Over the last two years, an evangelical pastor, an imam and this rabbi have worked intentionally to create bonds of friendship through shared experiences in our community. This is not a joke. And it is not “interfaith dialogue.” It is “multifaith dialogue.” Multifaith dialogue differs from interfaith dialogue in that it allows people with deep convictions to faithfully represent what they believe, work for peace, engage in dialogue, build friendships, and not feel like they have to compromise.
Multifaith dialogue is based on common ethics and the common good, rather than common theology. We can work together for peace, justice, poverty alleviation, education, civility, strengthening neighborhoods, fighting disease, standing against terrorism and breaking down stereotypes of the “other.”
Now, more than ever, we need to work with people from other faiths for the flourishing of our local community and our global society. If we are going to work together, and live as neighbors, we need to know each other. If we are going to address major global issues, we need global partnerships. Multifaith dialogue provides such a platform.
In my experience, interfaith dialogue has been a conversation between secular and liberal representatives of various faiths. Multifaith dialogue allows conservatives and fundamentalists to enter the conversation without having them feel like they are compromising their faith. And, if we are being honest here, much of the conflict exists between conservative or fundamentalist groups of the different faiths. Multifaith dialogue creates much more potential for promoting peace and understanding.
Last week, four triads of pastors, imams and rabbis from Phoenix and Tucson gathered for a half-day multifaith tour of our respective places of worship. We met at a church in the morning; carpooled to the mosque; engaged in Q&A; carpooled to the synagogue; more Q&A and show and tell; and carpooled back to the church where we had lunch together. This personal and intimate time together, particularly in the car, is where layers of misconceptions were shed, the “other” became a “friend,” and meaningful learning and shared experiences took place. “Wisdom,” our ethics of our ancestors teaches, “is the ability to learn from all humans and points of view.”
Our world is changing quickly. What is clear to me is that we need participation, willingness, cooperation and collaboration between people of different faiths. That is how we will be able to understand this verse from this week’s Torah portion: “God was in this place and I did not know it.” And, if I may be so bold as to fill-in the implied next phrase, we realize God’s presence, God’s oneness, when we see the humanity in the “other.” Particularly, the other person of faith with whom we fundamentally disagree.
I pray our example of multifaith dialogue models and inspires each of our communities to move out of our echo chambers and allow us to hear, listen and see the other as human beings, and as committed, faith-loving, ethical people. That is when we will truly be aware of God’s oneness, God’s presence and “Do Jewish.” JN
Rabbi Jeremy Schneider is the spiritual leader of Temple Kol Ami and the immediate past-president of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Phoenix.