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The Holy Work of Interfaith Witness

Rabbi Gewirtz, Bishop Beckwith and Imam Shareef. NINA NICHOLSON PHOTO

We prayed together. Which is not so unusual for a Sunday morning, when we gather to pray in our churches, using texts and traditions that many of us know by heart.

But on a recent Sunday afternoon in our Cathedral – in a service to honor the tenth anniversary of 9/11, people from the three Abrahamic faiths prayed together. Partly because of the day, partly because of the relationships of the people involved, we were able to move beyond interfaith protocol to a depth of prayer. We prayed together.

I came away from the service with a broader perspective on God, a deeper hunger for the wisdom of the Muslim and Jewish tradition and a stronger desire to probe the depths of text and tradition of my own Christian faith.

The New Testament text from Revelation that was read at the service expressed the extraordinary promise that out of a great ordeal all things are being made new. One of the new things, and for me the primary new thing, is the deepening appreciation of the wisdom of the Abrahamic faiths. And the strengthening conviction that if we are going to be peacemakers – and beat swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, as expressed in the reading from Hebrew scriptures; and if we are going to have a chance to heal the world by learning forgiveness, as expressed in the reading from the Q’uran we are going to need to do this together.

By joining the historical and textural truths of our separate traditions – and by praying together, we unearth a deeper, common truth that has the capacity to transform the world.

We need to keep doing this together. We need to keep doing this together in order to pursue the truths that bind us together. And we need to do this together in order to resist the many forces at work that want to keep us apart. When tragedy strikes, people gather  to help, to offer hope and to pray – but for many others, fear kicks in. Whenever tragedy happens, there is an outpouring of compassion, but there are also lightning bolts of fear that just won’t stop – which means that the thunder of religious extremism is not far behind.

Religious extremism is marked by the  combination of theological certainty and self-righteousness – and the unshakable conviction that God is on one’s side. It is  dangerous because religious extremists have organized their lives and thinking in such a way that they cannot be wrong. Virtually every major religion in the world – and the three Abrahamic faiths in particular – have had more than their share of religious extremists who have each waged what they consider to be holy war.

But there is nothing holy about it. It is a war of fear. The fear is baked into an ideology and then served hot – hot with anger, certainty and self righteousness.

Religious extremists claim the lie – yes the lie – that God is on their side, when the only side that God has ever been on is God’s side.

Our common work, our common prayer, our common hope – broadens our horizons, exposes us to new dimensions of the abundance of God. The world needs our ongoing interfaith witness. And so we need to keep making it by praying together, working together and blessing one another as we do so. We need to continue to probe the wisdom of our individual traditions, and then hold up and proclaim the many truths that we all share.

It may be hard work – but it is holy work.

Our common work, our common prayer, our common hope – has the capacity to make things new.

May it be so.

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