A Real Dialogue on Interfaith, Pluralism and Ecumenicalism
By Dr. Doral Pulley, President, Interfaith Tampa Bay
When I was first elected president of Interfaith Tampa Bay, at one of our monthly breakfast meetings, I gave each member a notecard to write down anything that they desired for me to know as their new president. I encouraged them to freely express their thoughts, feelings, ideas, questions, and concerns about the forward movement of our organization.
When I collected the notecards, I saw that one woman expressed concern about the difference between the terms Interfaith and Pluralism. The woman shared how offended she was when she attended Interfaith Tampa Bay events and we prayed, “God who is known in many religions by many different names.” She added that she did not believe in monotheism. Nevertheless, she desired to be a part of our organization to find common ground among people who were worshipping different gods.
The comments on the notecard caused me to do further research and study on the difference between the terms we use. Pluralism is the belief that there are many paths to one God and that all paths are equally correct. For example, there are many ways to get from St. Petersburg to Tampa: The Skyway Bridge, the Howard Franklin Bridge or the Gandy Bridge. All of them will get you to the one destination; it’s just a matter of preference.
Interfaith is more about dialogue between people of different faiths as well as people who identify with no particular religion at all. The goal of Interfaith is to find a common ground among religiously diverse people for the greater good of the community. Despite their different beliefs, they find value in coming together so that they can better understand each other and make the world a better place for all. For example, there are many locations in the Tampa Bay Area. Some people may be going to St. Petersburg and may drive to get there. Others may be going to Tampa and may ride their boats to get there. Many may be going to Clearwater and use their bicycles to get there. The common denominator is that they are all in Tampa Bay going from one place to another.
Ecumenicalism brings the various sects or denominations of a religion together to focus on areas of agreement on as opposed to their differences. For example, we are all in St. Petersburg and use various forms of transportation: walking, driving a car, riding the bus, bicycling, boating, etc. Our common goal is getting from one place to another in the city of St. Petersburg, and our differences are in the transportation we select. A synonym for Ecumenicalism is Interdenominationalism. (Defined as “the principle of fostering intercommunion and cooperative activities among different religious denominations” – Merriam Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/interdenominationalism.
I presented these definitions as part of a PowerPoint presentation to the group on Thursday, July 18, 2019 at our monthly Interfaith Breakfast meeting. The ideas generated a lot of discussion, and most people came away interested in these distinctions in terms.