Bridging Gaps: ‘Multi-faith’ dialogue promises to build relationships, dispel fear
In a world made topsy-turvy by war, terrorism, fear and hatred, there are some within our community and region looking to create healing. On Thursday, a multi-faith discussion will be seeking to take those first steps.
Dr. Joel Rainey, pastor of Covenant Church in town, had the idea to play host to such a discussion, hoping to expel fear and bridge gaps toward relationships.
“I’ve been doing multi-faith work for seven or eight years. I sat on a panel at Shepherd in the spring – sounded like a joke about a pastor, imam and rabbi walking into a college classroom – and we talked about how we live together, work together and maintain peace,” Rainey said. “Then Manchester happened, then Barcelona, then Charlottesville and now Vegas. We talk about Jesus loving and dying for the world, but we have to interact with the world to learn how to love it. That is what this is all about.”
The discussion, titled “Building Trust in an Age of Hate,” will take place at 6:30 p.m. Thursday evening at Covenant Church, and feature Rainey as emcee alongside Imam Faruq Post, resident scholar at the Islamic Society of Western Maryland, and Suhail Khan, a fellow at the Institute for Global Engagement, and a former senior advisor to President George W. Bush.
According to Rainey, the discussion will focus on how Muslims, Christians and members of various other faiths – or no faith – can live and work alongside one another.
“We would never disrespect someone’s faith by saying we all believe the same thing. Faruq and Suhail understand that as well, we have some differences that are irreconcilable. We believe that there is no way to God other than through Jesus Christ, and the two other men on stage believe that is precisely the thing that can send you to Hell,” Rainey said.
For Khan, the objective of the event will be similar to Rainey’s aspirations.
“My objectives are to first meet folks who take their faith seriously and answer questions they might have. The Muslim community is often in the news, yet we are a small percentage of population. However, many issues around the world and at home relate to us as Americans,” Khan said. “Ultimately I want us to come together as people of faith.”
Post echoed Khan’s sentiments.
“I’m hoping that this forum will be the first step toward building bridges to better our local communities and enlighten people about Islam,” Post said. “I’m also hoping the forum will dispel some of the doubts that many of the mainstream media have placed in the minds of the American people about Islam and Muslims.”
As all three men agree on the overall objective, they also agree on some outcomes they would like to see arise from this discussion.
“There are just as many misconceptions and stereotypes about Evangelicals as there are Muslims. But, we can help knock down barriers and stereotypes when individuals and communities become friends and religious leaders come together to better the individual communities,” Khan said.
Post also believes that such a discussion will create more awareness and tolerance toward differing beliefs, which will allow people in those communities to work together toward a common good.
“I believe that Muslims and Christians can achieve so many things together. We can work together to help the poor; to better the education of our youth; to fight and speak out against religious extremism, terrorism and religious intolerance; to foster understanding and conversations between the two largest faiths in the world; and to provide religious and cultural awareness,” Post said. “I’ve engaged in many multi-faith dialogues. … I can definitely say that people become more aware, tolerant and understanding about the differences that exist in our communities.”
After the discussion, those in attendance will be treated to a Halal dinner, which Rainey said will help foster those conversations and relationships.
“(Post) is looking toward what we can do after this already. I think once we get his people and our people together, sitting and talking over lamb, these things will work themselves out. Putting aside theological differences to work together in the community starts with building relationships,” Rainey added.
However, each man also acknowledged the possible push back and criticisms that may come from such an event.
“Many think that (multi-faith dialogue) means people of different faiths are coming together to combine their faiths and beliefs together, or that they all worship the same deity, or the unification of all religions – which is incorrect,” Post said.
“We did this type of thing in Texas,” Khan added. “Some were mad, but it helped bridge gaps for people to do service projects together like Habitat for Humanity and feeding the homeless.”
“It is important for people to understand that this isn’t about any of us bending on what we believe,” Rainey said. “But our friendships can’t be contingent on people believing the same as us. I wanted this to be a community event, not just something our church was doing. Ed Poling, of the Interfaith Coalition of Washington County, and Richard Anson, of Ezekiel’s Place, were also instrumental in getting this thing off the ground. It will give the most radically different parts of the community the chance to get to know each other.”
“Building Trust in an Age of Hate,” will begin at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday evening at Covenant Church, located at 7485 Shepherdstown Pike. The discussion is free and open to the public and will be followed by a Halal dinner. However, RSVP’s are requested by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to include your name, contact information and number of attending in the email.