February 7, 2017
“We stand together!” was the mantra of the day.
In the aftermath of a divisive election, and in the wake of a ban on refugees and immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries, these words were music to many ears at the D.C. Interfaith Leadership Summit on Sunday, January 29. More than 200 young religious leaders from all different faiths gathered together to share their lives and faiths with one another. Breakout sessions included discussions about theology, scripture, healing rituals, and social justice.
The aim of this annual summit is to build bridges and create common ground, so that the differences that we have can be seen as a beautiful diversity based on common values rather than an ugly division based on competing principles. And I noticed very clearly the commonality that we have, from our view of God, the way we interpret our scriptures, and the way that we care for ourselves and one another.
There are many protests and demonstrations occurring in this time to stand up for Christian (and human) values. And these are very important as immediate reactions to what is happening in the world. But this Summit has a more long-term outlook. In order to avoid the xenophobia that is so prevalent in our society, this annual gathering (now in its fifth year) allows people of different faiths to meet, know, and understand one another.
I certainly found this to be the case. I met somebody from the Baha’i faith for the first time. And I had some wonderful encounters with Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs (and probably others!). And so now the next time I hear about a faith tradition on television or in the news, I will have a friendly face that I can associate with it. And I won’t be so afraid.
Fear seems to be a dominant emotion when we talk about terrorism or immigration. We tend to fear the unknown, and we instead want security. Recent polls attempt to determine if people think new laws or executive actions will make us more safe or less safe. But if we are looking from a Christian lens, then we are seeking the wrong things.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with wanting a peaceful and safe society for ourselves and our children. But we must remember that there’s no such thing as perfect safety in this world. And Christ never promised this. Instead, He asks us to welcome the stranger, and He promises that He will always remain with us when we do.
So while we process immediate news, let us also think to the future. How can we create a society based more on love than on fear? Reach out to somebody not like you, get to know them, and stand in their shoes. Stand with them, so we can all stand together.
Michael Cruickshank, C.S.P., is a Paulist seminarian based at our House of Mission and Studies in Washington, D.C.