and Islam is a religion of peace...), SR has the transformative potential to be a grassroots democratic practice, where ordinary Muslims, Jews and Christians can wrestle with tough questions of difference.

Unfortunately in the UK, while I have a great deal of respect for David Ford's commitment to developing this practice in Britain, he has tended to do so with some degree of proprietorship of it, making it something of a Senior Common Room members only social club. He maintains a view of SR consisting of "elders" (like himself) and "apprentices" working out in a rather elitist top-down form of interfaith dialogue - pretty much exactly the same kind of thing of we already have plenty.

The Scriptural Reasoning Society ( is a more grassroots and democratic community, and would probably be a more fertile home for discussion by people of faith who see the future of SR not as some elitist parlour room practice for a few mutually congratulatory public schoolboys, but a transformative community of readers before God who aim to engage difference.

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