Rev. Dr. Thomas Duke’s Acceptance Speech for the National Council of Churches’ Gwynne Guibord Award for Excellence in Interreligious Leadership

Thank you, Diane, and thank you to the National Council of Churches. I am honored and humbled by receiving this award. I want to acknowledge right off that anything I have done or accomplished has been a team effort, so I dedicate this to the many people who voluntarily gave time, energy and wisdom to build strong relationships and networks across religious traditions in the Twin Cities and Minnesota.
I also credit the NCC for the inspiration I received as a college student when I attended the North American Ecumenical Youth Assembly put on by the NCC in Ann Arbor Michigan in the early 1960’s. That event touched my soul and planted seeds that have grown over the years, influencing me to pursue ways to broaden and deepen the relationships, appreciation and respect for people and traditions different from my own. I also honor the memory of a college friend from India, of the Sikh tradition, who impressed me with his deep spirituality to the extent that, ever after, I have questioned the exclusiveness of my own Christian tradition and sought to see what I could learn from other spiritual paths, while probing and practicing my own Christianity more deeply and seeing how truly inclusive it is at the core.
I feel privileged in recent years to have been able to build on my fifteen years’ work with a local council of churches, extending the ecumenical dialogue into the interfaith arena in recent years. I have deep appreciation for the work and leadership of the NCC and World Council in interfaith work, as well as that of many scholars, writers and local activists. All these help us as Christians humbly focus on the essentials of following Jesus as servant, prophet for justice and our ultimate source and symbol of grace and love. I also believe that it is sacred work to look critically at our own tradition and see where and how threads of arrogance, injustice, avoidance of dialogue and, I would say idolatry, around non-essentials, have led us to misguided exclusivism in a world where we no longer have the comfort of isolation and homogenous communities. My prayer is that both ecumenical and interfaith dialogue and relationship building may flourish and help a divided and divisive world learn the good news of mutual understanding, respect and love. Thank you.