Religious Diversity is one of the most challenging, controversial, and complex issues of our time. Few diversity professionals speak on the topic, but it’s my passion and I recently gave a seminar on it at a conference at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Why had these business professionals and administrators chosen this particular session to attend? Some were curious, “I have a general interest in religious diversity, especially learning about other religious traditions.” Others were focused on the application of new information, “I want to understand more about religious diversity so that I can better interact with people from all religious backgrounds.” Our discussion focused not only on the university, but also on business, “I need to increase my understanding and ability to competently work with clients who identify as religious.”
‘Terry, I’m (gasp) an atheist!’ There was not a hint of anger in her during the entire time “Mary” and I talked that afternoon in the crowded sandwich shop. In fact, it was just the opposite. “Mary” laughed, we laughed, so hard and so much that out of the corner of my eye I could see icy stares from booths nearby “telling us” to pipe down so that they could get back to their business dealings, grandkiddos, tuna sandwiches, chips and lattes. Here’s the email “Mary” sent me the Friday before that prompted that late Monday meeting:
John T. Pawlikowski, a priest of the Servite Order, is Professor of Social Ethics and Director of the Catholic-Jewish Studies Program at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. He served for six years as President of the International Council of Christians & Jews and its Abrahamic Forum and currently holds the title of Honorary Life President. He has authored/edited some fifteen books on Christian-Jewish Relations as well as on social issues such as economic justice, war and peace, and ecological sustainability. He is the former editor of New Theology Review and a member of the editorial board of the Journal for Ecumenical Studies. He is also a founding member of the US Holocaust Memorial Council.
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As a young girl, I lived in a middle-class Black community surrounded by people who made me feel that I was incredible and could do anything I set her mind to. It was a recipe for constant conflict with a racist, sexist society and its institutions throughout the rest of my life.
Deborah: Sadly, I’m watching yet another evacuation of a Jewish center on TV. I know what it’s like to oversee an evacuation during a bomb threat. I was in charge of security at a Jewish agency in Chicago, was trained by the FBI in security after the Oklahoma City bombing, and oversaw the design for a secure Jewish Community Center in Chattanooga.
Today’s political and social climate in the world and in the United States seems to accentuates disagreement in thoughts and ideologies, give rise to disunity, create a sense of fear and insecurity, and in some cases even loss of human life and destruction. Chaos and confusion are reaching such intensity that they are affecting the fundamental structure of society; uprooting its time-honored constitutions and institutions; destroying the bonds of human relationships; and driving its inhabitants away from their homes as refugees. To counter these forces, significant productive and constructive energy will be required to sustain human societies. One way to look at our community, country, and the world for a path forward is to practice the concept of Unity in Diversity. The American Diversity Report provides an effective avenue for meaningful discourse on the subject.
Anyone listening can hear the loud, raucous controversies surrounding religion and our religious differences. The conversation is rife with words such as terrorism, hate, threatening, ungodly, illegal, and inhumane. The effect of this volcanic environment is to make our adrenalin run so high and long that we are virtually unable to hear the human beings involved. As hyperbole and exaggeration are added, we are witnessing a vicious cycle of protests and counter-protests, threats and counter-threats. Can this cycle be broken, or at least interrupted long enough for us to stop yelling, listen effectively, and initiate some major problem solving?
It was an honor to share my perspective as a Jew and diversity professional at Chattanooga’s MLK interfaith service commemorating The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. My passion for diversity is a legacy from my father, a US World War II military intelligence officer whose letters describing Nazi Germany reside in Cincinnati’s American Jewish Archives. Having dedicated decades to tikkun olam, Hebrew for ‘repair of the world,’ I resonate deeply to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel words, “Racism is man’s gravest threat to man – the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason.”