Why does Diversity & Inclusion training include so little instruction in religious diversity? The cultural awareness and cultural competence inherent in D&I are increasingly embraced as the major tools of the global market place of the future. Yet, there is a black hole of information on diverse religions. The silence is surely not due to a lack of interest or visibility. Turn on the TV, open a newspaper, or check the internet and religion pops out as a major issue across the planet. Look at the growing number of EEOC complaints based on religious expression. Yet, the vacuum of expertise in religious diversity exists in most relationship-oriented sectors of our society: business, education, government, and human services. As a result, too few professionals understand how to avoid clashes involving belief systems. How can their paralyzing sense of being overwhelmed and under-prepared be managed?
Thanksgiving isn’t just food, family, football, and Black Friday. Not that there’s anything wrong with stuffing yourselves and your loved ones and then heading for the couch and TV or the shopping mall. All are fine American traditions celebrating the abundance in our lives, topped off with delicious left overs. But they seem more removed than ever from the holiday’s intended purpose.
That purpose was demonstrated at the Interfaith Thanksgiving Service held at Pilgrim Congregational Church. We sat in the pews listening to the harmonies of a choir made up of talented congregants from faith groups across the city. The graceful music surrounded and filled us as religious leaders representing Baha’i, Catholic, Humanist, Jewish, Muslim, and Protestant communities offered prayers and poems of gratitude and compassion.
When I arrived at Chattanooga’s Second Missionary Baptist Church, A true Southern gentleman, The Rev. Paul McDaniel, met me personally met at the door. Born in Rock Hill, South Carolina, Pastor McDaniel has been part of the Southern landscape and its African American community for most of his life. After attending Morehouse College in Atlanta, he received a Masters of Divinity degree from Colgate-Rochester Divinity School and a Masters of Arts degree from the University of Rochester in New York. A Chattanooga resident since 1966, Rev. McDaniel is stepping down from his post at the Second Missionary Baptist Church after almost 50 years of service. A larger-than-life figure in the community, I share our conversation in his honor.
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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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.
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.”
A few years ago, Chattanooga was traumatized by Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez. After shooting at a recruiting center, he drove to a U.S. Navy Reserve Center and opened fire again. Before he was killed by police in a gunfight, four marines and a navy sailor were killed. The FBI determined that the shootings were inspired by terrorist propaganda. Chattanooga responded with memorials across the area and an interfaith service that was memorable, inclusive, and high-profile in a city with little interfaith infrastructure.
The traffic was fierce on Martin Luther King Boulevard as people flocked to the community-wide interfaith service at Mount Olivet Baptist Church. Olivet, had grown from humble beginning in the 1920s to one of the city’s largest African-American churches. Yet, the church was packed, overflowing with elected officials, police officers and FBI, military veterans, and media among the diverse crowd of Black & White, Christians, Jews, and Muslim. Together, we prayed over the loss of four marines and a wounded sailor, who would die just hours later. We prayed over the trauma to our entire community inflicted by lone gunman, Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez.
Two events taking place in one venue occurred in the community of Plymouth, MN on Friday, July 10, 2015. As Muslims are witnessing the last few days of the fasting month of Ramadan, an “Interfaith Iftar”, or fast-breaking meal, and a “Night of Power” event joined forces to host 300 people, a mix of different faiths, ages and backgrounds, in the heart of the local mosque, North West Islamic Community Center (NWICC).
Religion today provides more sensational headlines and political debate topics; more inspiration to make a difference and more despair about the future than it has in decades. Few issues are more emotional than religion and few issues are more relevant today to peace and prosperity. Are faithful followers ready to confront the challenge of religious pluralism? Can we find ways to come together for the sake of our communities? Yes, I’ve learned that it’s possible, but only if we “Harmonize NOT Homogenize.” Here’s how I discovered that truism, and why I’m choosing to share my story now.