One of the most engaging panels at the recent ecumenical gathering at Oberlin dealt with religious pluralism. During the Q&A session, it became clear that there was some confusion and concern over the place of inter-religious dialogue within the church's ecumenical task. During and after this discussion, a number of alternatives presented themselves concerning the relation between inter-church dialogue and inter-religious dialogue.
(1) Inter-Church Dialogue, Good; Inter-Religious Dialogue, Bad. Some expressed concern that we would even speak of inter-religious dialogue at all. The purpose of ecumenism is to unite the churches for common witness and mission. This witness and mission is directed to the world, which includes other religions. Dialogue undermines this witness, and so should be avoided.
(2) From Narrower to Wider Ecumenism. Others indicated that the call to embrace the whole household (oikomene) of God cannot stop with other Christians but must press on to all people. And so inter-religious dialogue is the logical extention of inter-church dialogue. The difference between the two dialogues is primarily quantitative: more are included in the later.
(3) Distinct Tasks Differentiated by Distinct Goals. One participant suggested that both forms of dialogue are appropriate and share certain formal similarities, but at bottom the two can be differentiated by their goals. The goal of inter-church dialogue is full communion, whereas the goal of inter-religious dialogue is mutual understanding and cooperation. Perhaps the goals of each task could be construed differently than this, but you get the idea of how the two could be differentiated with rejecting one or conflating both.
Are there some fundamental options I have neglected to mention?
Are you inclined toward any of these ways of thinking? Why?
Do you have any additional thoughts about the relation of these dialogues?