Richness of interfaith work
When my Christian Science branch church received an invitation from the mayor of our town inviting faith groups to the formation of an “interfaith alliance,” it seemed like a great opportunity. I went to the first meeting as one of two representatives from our church, First Church of Christ, Scientist, Richardson, Texas. There were 18 different faith communities at this meeting, and by the end of the meeting I was the chairman of this new group. I’ve been involved ever since.
The purpose of the Richardson (Texas) Interfaith Alliance is to increase tolerance of all faiths through education and increased awareness, and to coordinate and enhance faith-based services for the betterment of the Richardson community. We were busy our first year: from holding meetings at different houses of worship on a rotating basis—meetings where we learned about each faith—to volunteering together to bless Richardson. At an interfaith event I attended last winter, the keynote speaker was Dr. John L. Esposito, a Catholic, who is Professor of Religion and International Affairs and of Islamic Studies at Georgetown University. Within the framework of social justice, he spoke of pluralism and inclusion. Webster’s dictionary defines pluralism as “a state of society in which members of diverse ethnic, racial, religious, or social groups maintain and develop their traditional culture or special interest within the confines of a common civilization.” Dr. Esposito said that tolerance is thought of in conjunction with the topic of pluralism. He brought out that centuries ago tolerance basically meant “I will not kill you.” But pluralism has to do with respect, and can be stronger than just tolerance.
As I thought more about mere tolerance, it does still have a sense of “I’m better than you.” I feel “respect” is a much better word and, to me, “pluralism” requires action. Pluralism involves seeking understanding. It has to do with inclusion and integrating yourself in this diverse world. Pluralism isn’t just a nice idea. It requires engagement with diverse groups and the creation of relationships.
Pluralism doesn’t mean everyone will agree with each other, or that our beliefs will be “watered down” in some way through contact with others, but it does mean there is a dialogue where speaking and listening reveal commonalities and differences. Through actively seeking to understand others, appreciation and respect naturally develop. Mary Baker Eddy says in The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, “It is of comparatively little importance what a man thinks or believes he knows; the good that a man does is the one thing needful and the sole proof of rightness” (p. 271).
More recently, a Richardson Interfaith Alliance meeting was hosted by St. Philopateer Coptic Orthodox Church. Copts are considered the native, or original, Christians of Egypt, and the majority of Christians living in Egypt identify themselves as “Coptic” Christians.
Through actively seeking to understand others, appreciation and respect naturally develop.
I was truly touched by our last three speakers. The father at the Coptic Orthodox church shared his faith, then a United Methodist reverend shared a prayer for Egypt, then an Ismaili Muslim shared a closing prayer for our meeting from the Muslim faith, Islam. It was such a beautiful example of interfaith support and unity. I tangibly felt the power of what Jesus called the second great commandment, “Love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22:39). As everyone in the room bowed their heads in prayer, you could feel the desire for love, order, peace, principle, and safety to be felt in Egypt.
I’ve been cherishing the idea from Mary Baker Eddy’s Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, “The divine ruling gives prudence and energy; it banishes forever all envy, rivalry, evil thinking, evil speaking and acting; and mortal mind, thus purged, obtains peace and power outside of itself” (pp. 204–205).
The power of brotherly love that was felt during the prayer shared by our interfaith group can be felt in places of turmoil. People of many faiths worldwide are praying for the people and governments that are in distress all over our precious world. The infinite, amazing power of divine Love annihilates wrongs. As Love “banishes forever all envy, rivalry, evil thinking, evil speaking and acting” in our thoughts, we will witness the mist of all the ugliness fading away, giving way to the peace and overwhelming love that has always been there. I see it. I feel it. And I trust you do, too. So please join me in “loving our neighbors” all over the world.