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2013 Ware Lecture by Eboo Patel: Standing Your Sacred Ground

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General Assembly (GA) 2013 Event 3030

Introduction to the lecture begins at 18:15; Eboo Patel begins speaking at 22:00.

Program Description

There is no better time to stand up for your values than when they are under attack.

In the decade following the attacks of 9/11, suspicion and animosity toward American Muslims and alarmist, hateful rhetoric invoking the specter of Islam as a menacing, deeply anti-American force have become commonplace rather than being relegated to the fringes of political discourse. This prejudice is a challenge to the ideals of American life. This evening, renowned interfaith leader Eboo Patel will discuss the art and science of interfaith work, showing us that Americans from George Washington to Martin Luther King Jr. have been “interfaith leaders.” Sharing stories from the frontlines of interfaith activism, he’ll bring to life the growing body of research on how faith can be a bridge of cooperation rather than a barrier. 

Dr. Patel is founder and President of the Interfaith Youth Core, an international nonprofit building the interfaith youth movement. He was appointed by President Obama to the Advisory Council of the White House Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and serves on the Religious Advisory Committee of the Council on Foreign Relations. Patel writes “The Faith Divide” blog for The Washington Post and has also written for the Harvard Divinity School Bulletin, The Chicago Tribune, and other prominent journals. He has been featured on a range of media, including CNN Sunday Morning, NPR’s Morning Edition, the PBS documentary Three Faiths, One God, The New Republic, American Public Media, the BBC, and CNN. Patel is a sought-after speaker whose addresses include the keynote speech at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum with President Jimmy Carter. He is the author of Sacred Ground: Pluralism, Prejudice and the Promise of America, and Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation, which was the 2011-2012 Unitarian Universalist Association Common Read and 2010 winner of the prestigious Louisville Grawemeyer award in religion

An Ashoka Fellow, Patel was named by Islamica Magazine as one of ten young Muslim visionaries shaping Islam in America, was chosen by Harvard’s Kennedy School Review as one of five future policy leaders to watch, and was selected to join the Young Global Leaders network of the World Economic Forum. He lives in Chicago, IL.

Standing Your Sacred Ground: Unitarian Universalists and Interfaith Leadership (Transcript)

Introduction of Eboo Patel

REV. PETER MORALES: Good evening.

[APPLAUSE]

REV. PETER MORALES: I am delighted to introduce this year's Ware Lecturer, Eboo Patel.

[APPLAUSE]

REV. PETER MORALES: But you've got to hear a little bit about him first. Named by US News & World Report as one of America's best leaders of 2009, Eboo Patel is the founder and president of the Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based organization building the interfaith movement on college campuses.

Author of the book Acts of Faith, the Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation, which one the Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion, and his latest book, Sacred  Ground- Pluralism, Prejudice, and the Promise of America, Eboo is also a regular contributor to the Washington Post, USA Today, The Huffington Post, NPR, and CNN. And by the way, who published those books of Eboo Patel?

[APPLAUSE]

REV. PETER MORALES: Our are Beacon Press. And signed copies are going to be available in the bookstore, so don't miss out on that opportunity. Eboo holds a doctorate in the sociology of religion from Oxford University, where he studied on a Rhodes Scholarship. He's also a young global leader in the World Economic Forum and an Ashoka Fellow, part of a select group of social entrepreneurs whose ideas are changing the world.

He was named by Islamica Magazine as one of 10 young Muslims visionaries shaping Islam in America, and was chosen by Harvard's Kennedy School Review as one of five future policy leaders to watch. Both Eboo and the IFYC were honored with the Roosevelt Institute's Freedom of Worship Metal in 2009, and he was recently awarded the Guru Nanak Interfaith Prize, an award given to an individual to enhance awareness of the crucial role of religious dialogue in the pursuit of peace.

Today, he lives in Chicago with his wife, Shehnaz Mansuri, and their two sons. And let me say today I've panting while following Eboo around as he so generously and tirelessly met with youth, with young adults, with groups of campus ministry. He's been so generous with his time, and it's been a delight, just a delight, to watch him interact with our people, and our young people in particular.

And I have fond memories of meeting with him in Chicago last winter as we discussed the background for the Ware Lecturer. So Eboo, welcome to General Assembly. It is such an honor to have you with us as Ware Lecturer.

[APPLAUSE]

Eboo Patel Speaks

EBOO PATEL: Thank you. I'm not sure I knew that there were this many UUs. [CHEERING]

EBOO PATEL: I am not sure I knew that there were this many UUs in the world.

[LAUGHING]

EBOO PATEL: I think there was a sign in the Louisville Airport saying, watch out, UUs taking over the city. This is a good thing. I have to say that you have the politest young people of any faith community I've met.

[CHEERING]

EBOO PATEL: I don't want to worry you. They're not too polite so that they won't up end a social order or two in the course of their time on Earth. But many of them did come up to me and say, thank you so much for spending time with us. I'm like, why did you think I said yes to coming here?

So I mean, I want to think the youth and the young adult sessions and the college session for telling me your stories. As I said, you're going to be hearing a reasonable amount from me tonight, and I wanted to use the sessions during the day to listen to you guys. And I will be telling your stories in the weeks and months ahead.

[CHEERING]

EBOO PATEL: I stand here today with a heart filled with gratitude for who you are as a community and a tradition, and for the invitation to address you today. Unitarian Universalists have long been on the vanguard. You define what it means to be risk takers and movement builders. Also, you have kept me company in many places. Not a few times, I will roll into a city to  do a public talk, and I'll think to myself, now who's going to come to a speech about interfaith cooperation in this town? And then I'll think, well, if nobody else, there'll be some UUs up in here who will come keep me company.

And it's true. From Dallas to Tulsa. You guys in the house, by the way? Dallas folks and Tulsa folks? Madison? Minneapolis? I mean, East Coast? West coast? Where there's a talk of interfaith cooperation, you guys are front and center, and you are loud. And I appreciate that.

Look, I am really grateful for Beacon Press. I'm really grateful to be part of a publishing house that is guided by the UU ethic of intellectual activism and truth seeking. They've published American luminaries from James Baldwin to Marion Wright Edelman, to Geoffrey Canada, to Martin Luther King, Jr. The list goes on and on and on, at a time when a lot of people take their lessons about Islam from the evening news and think that a 1,400-year-old tradition is defined only by terrorism. It's Beacon that's publishing theologians like Khaled Abou El Fadl.

And when a skinny American Muslim kid came knocking with the crazy idea that faith ought to be a bridge of cooperation, not a barrier of division or a bomb of destruction, and young people ought to be leading the way in the architect of those bridges, Beacon took the dare.

[CHEERING]

EBOO PATEL: My friends in the glittering literati warned me against using the word movement book with any respectable publisher. I finally called up the courage to say to Helen, and Tom, and Amy, and Alyssa, and the crew at Beacon that that's actually what I wanted to do with acts of faith and sacred ground, was to shape a literature that could help guide a movement, the response was, well, that's who we are as a press. Those are the books we've been publishing for decades and decades. I decided at that moment that respectability was either overrated, or misunderstood, or perhaps both.

So I want to begin with the story of my friend April. I wrote about April in both acts of faith in sacred ground. She was the first person we hired at an Interfaith Youth Core 11 years ago, this month, actually, with our first grant from the Ford Foundation of $35,000. She's helped build Interfaith Youth Core, literally every nook and cranny, just about every stitch along the way.

April was raised a devout evangelical Christian in rural Minnesota by family who believed faith was about action. From other adopted children out of her Christian conviction, April led not only Bible studies at church, but service and mission trips abroad throughout her high school years. Jesus taught that you helped people, especially people different from you, she used to tell me.

The turning point in April's faith and her life came when she was president of the Christian Students Association at Carleton College in Minnesota. I love that place, by, the way. A mosque suffered an arson attack. This is the mid-1990s. It was the Twin Cities. And April, because she was on this email list of religious leaders in the state, received this email asking if folks from different religions would come and be part of a candlelight vigil standing in solidarity with this Muslim community at their time of need.

April instinctually wrote back, yes. And when she went to her Christian group with this at their meeting the following week, it turned out that some of those people had different instincts. In fact, somebody stood up and said, those people aren't Christian. They do not believe in Jesus Christ. They pray to a false God. If you help them, you are supporting devil worship.

When April said that she had already sent back an email saying she would help, and thought that turning service into evangelism was disingenuous, that's when things got really hairy. Out came the fangs and the scripture, and April found herself subject to a session of religious bigotry decorated with biblical proof text. Even though I knew the Bible better than most of them, she said, I somehow found myself inarticulate at that moment.

So April's story highlights for me the importance of language in interfaith cooperation. For all of April's love of her faith, and all of her instincts to stand in solidarity with others, she did not have the theological language to articulate her position. So she lost. Other people claimed the mantle Christian or person of faith in that situation, and defined that term as applauding the arson attack on a mosque, simply because they had the language.

In preparation for this talk, I've been reading A Chosen Faith. And one particular line from that book jumps out at me with regard to the point above. Denise Taft Davidoff writes, "We struggle to speak our Unitarian Universalism to each other, and particularly to the interfaith world beyond the walls of our societies," Trust me, you are not the only ones who face this challenge. But for a faith or moral community, I'm not sure there was a more important struggle. There is a great power when you speak your faith.

As the great Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel says, "Speech has power. Words do not fade. What starts out as a sound ends in a deed." What if you were in April's situation? In a mosque, or a synagogue, or an evangelical church was being opposed in your area? What UU stories, language, ideas, might you call upon to give expression to your conviction that interfaith cooperation is an article of your faith?

The fact is, you don't have to look very far at all in UU thought or literature to find that language. The idea of difference as enriching is woven into your tradition. Beautifully expressed by Adlai Stevenson, the US presidential candidate and Unitarian lay person, "There's nothing to fear in difference. Difference, in fact, is one of the healthiest and most invigorating of human characteristics, without which life would become meaningless."

Even more, you believe that difference is holy. Listen to the words of Unitarian Universalist minister Greta Crosby. "All of us together, all the eyes of all the creatures, are the eye of God. That is why we need each other. Our many ways of seeing that together, we may rejoice and see clearly and find the many keys to abundant life." Not only do you believe this, you act on it.

A core part of UU practice is to introduce your children and young adults to an appreciative knowledge of other religious traditions. You organize interfaith service projects, make visits to other houses of worship and faith communities, publish loving books about other traditions, like the wonderful recently published Muhammad, the Story of a Prophet and Reformer by Sarah Conover, published by Skinner House Books, your press.

Perhaps most impressively, your communities continue to nurture young people who are inspired by the UU tradition to become interfaith leaders. I met dozens and dozens of them today. I've known another young man, Nick Cable, a young UU minister in training.

And if you don't believe me, ask to see some of Nick's sermons, or go meet these young people yourself. They are tremendous young people. They are now and will be tremendous interfaith leaders.

[APPLAUSE]

EBOO PATEL: You have what I call a theology of interfaith collaboration at your fingertips. For those of you who tend towards the humanist dimension of the UU fellowship, the term ethic of interfaith cooperation might feel more comfortable. Bottom line, the resources for cooperation with people who are different lie at the center of the thought and practice of the UU movement.

Knowing and being able to speak clearly and proudly, this theology, or ethic of interfaith cooperation, to call up your own stories, practices, quotations in a range of situations, is absolutely core to effective interfaith leadership. So was having an appreciative knowledge of other traditions. The UU movement takes both of these responsibilities seriously.

When you express this theology of interfaith cooperation, you give many gifts. The first is to share your own light. The second is to strengthen interfaith solidarity. The third, perhaps somewhat counter-intuitively, is to help strengthen the convictions of those with whom you speak. Spending some time in UU literature brought to mind stories, scripture, language in my own tradition of Islam that inspires, indeed commands me, towards interfaith cooperation. Let me share a couple of those stories with you.

So in the Muslim creation story in Sura 2 of the holy Koran, we learn that God created humankind with a lump of clay and His breath, His [INAUDIBLE]. And there was Adam, the first human being and the representative of all human beings in the Islamic imagination.

And God says to Adam, you are my [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE], my servant and representative upon creation. God beckoned the angels forth and said, I want you to bow to Adam and honor my creation. Honor this human being. And the angels responded by saying, why would we honor a creature who will only fiddle and destroy? And God responds by saying, I know what you do not know. God vouches for Adam, humankind's goodness in the face of the angels' suspicion.

The next [? ia ?] in that sura, the next verse, God sets up a contest between Adam and the angels. He says to the angels, I want you to tell me the names of creation. The angels response is the only knowledge we have is to sing the glories of your name, oh God. God turns to Adam and gives him the same task. Tell me the names of creation. And Adam can do it.

I remember in my return to Islam, when I was a graduate student at Oxford, I read that sura. And the term in that sura that stuck out to me was "names." It's not singular. It's plural. Creation is not a single name repeated over and over and over again. Creation is many names. Creation is diverse.

The quality that Adam had that distinguished him from God's angels, that actually caused God to strike his own resonance with Adam, to vouch for Adam's goodness, was the ability to flow with diversity. We human beings were made for diversity. Reading UU literature reminded me of that story in the holy Koran. And for that, I thank you.

[APPLAUSE]

EBOO PATEL: And the more I read, the more. I noticed profound similarities between Islam and the UU tradition. Your notion of a beautiful and positive energy that pervades the universe, for example, is also a central idea in Islam. It's called Tawhid-- the belief that the God force permeates and improves everything.

Your sense that there is a deep goodness in every human being is also core to Islam. The term in Koranic Arabic is Taqwa. It translates roughly as God consciousness, or inner torch. It is our innate sense given by the breath of God of what is right and wrong. I could go on and on. The more I thought about this, the more I realized that this is not particularly unique to Islam and Unitarian Universalism. You could take any two, or three, or four, or more religious and philosophical traditions and point out the similarities.

In fact, if being able to articulate your own theology of cooperation is one key element of interfaith leadership, and having an appreciative knowledge of other traditions is the second element, certainly a third is the ability to emphasize what is shared between traditions, and having the eyes to look for the resonances.

That's an important phrase in my life. Look for the resonances. It was actually formative in my own development as an interfaith leader. It's something that my father told me when I was really just a boy. My family is in this country because a Catholic University in Indiana, Notre Dame, allowed a somewhat wayward Indian Muslim student into their MBA program in the mid-1970s. That man would be my father.

And in his three years in South Bend, Indiana, he developed a fierce devotion to Fighting Irish football, and did enough work to skate by in that MBA program. And when I was a kid, he would take me on I-90 out of Chicago to South bend to Fighting Irish football games on Saturday afternoons. And our first stop would always be The Grotto. The Grotto was the shrine to the Virgin Mary at that university established by French Catholics 175 years ago.

And my dad, who was not a particularly prayerful person, would stand in front of that shrine, and he would kind of rock back and forth, sometimes light a candle and put it in there. And I kind of like, dutifully followed along when I was seven, eight, nine years old. By the time I was 10 or 11, I finally got up the gumption to ask my dad a question. I was like, hey Dad, aren't we Muslim? What the hell are we doing?

And my dad points inside this cove with all of these flickering candles and he says, remember that the Koran says that God is like light upon light. And he put his hand on my shoulder and he said, always look for the resonances. Always look for the resonances.

And in graduate level study of comparative religions, and many of you have done a serious study in comparative religions, you'll find that there's many differences between Islam and Catholicism. At that moment, when I was a kid looking at The Grotto, my dad was telling me, it is really important to have eyes that see and sensibilities that feel the resonances.

There are also differences between Islam and the UU tradition, and important differences. For example, Islam is a deeply creedal faith. Muslims disagree on all kinds of things, but one thing every single Muslim agrees on is the Shahada, the declaration of faith. [SPEAKING ARABIC]. There is no God but God, and Muhammad is his messenger. It's the foundation of being a Muslim. It's the first line whispered into the ears of newborn babies.

Unitarian Universalism is, shall we say, not particularly creedal. In fact, to put it gently, I've met not a few UUs who've expressed some suspicion of creeds. So this is not a minor religious difference. This is not a, oh cool, you like noodles, I like rice, type of difference. This is a pretty major religious difference, and it is only the beginning.

Sometimes, I feel like when people speak about religious diversity, they have the impression that it's kind of like interesting ethnic foods. A matter of taste. Something that makes the neighborhood more interesting and raises everyone's property values.

Actually, not really. Faith and philosophical traditions have both beautiful resonances and really profound disagreements. Religious diversity, I think, is about engaging both. And interfaith leaders have to be able to deal with this fact of religious diversity as profound disagreement directly.

Interfaith leaders are not surprised or uncomfortable when they are working with a Muslim on an interfaith civil liberties project, and that Muslim casually says she is against gay marriage. Or when they are working with a Catholic on immigration reform, and that Catholic says he is opposed to abortion in all instances. Or when they are working with an evangelical on disaster relief, and that evangelical says that, boy, is she happy that the flood waters are receding so these good folks can go back to their homes. And she sure hopes they accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, so they can go to heaven too.

Interfaith leadership is about building relationships with people who are not only different than you in ways you like, but also in ways you don't like.

[APPLAUSE]

EBOO PATEL: So sometimes people like you and me, political and theological liberals, we find this challenging. This is understandable. It's logical to think that the best or even only path to openness is our own. Let me tell you a story to illustrate.

In the opening session of an Interfaith Youth Core Conference a few years ago, a pastor in Chicago took the microphone and introduced himself. He spoke about how much he had gained from his Buddhist meditation practice, expressed disdain for the Bush administration, and proclaimed how excited he was to be in a friendly space with people of other faiths.

Finally, he noted his frustration that a particular type of Christian was always absent from such gatherings, saying, there are too many conservative evangelicals who claim the mantle of my faith, who believe that Jesus is the only way, that Christians have the exclusive truth, and who focus their energy on trying to bring others to their view rather than expanding their own spiritual horizons. I find that I have more in common with people like you than with people like them.

There was nodding around the room. It was clear to me that some of the people who had come to the gathering had heard that sort of thing before. And it looked to me that that pastor had introduced himself in that way more than once at interfaith events. He passed off the microphone with a flush of pride in his face.

It arrived to the hands of a young man who had recently graduated from the University of Illinois, who was probably two decades the pastor's junior, and who looked calmly at the pastor and said, my name is Nicholas Price, and I think you are talking about me.

It could have been an ugly moment, except for how Nick handled it. He simply said that he was an evangelical Christian. Had been very active in the large evangelical campus group InterVarsity as an undergraduate, and had recently accepted a staff position at the organization. He'd majored in religious studies with the concentration in Islam, and believed his faith called upon him to both seek to convert Muslims, and also to cooperate with them.

While he was deeply committed to the former, he understood that this space was dedicated to the latter, and he was committed to that as well I had heard the sentiments expressed by that pastor in events of what might be called the organized interfaith movement so often that I probably wouldn't have thought twice about them had it not been for Nick's presence and response.

For the pastor, interfaith cooperation was a logical extension of his theological liberalism, political progressivism, and spiritual sensibilities. Not only was his engagement in interfaith cooperation predicated on those perspectives, he believed that they were prerequisites for any engagement with interfaith cooperation. Which is precisely why Nick perplexed him. Here was a theologically and politically conservative young man with clear spiritual limits who was interested in building relationships with people of different faiths.

The moment raised a set of fundamental questions for me about interfaith work. The most obvious is, who is excluded in a movement that trumpets inclusivity, diversity, and relationship building? Nick had taken a different route to the house of interfaith cooperation. And when he arrived, was greeted by the guard on the front porch and told in no uncertain terms that there was no place for him. My experience over 15 years in interfaith work is that that's pretty common. Evangelicals are on the outside, and frequently invoked as somewhere between the foil and the enemy.

The second issue it raised for me is even more fundamental. Namely, what's the purpose of interfaith work? Is it to bring together theological liberals and political progressives of various religions to share how their different faiths brought them to similar worldviews? That's what the pastor wanted, and what he was accustomed to in interfaith settings. But if this approach excludes and potentially raises hostility towards faith groups, then it ought to raise the question for a movement called interfaith of just what it is we think we are doing.

[APPLAUSE]

EBOO PATEL: So I for one do not think that the primary purpose of interfaith work is to circle religiously diverse wagons more tightly around particular political positions or theological viewpoints, however strongly I might hold some of those positions myself. I do not believe it is the primary purpose of interfaith cooperation to widen what are already deep and dangerous divides.

I believe the central problem interfaith work seeks to solve is this. How are all of us, with our beautiful resonances and our deep disagreements, to share a nation and a world together? An important task of an interfaith leader in my view is to help build relationships between people with profoundly different views on fundamental theological and political matters. How else do you have a diverse democracy, unless people who have deep disagreements on some issues are able to work together on other issues?

[APPLAUSE]

EBOO PATEL: So let me illustrate this with a story about Ruth Messinger, president of the American Jewish World Service, one of the most inspiring leaders I know. Ruth has been a mentor of mine for the past 15 years, helping nurture me and Interfaith Youth Core along our journey.

She came by our offices some time ago and talked about the importance of interfaith cooperation. Someone on my staff asked where she got that conviction. And she told us this story.

Her first professional experience was in Western Oklahoma in the early 1960s. She was a Jewish woman from New York City with a graduate degree working for the government, plenty of things there for the locals to be suspicious about. The best place to do her job happened to be churches. So she went. A lot.

She went to formal brick churches on Sunday mornings. She went to Bible studies on porches on Wednesday evenings. She went to backyard praise gatherings on Thursdays. I imagine Ruth did not agree with everything she heard. Was probably offended by a good part of it. I imagine a few of the people looked at her cross-eyed.

But Ruth had something a lot more powerful than political and theological disagreement. Ruth had hundreds of children. Abused, neglected, oprhaned children. Her job was to find foster families for them. The evangelical ministers in Western Oklahoma considered this God's work. After the sermons, and the songs, and the altar calls, and Amen choruses, they would stand at the pulpit and point at Ruth and say, this woman has informed me that there are four of God's children in our community who are hurting and need families to take care of them. I need four families to come forth and volunteer to do God's work with her and me and take them in.

We always got our families, and it never took long, Ruth told my staff. So how many subjects did Ruth Messinger and those Western Oklahoma evangelicals disagree on? Those arguments could have lasted long into the night. But Ruth Messinger chose to extend a hand instead of wave a finger or shake a fist. Hundreds of children in Western Oklahoma grew up in families instead of orphanages because Ruth Messinger chose to find ways to work together with people on some issues, even when she disagreed with them on others.

[APPLAUSE] EBOO PATEL: I once explained this view to an editor at the Chicago Tribune. He laughed and said, you're leading with your chin on the most divisive issue of our time. I hate to break this to you, if you choose the path of interfaith leadership, you're going to get punched. A lot.

The matters in the religious diversity mix, who goes to heaven? Can a gay man marry his partner? Can a woman with an unplanned pregnancy have an abortion? Can a Sufi Muslim imam build a community center near Ground Zero? Do Sufis count as Muslims? These are among the most intimate and divisive issues human beings face

What happens when you explain to someone at an Interfaith Habitat for Humanity build that you believe that different religions are like light coming through various windows in a cathedral, and the person you are speaking to shakes his head and says, there is only one light and one window, Jesus Christ Son of God, Lord and Savior?

An interfaith leader recognizes that not everyone has the same theology of interfaith cooperation. An interfaith leader works to understand the other's theology while gently articulating her own. An interfaith leader recognizes that the definition of interfaith cooperation is working with people who are religiously different than you. An interfaith leader above all builds the relationship. Listen. We need--

[APPLAUSE]

EBOO PATEL: We need exceptional people who are able to hold the tensions here in a way that binds together rather than breaks apart. People who are willing to lead with their chin and take a punch. That's you.

In 15 years of doing this work, here's what I can promise you. It is not easy, but it is worth it. I remember heading in to speak to an evangelical student group on a campus in Minnesota, and being warned that they were not happy about a Muslim being invited as the opening convocation speaker to their college, especially one who wrote a book supporting the Ground Zero mosque. One of them called my presence a declaration of war.

Did I go talk to them? I did. That was my punch on the chin for that week. I remember being given a tour of a Muslim education center by a senior Muslim leader who hailed from India. When he found out that India was also the country of my birth, he took it as an opportunity to criticize Pakistan. How can they call themselves a Muslim country, he railed, when the founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah wasn't even a real Muslim?

He stopped and turned and basically spat out the next line to me. He was an Ismaili. Then he turned around and continued walking. I wondered, is this the time when I tell him that I'm an Ismaili too? Do I walk out, registering my offense? I continued with the tour, and joined the group for the Zuhr prayer afterward. That was my punch on the chin for that week. So much for diversity work being a safe zone.

So why go into hostile territory? Because the heart of interfaith work is dealing with people you have deep disagreements with, even those who would insult what is fundamental to you or me in building relationships with them anyway. What other chance will they have to change?

[APPLAUSE]

EBOO PATEL: Always remember this. Interfaith work is not just civic. It is sacred. It is something you UUs know deeply. Nurturing positive relations between people with deep disagreements is a holy project. Think about Saint Francis of Assisi traveling from Italy to the Middle East during the fifth crusade, establishing a friendship with the sultan on the matter of prayer while their religious communities were at war.

Think about the love between the Prophet Muhammad and his uncle Abou Taleb, who resolutely remained a pagan while the Prophet was upending the social order by preaching Islam and protected him anyway. Think about Martin Luther King, Jr. After the Montgomery Bus Boycott, when asked whether he felt anger or sought revenge responded, this is not the time for revenge. The end is reconciliation. The end is redemption. The end is the creation of the beloved community. This is our task. Thank you.

[APPLAUSE]

Closing

REV. PETER MORALES: Thank you, Eboo, for that inspiration and that challenge. Are we ready to build some bridges?

[CHEERING]

REV. PETER MORALES: For we live in an interfaith world, and we have a special role to play in that. And now, please remain in your seats for our synergy worship, building a bridge to the future. We welcome people of all ages to join us in the inspiring ritual by which our youth transition into young adulthood. It's starting right now.

 

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Last updated on Thursday, August 22, 2013.

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