Priest, Rabbi, Imam, Shepherd ?


What is a Faith Leader?


This was the matter of discussion around the table at Clare College, Cambridge on the Co-exist training course. The other members of the group were seven Jews, seven Muslims and seven Christians, including me. But we were not going to answer the question from our own personal experience but by reference to our sacred texts, through the process of Scriptural Reasoning.

Scriptural Reasoning is an engagement with texts that each traditions considers Holy, in this case, the New Testament, the Koran and the Hebrew Bible. Having chosen the theme, each community member is asked to read or recite the text, in Hebrew or Arabic, or in our case an English translation. And then it is read again by someone of a different tradition, always in English. Then the ‘reasoning’ begins!

I wonder what text you would pick to exemplify leadership in the Christian tradition? We chose Luke 9:47 in which Jesus dispels an argument about who should be the greatest by showing a small child. The familiar imperative that the first shall be last and the last first ...

From the Hebrew Bible the text was concerning Moses, handing over to Joshua before entry into the land of Promise. And the Muslims chose a passage in which Mohammed (peace be upon him) was enjoined to stay up through the night to pray.

Very contrasting texts, with many overlaps and resonances. We each dipped into our ‘inner libraries’ for resources, we spoke of how these words were interpreted within our own faith traditions, we nodded and sometimes disagreed.

What did I learn? Firstly, that my Christian heritage has formed me, that I have made decisions in my own life and in my relationships with others in which I have taken for granted that the first will be last.  But I also heard echoes of Wesley’s life, studying through the night, in the life of Mohammed. And I thought about ‘succession’ of leadership and how we address it within our own tradition. Moses, appointed Joshua, handing over leadership in a conscious act whereas we get the impression that the Disciples rather had it given to them as an unlikely surprise!

What I learned mostly is that interfaith engagement of this sort does not diminish my Christian faith, but rather encourages me to re-visit my beliefs amongst others, and in doing so, we are all given tools for greater understanding and peace.

To find out more about Co-exist and the Cambridge Interfaith Programme then visit: