Raised a lifelong Unitarian Universalist (UU), save for a brief venture in to Catholicism during my middle school years, I’ve found a sense of comfort and excitement in the notion that even my peers with whom I share both identity and place of worship may, and likely do, have a set of personal beliefs vastly different than mine. Our UU congregations are guided by seven principles, the third and fourth of which state that we will affirm and promote “Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations,” and “A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” It follows, then, that we attract a lot of people who themselves identify as a member of two or more faith groups; I’ve met Christian UUs, Hindu UUs, Pagan UUs, Jewish UUs, Wiccan UUs, and others with a wide range of personal dogmas. In such a diverse group, we have to understand our own and others’ theological history to maintain a beloved community that is accepting but always ready for vigorous discussion and exploration of ideas.
Since my congregation is lay-led, we are particularly likely to hear an interfaith message on Sunday mornings; each service is led by a member of our congregation, and features a guest speaker from our local community. More often than not, our guest speaker isn’t hirself a Unitarian Universalist. Even when hir presentation is not theological in nature, hir own perception of what happens at a church service colors hir talk. Sometimes it is frustrating not to have a distinct spiritual leader who serves only our congregational community’s needs, but more often than not I am thankful for the eclectic manner in which we worship. The fact that any number of us in attendance could completely disagree with our speaker makes for a more engaged and open discussion within our community.
What really sparked my interest in interfaith activism, though, was my commitment to social justice. Last summer, I attended a youth leadership training led by my church’s regional council. While I left energized and inspired to go out and do good in the world, I lacked really any idea of what I wanted to do. Thankfully my congregation pointed me in the right direction; our local interfaith alliance was beginning to plan its annual CROP walk, a sponsored march through our town and rally to raise funds for global and local hunger organizations. Although interfaith worship and understanding had always been a part of my religious experience, I had never really thought of it as such until then; working together despite difference of belief and opinion was, for me, just part of being Unitarian. Yet, through working on interfaith social justice projects, I found my way to people I would have never imagined could have lived in my town.
I was the only youth on the planning committee for CROP Walk, I had trouble finding the church where the first meeting was to be held (too many Christian churches in my town are referred to almost exclusively by acronyms containing series of C’s), and I didn’t really know what I was doing. But by the time the event itself rolled around, I knew I was in the right place. I ended up walking the three miles with a school friend who was part of the group from my town’s mosque, and we talked constantly the entire way.
Now, I try to approach my political and social justice activism from an interfaith viewpoint. Living in a state capital, I have ample opportunities to canvass, rally, and volunteer my way to some semblance of political influence, even though I’m not yet old enough to vote. It seems to me that all too often, policies which in reality limit religious liberty are sold to the populous on the grounds of “freedom of religion” and voted or signed in to law without much more thought. In a state where, according to the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey, only 3% of the population is a part of a religion other than Christianity (fourteen percent identify as Nones and five percent refused to answer the survey), campaign rhetoric often focuses on which candidate is a “better” Christian, and doesn’t say much about policy.
I would like to continue exploring the intersections of politics, gender, religion, and culture through an interfaith lens. Interfaith, as I’ve learned, can bring us together without homogenizing our differences and unique perspectives. Ultimately, the more we understand of each other, the stronger we will become.