“We are living through a challenging time. It’s been stressful. Sometimes, it’s been overwhelming. We don’t always know how to cope; we don’t always know the right thing to do. There’s a lot of fear and there’s a lot of uncertainty.”
These were the words delivered by Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker in his sermon earlier this year, shortly before an armed gunman gained access to the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, and took Rabbi Cytron-Walker and three other members of the Jewish community hostage. His comments were a foreshadowing of the terror that would soon unfold.
Unfortunately these anti-Semitic attacks are becoming more and more frequent. Combine them with rising Islamophobia (a recent United Nations report describes anti-Muslim sentiment being present in 40% of Europeans and 30% of Americans) and growing persecution of Christians (a recent report from the World Watch List says that 24% more Christians were killed for their faith in 2021 than the year before). We live in a world where it is far too dangerous to be a person of faith. And sadly, too much of this violence toward faith communities is being committed by people of faiths different than the ones being attacked. In other words, often in the name of their faith, people are committing acts that would seem to contradict the very faith they claim.
So what is the answer? How can we combat this rising tide of persecution, hatred and violence? Some would suggest that we all essentially believe the same thing. That our differences are not that significant. But to posture that premise is to deny fundamental truths about each of our faith traditions. We believe very different things, and sometimes the things we believe are simply irreconcilable. Suggesting that we mostly believe the same thing is to be disingenuous or even dishonest. We don’t need more relationships built on the false premise that we all agree. We need more relationships that acknowledge that we do not always agree, and sometimes our disagreements are significant, but we can affirm the worth and value of each other in spite of our disagreements, and we can work collaboratively together, in good times and in crisis, to see our communities flourish.
We believe that the way to move forward is to begin with a belief in the dignity, worth and value of every human being. In other words, we believe that our worth is not connected to what we believe or practice. We believe that each person has worth simply because they exist. When we begin with that foundation, we can extend dignity and respect, even to those with whom we may vehemently disagree. Beyond human dignity, we need to move toward integrity. We need to own the fact that we believe differently, and we should not be afraid to embrace those unique theological and ideological commitments. Any authentic relationship has to be founded on mutual respect and honesty. We know this is true in typical friendships and even romantic relationships. Why do we think that it would be any different when we reach out across the religious divides?
Imagine what could happen if this became a reality. We wonder, what would the world look like if each religion could maintain all of their own unique theological tenets – respecting specific differences within religions, but could join together on the principals they share in common? And if, instead of viewing people of other faiths with suspicion, we deeply loved those who are different from us? What would the world look like if leaders of every major religion broke bread together? Got to know each other? Spent time in conversation in one another’s homes? And learned from each other?
We need to pop the ideological bubbles in which we all-too-often live, and learn to be friends; genuine, authentic friends. We believe friendship among people who believe differently is possible and we have seen evidence that it is. We started the Global Faith Forum to demonstrate and train people to gather together with those they disagree, to hold tightly to beliefs that are often contradictory and even irreconcilable, and yet still have a loving, working relationship. We know that bridge-building and loving your neighbor – who is different than you – is possible, because we have seen it in action. We invite you to join us in building relationships with your neighbors to work together for the common good.