Distant Neighbors

I have often found that interreligious dialogue becomes most interesting when it gets stuck, and that was my experience in Korea last month. I was in the country at the invitation of Zen Master Jinje and the Chogye Order of Korean Zen Buddhists. (Christian scholars, please note: Here was a call to dialogue that came from the Buddhist side!) But our conversations did not get stuck where we thought they might.

In the months before my visit, newspapers and television there were filled with reports of fundamentalist Korean Christians intruding on Buddhist temples in Seoul and Daegu. They performed “exorcisms” before statues of Buddha and processed around places of devotion called stupas in a ritual of reclaiming the land for Christ.

The journalists who reported on my trip expected the Buddhist monks and laypeople—especially at the desecrated Daegu temple—to give this foreign Christian visitor an earful about Christian extremists. The dialogue was bound to be heated, they assumed.

Not at all. Where the fundamentalist Christians had desecrated and denounced, the Buddhists embraced and engaged. In the face of such religious extremism, Master Jinje announced, dialogue is all the more urgent. On two public occasions, I expressed, in the name of many other Christians, my regret for the violence and asked for forgiveness. My hosts bowed in acceptance and gratitude.

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About the Author

Paul F. Knitter is Paul Tillich Professor of Theology, World Religions, and Culture at Union Theological Seminary, and the author of Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian (Oneworld).