Faith over Fear: Choosing Unity over Extremism

How do you make interfaith dialogue work? Over 250 members of the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim communities came to Temple in search of an answer to that question at “Faith over Fear: Choosing Unity over Extremism” on Friday, May 20.

At an interfaith service that included readings on peace from all three faith traditions, religious leaders and scholars Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde, and Bruce Feiler spoke from the bimah on how interfaith cooperation can transform the ongoing conversation on faith and extremism at the local and national levels. However, all three speakers emphasized that action must start from within the community and not the pulpit.

Over dinner, attendees had the opportunity to put the speakers’ words into action. Those participating were encouraged to sit by the napkin color designated for their faith. These diverse tables ensured that thoughts and opinions from all three traditions were represented and shared. Community leaders helped facilitate a discussion focused on a text study of the Isaac/Ishmael story, which highlighted the discord between Sarah and Hagar. Participants were asked to consider:

  • Do we read this story differently as Jews, Christians, and Muslims?
  • If these are the tensions of the past, what are the tensions of today?
  • What are the toughest questions of interfaith dialogue today?
  • Which questions never get asked?

Following the table discussions, teens from WHC, ADAMS, Dar Al-Hijrah, and Shiloh Baptist Church came onstage for the dedication of benches created for the Peace Bench interfaith project. The five benches were assembled and painted by the teens working together in harmony. The benches will be placed at each house of worship as a reminder of the shared goal of achieving peace throughout the community. Rabbi Lustig is also working to have benches placed throughout our city to promote peace and harmony.

Then, Rabbi Lustig welcomed Imam Abdul-Malik, Bishop Budde, and Mr. Feiler onstage for a lively panel discussion on interfaith efforts. The panelists delved into a range of sometimes controversial topics, answering questions like:

  • Are people of a particular faith responsible or accountable for the actions of those who share their faith when those actions include acts of terror or violence?
  • Are all Jewish people responsible for what happens in Israel, whether positive or negative?
  • Are Christians, as the world’s majority religion, morally responsible in any way?
  • How do we cope with some of our respective religions’ most difficult and controversial texts?

In a frank and honest discussion, they addressed why interfaith conversation sometimes fails and what must change to ensure success. In order to deepen the dialogue, Mr. Feiler encouraged attendees to go beyond what each community has in common and to instead become willing to delve into the issues that set us apart. In response to fellow Christians who have challenged her commitment to interfaith work, Bishop Budde emphasized how these efforts help her connect with her beliefs and deepen her relationship with faith.

Later, in the question and answer session, several participants were concerned about the current hateful narrative in the media and online. In response, Imam Abdul-Malik walked the audience through a scenario confronting and countering negative posts on Facebook. He also encouraged everyone in the audience to pull out their cellphones, photograph this event and use these images to start a positive social media conversation about interfaith issues.

Our year-long study of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks’ book Not in God’s Name as part of WHC’s Congregational Conversations series, has led to the understanding that there is a moral imperative to convene a “community conversation” on interfaith understanding, tolerance, and peace. If you would like to be part of a continuing dialogue on these issues, please contact Layne Weiss, 202-895-6307.

Click here to view photos from this event.