The most recent installment of the Special Speaker Series sought to engage with varying beliefs


The Center for Diversity, Equity and Inclusive Excellence (CDEIE) hosted the latest installment of its Special Speaker Series on Wednesday. The event featured theology professor Kristen Oh, Ph.D. and the executive director for the Office of Faith Integration, Paul Kaak, Ph.D.

As co-leaders of the event, Oh and Kaak took turns discussing the importance of interreligious dialogue or interfaith dialogue. The interchangeable terms refer to the practice of discussing matters of belief with those who have different worldviews.

Although students were allowed to attend the lecture, the event was designed for Azusa Pacific staff and faculty. 

“It’s not about ‘talking away’ our differences of believers … We want to be clear that there are differences,” Oh said. “It’s not aiming at coming to a common belief or coming to a fusion of beliefs. It’s not a way of trying to convert the other, either.” 

Oh recounted a time when she was younger when she debated religious ideologies with her friends. According to Oh, she felt convicted at the time that she was right and they were wrong. By the end, she had won the argument but lost her friends. 

“Real, good interreligious dialogue doesn’t try to defend our position, but it reassures and moves us in our own faith,” Oh said.

Oh and Kaak began the event by asking why it is important for Christians to engage with those who hold different religious beliefs.

Oh cited Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as a model for how Christians should view their neighbors. According to Oh, even when a person fundamentally disagrees with a Christian, it is the Christian’s moral duty to be kind to them.

Kaak recounted the biblical parable of “The Good Samaritan” to explain how Christians should treat their neighbors. 

Located in Luke 10:25-37, “The Good Samaritan” tells the story of a man who was mugged on the side of a road. Although neither a priest nor Levite helped the man, a Samaritan, whose group was looked down upon in society, went out of his way to help the robbed man.

According to Kaak, the Samaritan in the story was a good person not because he tried to convert the man to his faith, but without speaking of religion at all, the Samaritan cared for the man because it was the right thing to do.

Attendees sat in groups of threes and fours and were given the opportunity to work together on handouts. 

One handout inquired of the different beliefs, practices and issues the eight major religions of the world face. This included Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, Hinduism and Yoruba Religion. There was also a section for atheism.

Although none of the attendees knew all the answers, the groups began to fill out what information they did have and researched the rest on their phones.

Participants were also asked to read passages from the book, “Bubble to Bridge,” by Marion Larson and Sarah Shady. The book discusses the importance of interreligious dialogue. Each participant shared what they learned and how the reading connected back to their experiences.

According to Kaak, there are three types of interreligious dialogues: theological discourse, which occurs between religious experts to gain understanding and decrease prejudice; the dialogue of common action, which allows people of different faiths to work together to achieve justice and a common good; and the dialogue of life, which Oh and Kaak’s presentation focused on.

“[The dialogue of life] is where people strive to live in an open and neighborly spirit … living in peace and harmony,” Kaak said. “This can be hard enough for people with a common background, and those with different religious and cultural backgrounds.”

Participants also viewed a TEDx Talk on interreligious dialogue and relationships. The video featured the “Three Interfaith Amigos,” otherwise known as Pastor Don Mackenzie, Rabbi Ted Falcon and Imam Jamal Rahman. The three men are from different religions but work together to advocate for peace and inclusion.

Although the men featured in the video demonstrate a type of interfaith dialogue, some viewers did not agree with everything that was said, especially in regards to comments Mackenzie made about Jesus not being the only way to God.

Participants shared their views that one could seek peace, community and inclusive relationships without dismissing the truth about Jesus written within the Nicene Creed

Kaak agreed with these statements. 

“A good way to practice interreligious dialogue is by practicing interdenominational dialogue,” Kaak said. “A way to appreciate the value of larger differences is to practice it within smaller differences when we share a common label [or] tradition.”

Oh closed the event with the prayer of St. Francis, which focuses on living humbly for God and letting go of one’s ego in religious matters.

Richard Martinez, executive director for the CDEIE, said events like the interracial dialogue lecture are important for growth within communities.

“Paul Kaak and Kristian Oh presented how interfaith dialogue can bring deeper understanding across faith traditions,” Martinez said. “That’s what I hope will be a result is, just like the prayer of St. Francis, to be able to communicate at a deeper level with each other in order to model the Lord’s love and care.”