Differences & Disagreements: Crossing the Final Bridge
by Paul Chaffee
Anyone in recent years who has seriously organized local interfaith activities knows about the boundaries of dialogue. There is often pressure to focus on shared values and easy issues; to master easy topics before jumping into disagreements that are unlikely to be solved. Eventually, of course, activists want to know ‘just how much relationship-building do we need’ before we take on the hard issues. Most of the time there is no easy answer.
These kinds of problems are rooted in differences and disagreements. People promote diversity, but usually with limits, and sometimes intrafaith differences can be much more difficult to handle than interfaith differences. The mainline, progressive Christian actively enlists Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and more, but probably not Pentecostals or Southern Baptists.
Without a decisive commitment to inclusivity, we leave out part of the family, nurture us vs. them thinking, and seed conflict in the future. Fostering inclusive communities, though, is not easy. The polarization in our culture today makes this dramatically clear. On every side we hear ‘I won’t be in the same room with that kind of person,’ making any kind of dialogue pretty tough to achieve.
Taking Advantage of Differences and Disagreements
TIO rarely reviews books – there are too many good ones for us to handle – but there are exceptions. This month we explore Learning to Live Well Together, a remarkable summary of the interfaith work going on at St. Philip’s Centre in Leicester, England. Their story includes taking advantage of our differences and disagreements, with the goal, which they measure, of engendering trust. They’ve done this work not only in congregations and classrooms, but in hospitals and with the Leicester police, the UK military, and local politicians.
The people at St. Philip’s are not alone in the world. Building trust in difficult environments is quietly happening in a host of different organizations and communities around the world, many of them interfaith. This month TIO opens the door to a sampling of interfaith/interspiritual ventures that are taking the sting out of difference and disagreement, using them instead as assets to build trustworthy, vital relationships and communities.
Never has humankind so badly needed the social technology and spiritual inspiration to address the festering disagreements of the world. Our leaders are mostly doing a poor job of establishing any kind of trust. But at the grassroots, trust is being explored in new ways. In short, these stories say, “If peace can’t come to Jerusalem, we’re going to show you how it can come to our community, and perhaps yours.”
Header Photo: LoversIQ Design