By Paul Chaffee
The struggle to find consensus in addressing a warming planet, the violence that infects our lives so many ways, the tempting xenophobia that fuels more violence, the growing flood of refugees … Mother Earth and her peoples are having a rough go at living together these days.
The tragic circumstances millions of our sisters and brothers suffer today, the hungry, the oppressed, the homeless, is stunning to contemplate. Rather than going numb or being mindless, though, for our own sake and everyone else’s, we need to be engaged as never before. In the details of our daily lives we always have access to the Spirit, coming to it, as we do, in many different ways. And the light of the Spirit can make life worth living in the toughest circumstances, or even in comfortable circumstances, which is more difficult, Jesus suggested.
The quest is simply to do my best, though most of us typically underestimate our own best. For TIO to be the best that it can be entails grappling with the big issues and protean details of our interfaith lives, a subject almost everyone these days agrees needs more attention.
Along with a potpourri of stories this month, we take a look back at the Salt Lake City Parliament of the World’s Religions, and then drill down on an aspect of religious freedom that doesn’t get much press – proselytizing. (Last April’s “Conversion and Reconversion in India” by Murali Bulaji was TIO’s first exploration of proselytizing.)
An event the size and magnitude of the Salt Lake Parliament of the World’s Religions will leave ripples in the water for years to come. Last month TIO was all about sharing the experience. This month we have four reflective pieces about the week together, concluding with a story of my own biggest surprise and most delightful experience in Salt Lake.
Before You Make Up Your Mind about Proselytizing…
Last month we began an examination of religious freedom, looking at what it means and doesn’t mean. This month we turn to a bugaboo religious subject – trying to convince another person that my view of the universe, the big questions and moral issues in life are better, more truthful, than what you’ve believed and embraced in the past.
It is generally understood in the movement that proselytizing is not something we do in an interfaith context. Outside that context people should be free to believe and share what they will. But in the midst of interfaith dialogue or programs, respect and a listening ear keep us from trying to convince anyone else that they are wrong in what they believe and practice, and that we are right.
It does not follow, though, that interfaith activists want to forbid and criminalize proselytizing, as is the case in Saudi Arabia, China, and many other countries. When you forbid the proselytizer to speak, violence becomes a serious temptation.
Whether you defend proselytizing or not, the matter is complicated, as four essays this month demonstrate. They are followed by Ruth Broyde Sharone’s story of being an interfaith activist one Sabbath in a fundamentalist Messianic Judaism congregation. Wow!