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.
The 1974 Vatican document on Catholic-Jewish Relations is primarily known for its emphasis on the need for Catholics to come to understand Jews as they define themselves or, in other words, to refrain from creating what I would call “straw Jews.” The 1985 document focused its attention on the correct presentation of Jews and Judaism in Catholic religious education and preaching. The 1998 document on the Holocaust emphasized the importance of Holocaust education and tried to come to grips with Catholic responsibility during the Shoah. On the latter point some, including myself, have judged it incomplete even though it moved in the right direction on the question of Catholic collaboration with the Nazi effort at Jewish annihilation. Beyond the actual points made in these Vatican statements they helped immeasurably in creating a positive ethos for constructive scholarly work on the question on the part of theologians biblical exegetes.
“A Third Way” conference, small but fervent in participation, was recently held in Chattanooga, TN. The main point and goal of the conference was this: How do we have a strong Christian identity that is also benevolent to others? So many times “tolerance” goes along with a weak identity, weak loyalty to a tradition. On the other hand, people who are really strong in their beliefs can sometimes behave in hostile ways (or perceived hostile ways) to outsiders. The idea for the conference was that there was a “third way”—a way to have a strong identity that is generous and benevolent to outsiders.
Despite an increase in lawsuits related to religious expression and workplace discrimination, religious diversity is an area of Diversity & Inclusion often missing from leadership development. The silence is due to lack of exposure and to fear, perhaps well-founded, that religious diversity training may actually increase animosity in the workplace, rather than build bridges. Given the recent Supreme Court ruling sanctioning public prayer as an American tradition, a tradition that has often been Christian, the role of diverse religions in the US is increasingly murky and contentious.