MEEKS: We need more interfaith conversation

May 8, 2013 

A few days ago, one of my Christian friends invited me to join her at an interfaith women’s gathering that is going to be held at a local mosque.

This interfaith group of women that is made up of Muslim, Christian and Jewish women, meets on a monthly basis except during the summer. Though they do not meet during the summer months, they have a summer reading assignment and resume their meetings in the fall with the discussion of that assignment.

Their plan for the future is to explore each religious tradition over a period of several weeks as they work to understand one another better and to explore ways to build bridges in our polarized and broken communities.

My friend, who happens to be white, talked with such great compassion and sorrow about the pain she knew her Muslim friends were experiencing following the recent bombing in Boston.

When she called her friends, they confirmed for her how much sorrow they felt and how troubling it was for them to realize they and other Muslims would be painted with the same brush that would be used to paint those disturbed young men who allowed themselves to be conscripted into the service of evil and darkness.

All of us are confronted with the challenge to work to try to see a bigger picture than the one that fear paints for us. We are all grieving that so many innocent people were wounded and that young people with their entire lives ahead of them lost their lives. I am sorry those young men made the choices they made, and I wonder about the complexities of their lives that contributed to making them open to following such a destructive path.

But they were two young men who happened to be Muslims. They do not, by any means, represent all Muslims, and when any of us allow our fears to paint any group of people with one brush because of the behavior of some members of that group, we are walking a path that is without a solid foundation.

I will join this group of women because we have to seek as many avenues as possible to build bridges to one another. It takes a willingness to get outside of our comfort zones in order to build such bridges.

As Christians we know there are elements in our religion we would wish to see disappear. Christianity has its own history of violence and disregard for folks who do not believe. There is far too much intolerance in our Christian communities around issues of sexual orientation, race relations, politics and those who are not Christians. We have much work to do in order to love one another, even within the Christian religion.

We have a long distance to go in terms of being accepting of people who share the basics of the religion but who embrace it from a perspective that does not fit with a fundamental view. But, there is one God who loves every expression of life on this planet.

All life and people are loved by God. There is no group that has an upper hand with God. And the great work of humanity is to come to terms with this fact and to see how human behavior can help demonstrate this truth on the planet.

It seems we are being asked in all kinds of ways to take a stand for bridge building as we seek to find the best paths to learning how to live together on this small island called Earth. How can we build a human community?

The conversation between Muslims, Jews and Christians is a great place to focus. Though it is a beginning and other faith perspectives need to be in the conversation as well. But we have to start where we can.

This column by Catherine Meeks, Ph.D., appears twice monthly. Meeks is also a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. Email her at kayma53@att.net.

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