Voices from three religious traditions—Sikh, Jewish, and Muslim—set the stage for dialogue Friday during a consultation on interfaith relations aimed at guiding the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
“Differences really do matter,” said Simran Jeet Singh, executive director of the Sikh Spirit Foundation and a scholar and social activist. The Sikh tradition appreciates difference, “while recognizing its oneness.”
He and others on a panel dedicated to interfaith witness and action opened the day at the gathering taking place September 19–21 at Stony Point Center in New York. It is sponsored by the General Assembly Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations (GACEIR).
The committee will communicate its stance on interfaith relations to the 221st General Assembly (2014) based on information from the consultation, surveys, and other data it gathers.
Singh’s advice on what a PC(USA) document on interfaith relations should address: “a sense of oneness … and the second is love.”
Aisha Al-Adawiya, founder and president of Women In Islam Inc., offered up a parallel recommendation. “The document ought to emphasize ‘universal respect for human dignity,’ written in bold, highlighted words,” she said.
She pointed to the unresolved issues surrounding America’s involvement in the trans-Atlantic slave trade and poverty as a whole as areas that need to be addressed in critical conversations. “Who else is going to address this besides people of faith,” Al-Adawiya said.
Yehezkel Landau, associate professor of interfaith relations at Hartford Seminary, noted that “prophetic witness starts at home” and “involves looking at our ideologies and theologies.” “One can’t speak to others out of the blue,” he said.
Consultation participants spent a good deal of the day Friday in small groups looking internally. The groups were tasked with analyzing interfaith relations through the lens of various spheres such as education, communities, and neighborhoods, and then reporting back on what challenges they uncovered, what the response of the PC(USA) has been, and what the denomination should do going forward.
Developing interfaith resources that can be used by families; convening regional panels and interfaith consultations for broad audiences; requiring seminarians to study traditions other than their own; and working to create inclusive communities were just some of the recommendations that came from the small groups.