The Power of Many in ONE

Browsing the ONE Sabbath website, I found that a large part of mobilizing the faith communities in support of ONE’s agenda is showing them how crucial their role is on the global stage. This realization is also tied in with realizing that various faith communities have to come together and work as one (no pun intended) to effect positive global change. I have yet to see this type of faith in action on the ground level, but I can try and give my own insights into the value of this type of alliance.

Growing up, I was always aware of the existence of other religions. This was not because other religions were discussed at church, at home, or in school (I went to a secular private school). It was because I had friends who were Jewish. The only thing I knew that was different about me and my friend Jane was that her religion did not hold that Jesus Christ was the son of God. That was such a small difference to me then. For this reason, I honestly had a hard time understanding just why we had to distinguish our religions. As a child, it is obvious why I would try to promote similarities between myself and a friend because being different could be alienating. Yet there is something to be learned from my naïve, younger self. As an adult Christian (it is still scary that I consider myself an adult now!), I am more prone to point out the differences, rather than the similarities, between my religion and those of my friends. With a declared major in Religious Studies, the main focus of my study is delving into the various aspects of different religions and examining their differences. My question is: is it possible to recognize these differences and their value while alsoentertaining the naïve idea that my religion really isn’t all that different from another one? It sounds contradictory, which is why many people would answer:  “Absolutely not! Christianity is fundamentally different from Judaism (or Islam, or Hinduism, etc) so it is useless to highlight the similarities.” Miroslav Volf’s recent book Allah: A Christian Responseaddresses this question. He posits that not only do Christianity and Islam, commonly believed to be radically different religions, share a common God, but that this similarity is so valuable that it has the unique power of uniting the two faiths for a common purpose. He explains,

When Christians and Muslims turn from each other and look around,
they quickly realize that the problems they face together are bigger
than the problem they present to each other- abject poverty of millions,
scarcity of freshwater, irreparable degradation of the environment,
widespread disease, and more. Instead of merely facing each other to
quarrel or reconcile, can we stand shoulder to shoulder to tackle
together these grave ills of humanity? (213)

For Volf, the idea that Muslims and Christians share the same God means that they also share a responsibility to help solve worldwide problems. A common God implies a common idea of what it means to love. Volf explores various possibilities of what constitutes love and how Islam and Christianity, in particular, deal with love. He comes to the conclusion that there is a commonality between love in Islam and the type of neighborly love found in Christianity, the “love thy neighbor as thyself” type of love. Because of this common love, he believes “there is no reason why they should not join forces and care together” (213). This brings me back to ONE Sabbath and how it effects change by harnessing this very idea. If various faiths can rally around a common cause, then the differences between them seem to diminish. This is not to say that the differences between faiths don’t matter, because I certainly believe they do, and I think Volf would say they do as well. But they should not get in the way of a chance for faith communities to come together and use their power (and ultimately, voices) to effect change in the world. This is the kind of alliance that ONE depends on and it is the kind of manpower that is needed to advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves. Like I said, I don’t have experience on the ground about this kind of alliance. But I want to. This is why this past week I reached out to my local pastor to set up a conversation regarding my church’s potential involvement with ONE and collaboration with other faith communities. I want to take part in this kind of inter faith dialogue and I want to harness the energy that is available because I know it is there.

I think returning to my roots in my local congregation may be the largest step I have made so far in bridging the gap between Richard Stearns’ experience (which I mentioned in a previous blog post) and my own. I can’t wait to see where these next few weeks take me!