An interfaith dialogue
Just south and west of Springfield, MO is the Temple Israel, our local synagogue. And tonight the Temple hosted an interfaith dialogue. Representatives from Christianity, from Judaism, and from Baha’i (unfortunately, the representative for Islam was tending her sick children) came together to discuss some important issues that face all religions.
I have only an academic knowledge of Judaism, and I know even less about Baha’i. But I felt for the guy representing Christianity (who was, in fact, my good friend Phil). This guy, who works for a mainline church, had to answer questions in such a way as to represent Christianity in a predominantly evangelical region. For the most part, however, I thought it went fairly well.
The first question was about social justice. The moderator, who used an annoyingly Christian vernacular, asked the panelists to describe their respective faith tradition’s attitude towards social justice and to describe some specific actions their congregations or communities were taking to live out any commitments to justice. Generally speaking, all three panelists expressed a religious obligation to overcome injustice through intentional practice. Eventually, the conversation shifted towards the problems of discrimination and particularly that based on gender. Someone asked how each religion felt the role of women. The female pastor I was sitting next to, who serves at Brentwood with Phil, smiled when someone asked him point-blank if women were allowed to preach at his church. “I certainly hope so,” she whispered to me. Rabbi Rita Sherwin offered herself as a case-in-point for the role of women in Reformed Judaism. The Baha’i religion does not ordain or appoint clergy, but they strongly affirm equality between the genders.
From gender, it was only a slight step to the question of sexuality. Both the Christian response and the Baha’i response seemed to dodge the question, affirming the worth of each individual while still leaving the possibility of sinfulness up in the air. This exact point is something that I have been thinking about a lot lately (and something you can expect to hear more about in an upcoming post). Rabbi Rita’s Reformed Judaism was proudly open and affirming.
The conversation overall was generous and kind. There were no pointed comments or rude remarks. I did leave the evening with a few thoughts and/or questions:
- It seemed like the Christian panelist had to bend over backwards to represent all flavors of Christian faith in the Ozarks to a certain degree. I’ll be the first to admit that not everything Phil said would jive with every church in the area, but I’m sure he at least tried to be as ecumenical as possible in his comments. I’m not sure the other panelists faced this difficulty.
- I couldn’t help but wondering what the average age was in the room. That, in turn, got me wondering about the average age of people who regularly attend institutionalized religious ceremonies in the Springfield area. If tonight was any indication, I seem to be way below average.
- As the panelists discussed different local organizations through which they sought to overcome poverty, I began to wonder how many of these local organizations are religiously based.
This post is awful. It’s dry. It’s mostly pointless. And it is nearly devoid of all the snark for which I had hoped when I started it. For all of these things, I apologize.
But on the bright side, the food afterwards was so good. I had the best cream puffs I’ve ever tasted.