Interfaith Peace Symposium
December 14, 2009
This weekend I had the privilege of being asked to present a workshop and deliver a speech at the evening plenary session at an Interfaith Peace Symposium here in Chicago, put on by the Rev. Dr. Susan Thistlewaite of the Center for American Progress, scholar Dr. Sharon Welch, and Global Action to Prevent War. It was a robust session in which a variety of ideas about how interfaith dialogue can lead to a more just and peaceful world were shared.
I want to share with you here a short selection of the address I delivered:
Today, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is known most widely as one of the key leaders of the U.S. Civil Rights movement, working for equality of all citizens. His deeply held belief that all people are created in God’s image inspired King to embrace the wonderful diversity of religious beliefs and to struggle non-violently for social justice around the world. His heartfelt conviction that God called on all people to confront social injustice encouraged King to reach out to all communities in creating what he called a Beloved Community of shared values, mutual understanding, and positive social action.
What few people realize is that Martin Luther King Jr. was not just a Christian leader or a leader for civil rights, but an interfaith leader. Inspired by Ghandi to work across lines of faith, he partnered with the Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, an Eastern European Jew who barely escaped Hitler’s death camps. In America, Heschel joined the Civil Rights movement, claiming “The soul of the Jewish people is at stake in this movement.” As the old rabbi and the young black minister marched together in the name of the rights of all, Heschel remarked, “I felt as though my legs were praying.” King built lines not just across religious difference, but also across continents and language barriers, collaborating with and inspiring many other religious leaders including Thich Nhat Hanh, showing that the beloved community could truly be a global vision. King’s vision came from a deep Christian commitment; that commitment insisted that King must work with others from different religions in order to make that vision a reality. And he began this radical work before he was even 20. King was truly an innovative, interfaith leader.
In 1968, Dr. King wrote:
“We have inherited a large house, a great “world house” in which we have to live together–black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Moslem and Hindu–a family unduly separated in ideas, culture and interest, who, because we can never again live apart, must learn somehow to live with each other in peace.”
This vision of building a “World House” is what brings me here today. I work for an organization right here in Chicago called the Interfaith Youth Core. The organization is working with young people all over the world – from Melbourne to Dehli, from Kabul to London, right back here to Chicago – to build a beloved community by training and equipping them to be interfaith leaders.
Some look at what we do at IFYC and call us strange. Jews and Jains, Buddhists and Bahai, Muslims and Christians, Atheists and Agnostics, Hindus and Humanists, Sikhs and so many others, all under one roof. How… strange, right?
In his book, “The World’s Religions,” Scholar Huston Smith writes:
“What a strange fellowship this is, the God-seekers in every land, lifting their voices in the most disparate ways imaginable… How does it all sound from above? Like bedlam, or do the strains blend in strange, ethereal harmony? Does one faith carry the lead, or do the parts share in counterpoint and antiphony where not in full-throated chorus? We cannot know. All we can do is try to listen carefully and with full attention to each voice in turn as it addresses the divine.”
May we always remember to listen with care, attention and empathy to the “strange” stories of others. Right now, the world may find our fellowship strange, but through our fellowship, the world will change.