It is rare in today’s society to see leaders of multiple faith communities coming together except during times of tragedy. It seems to be something we forget that is vital to our growth as individuals and as a community.
Last month four experts from different religious congregations did just that; met in a time of peace to discuss that very topic. Joshua Christy representing the Baha’i faith, Reverend Joseph Hickey-Tiernan representing the various branches of Christianity, Doctor Turan Kayaoglu representing Islam, and Reverend Kojo Kakihara representing Buddhism all served as panelists during the first public interfaith dialogue in Tacoma.
The discussion was led by Dr. Amanda Feller, Associate Professor in School of the Arts and Communication at Pacific Lutheran University. Her teaching, scholarship and practitioner work combines communication theory, conflict management and pedagogy. She particularly focuses on the method of dialogue in learning and peacebuilding. Each expert was asked to comment on what peace means to their respective faith. While each individual response was quite different, the message ultimately was very similar.
“When I think of Islam and peace the first thing that comes to my mind is the term ‘Salam’ which comes from the term ‘peace,’” said Dr. Kayaoglu. “Peace with ones’ self, peace with God or the creator, and peace with fellow beings.”
“Enlightenment which is what we Buddhists aim for is the state of perfect peace, serenity and joy,” said Rev. Kakihara. “To give others peace is to bring us peace. In peace, there is the feeling of safety; no fear, no hatred, no suffering and no delusions. In Buddhism, wisdom and compassion are the basis of all teachings. We understand and respect each other, and acknowledge that we are different. In the eyes of Buddhism, we are not all the same, but we are one, even in our differences.”
“My understanding of peace comes from the Baha’i teaching that says ‘When a thought of war comes oppose it by a stronger thought of peace, a thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love,’” said Christy. “That is to say that peace is not a passive state that is derived from the mere state of lack of problems and disagreements. In contrast, peace comes from an active, more powerful state of love. Peace is not derived from avoiding disagreements or pretending like there are no problems. Peace comes when there is the genuine spiritual state of love and unity that brings together hearts, communities, and nations. A lot of the work of the Baha’i community is bringing together people of various backgrounds to work together in service to their communities.”
“For Christians, long before we construct an ethic of peace, we already live in awareness that peace is already given,” said Reverend Hickey-Tiernan. “We seek it in others, created in the image of the other. We find it hidden in ourselves, a treasure to be discovered and shared. Peace is the way to peace; living life fully, with awareness and attention, engaging with those who struggle and suffer, feeling kinship with all who are devoted to truth and compassion connects us. We understand one another within our understanding of what Jesus saw in us and in the world. We accept that others have come to the same place through other paths. We are at peace.”
The audience was asked to break into groups to discuss multiple topics to inspire thought and conversation. These subjects included some hopes and fears people may have in sharing their beliefs, individual peace building efforts, religious backgrounds in different peoples’ names, and various personal experiences in discrimination or judgment.
“I love those lessons of learning what that feels like,” said one audience member of the Baha’i faith who shared an experience she had with discrimination. “It makes me more empathetic to people who face that on a daily basis.”
The various beliefs of audience members was even more diverse than the panelists, ranging from Unitarian Universalists, Jews, Catholics, Evangelists, Agnostics and even some who solely believed in science.
During the course of these group talks, audience members grew closer to one another. Some who were quieter at the beginning began to open up and talk more. Others who did not have any experience with people of different religions began to make connections to their own in the basic foundation of beliefs. Others still shared future dates, times and locations for services within their faith – inviting their new friends to participate even exchanging contact information.
“This event helped me a lot because I don’t usually talk to people about my religion and other people’s religion,” said one audience member of the Jewish faith.
This dialogue left each participant feeling uplifted and hopeful towards a future of peace within our community.
“It was a really nice opportunity to meet with different people,” said one participant of the Buddhist faith. “We’ve lived here maybe a year and a half and haven’t had the chance to get out there and meet as many people as we want to so hearing about people’s different experiences and what their life has been like has been a truly refreshing experience.”
The event ended with a prayer from each expert, with some audience members of the same faith participating in the tradition and words they knew all too well.
“The religion of God is for love and unity,” sang Stephanie Christy, wife of the Baha’i expert, as a closing prayer. “Make it not the cause of enmity or dissension.”