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Interfaith Inform
August 16, 2022
Kaufman Interfaith Institute


Insight: Kindness, a Virtue of Religious Diversity
By: David Baak, Kaufman Volunteer
A few weeks ago I asked “Who’s on your list for an Interfaith Leadership Award?”

 A regular reader, Cary, responded with this:

My award suggestion is easy. Ray died three years ago. My father was the most religious person I knew. He was Jewish and followed teachings of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan who taught that Judaism had to reconstruct itself to adapt to changes in society. My father regularly attended our local synagogue. He taught me Torah but more often he simply taught me that the scriptures  of Judaism and every major religion centered on kindness. Love for your neighbor and love for all….

Kindness. How much difference can one person make in the lives of those around them simply, and profoundly, living a life of kindness?

I thought of Ray when I read an article in Religion News Service a couple of weeks ago by Eboo Patel (Interfaith America) and Robert P. Jones (Public Religion Research Institute) that focuses on the current expression of white Christian nationalism and the hatred, violence and danger to democracy that it exhibits. And, Patel and Jones suggest, there is a historical interfaith precedent that can help us “[cling] to our best virtues rather than our worst instincts, our democratic principles rather than our tribal fears.”  

Kindness rather than hatred?

Patel and Jones begin with the January 6 insurrection and the “powerful role that white Christian nationalism played in the attack. Among the insurrectionists there were crosses, Bible verses, ‘Jesus Saves’ signs…intermingled with antisemitic symbols and slogans.”

They suggest that “the scene could be mistaken for a Ku Klux Klan event from a previous era.” That era was the violent time begun in the “red summer” of 1919. Quoting further from their article:

The anti-Jewish, anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant and anti-Black currents so prevalent in that decade were powered by a white supremacist belief that America was ordained by God as a promised land to be run by white, native-born, Protestant men [and] was commonly legitimated in white Protestant pulpits, evangelical and mainline, South and North.

But, this earlier form of white Christian nationalism was defeated, in part, by a “movement of Catholic, Jewish and Protestant leaders who believed in a more open, inclusive America. …The [CH2] National Conference of Christians and Jews emerged in the late 1920s as a direct response to the KKK and quickly organized a host of interfaith activities across the nation.”

“Perhaps most importantly,” Patel and Jones say, “they offered early 20th century Protestants – in the conjured phrase ‘Judeo-Christian’ – a broader way of understanding the nation and their place in it.” However limited that phrase was – and is – “it redrew white Protestants’ mental maps of America.”

Cary’s father Ray was among the best of us during the time we were a “Judeo-Christian” nation.

Today, however, we need a new way of thinking. The country is very different from that of a hundred years ago, when Jews and Catholics were relatively new in the American religious landscape of the early 20th century. There were very few openly practicing Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists or groups other than Jews or Christians in the nation. Now there are many.

For Patel and Jones, this growing diversity and its increased visibility will affect every facet of American life—from shifting traffic patterns because of religious services on Fridays, to vegetarian meals in cafeterias of businesses and schools, and even to religious leaders’ vaccine advice.

The authors believe that “despite its limitations, ‘Judeo-Christian’ did good work” to the end of the century. The term helped move us “beyond a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant America.” And, a recent PRRI survey reports that most Americans embrace the differences. “Fully 7 in 10 Americans say they are proud to live in a religiously diverse nation.”

Patel and Jones conclude:

It’s time to say goodbye to ‘Judeo-Christian’ America. But we can learn from its example – especially the way it creatively expanded our civic and moral imagination – as we write the next chapter in the great history of American religious diversity.”

“Faith is a Bridge to unlock the potential of America’s religious diversity,” claims Interfaith America on its website. We are all part of that diversity and its potential – our response to it will write the narrative of that next chapter. Rather than fighting against each other, attempting to exclude, to divide and to hate, we can work with each other, attempting to expand further our “civic and moral imagination” and to live out our “best virtues,” like kindness.

Cary says this about his father:

My dad believed in Judaism but more importantly believed people of all faiths had common beliefs in dignity, morality, and kindness. Life would be pretty easy if all people followed my father, and just tried to be kind.

We all know people like Ray who have shown us how. Leaders for us to follow.

Upcoming Events

We Remember: Journeys of Hope - Interfaith Memorial  

September 13, 6:30 pm - Dominican Center Marywood at Aquinas College
Be with us for this year's 8th Annual Interfaith Memorial Service, We Remember: Journeys of Hope! This event is free and open to the public. The memorial is a time of remembrance in a welcoming and inclusive space. There will be opportunities for personal reflection, remembrance activities, and acknowledgement of loss.
Click here for more information and registration.
International Interfaith Concert: Yamma & Heart of Afghanistan  

September 20, 7:00 pm - Loosemore Auditorium, GVSU DeVos Downton Campus
Join the Kaufman Institute for an evening of international music with our very special guests all the way from Afghanistan and Israel.
Each group represents their country and musical heritage as cultural ambassadors. Through that lens, we will open a conversation regarding the faith traditions inherent in each nation’s culture.
Click here for more information and registration.
How To Talk To Your Neighbor Training w/ One America Movement 

September 21, 4:00 pm - Alumni House, GVSU Allendale Campus
This in-person workshop  will feature a training for university students, faculty, staff and community members on how to have conversations about important issues with people who believe, think, and vote differently than you. 
The 2 hour training will offer a framework for navigating difficult conversation, exploring the neuroscience and social science of polarity and divisiveness, offering both theory and interactive practice for having productive conversations that move towards listening and cooperation.  
This training will be facilitated by One America Movement and is the first event in the Talking Together series.
Click here for more information and registration.