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Hope, Peace, and Understanding: The Importance of Interfaith Dialogue – Br. Mark Brown

Graffiti found in an alley of the old city of Jerusalem – “We need peace.”

Graffiti found in an alley of the old city of Jerusalem – “We need peace.”

I’ve just had a meeting with a group of people interested in forming a Boston area chapter of Kids4Peace. Kids4Peace (K4P) is an organization that began a few years ago in Israel/Palestine at St. George’s College in Jerusalem. SSJE’s work with St. George’s as chaplains for many courses brought us into contact with the K4P program and its founder, Dr. Henry Carse

K4P is a fascinating undertaking. Kids from Jerusalem 10-12 years of age representing the three Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam gather regularly for activities and conversations designed to foster better understanding and genuine mutual regard. In the summer, the Jerusalem kids come to America for camp experiences with kids of the same age. As a promotional brochure puts it: “By celebrating the differences and similarities between their cultures and faith traditions, these children are taking a step toward global understanding and peace.”

Palestinian boys playing in the streets of Jerusalem.

Palestinian boys playing in the streets of Jerusalem.

Why get involved in interfaith endeavors? In addition to being much in favor of “global understanding and peace” I’m also just naturally curious about the world’s peoples and cultures and religions. Some readers will know of some of my previous interfaith work. A few years ago I used a six week leave to interview people from different faith traditions in New York City who maintained some kind of regular practice of prayer. I’ve also been involved in the Massachusetts Council of Churches’ Christian-Jewish and Christian-Muslim Dialog groups. I am a member of the Advisory Board of the Center for the Study of Jewish-Christian-Muslim Relations at Merrimack College and have been a presenter for a panel discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Although I feel ever more deeply Christian in my own self understanding, I am fascinated by the increasingly pluralistic landscape of our country and our world, especially its religious dimensions. With information technology and ease of transportation in this age of globalization making cultural and religious isolation a thing of the past, there is a growing need for mutual respect and understanding. The misunderstandings and mistrust of the past, too often fostered by Christians, have become too dangerous to sustain.

Since Christians in this country enjoy the advantage of numbers and a great power differential, we do well to assume greater responsibility for encouraging the conversations and activities that lead to greater understanding. This is a concrete way that we Episcopalians can live out our baptismal vows to “seek and serve Christ in all persons”.

Palestinian girls enter the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem on their way to school.

Palestinian girls enter the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem on their way to school.

The challenge to us in our own thinking is to somehow embrace the possibility that we can claim our own identities and live more fully and confidently into our own identities without denying the authenticity of other identities, other understandings, other faiths. The challenge to us is to be who we are, to be who we feel God is calling us to be, while granting the same right to others, even when they respond to this call in other ways. We need to let go of the presumption that we can remake others in our own image or according to our own preferences. We need to somehow seek the fullness of truth and at the same time recognize that our own particular purchase on Truth is limited.

If the natural world is any clue to how God envisions the fullness of our humanity (and I believe it is), we should expect a high level of “biodiversity” in a healthy humanity. It is precisely the variety of life forms that contribute to healthy ecosystems—and yet all life is bound together by the same underlying natural processes and forces. It is precisely the variety of our individualities that contribute to a healthy human family.

“It takes all kinds to make a world”. “Vive la difference!” Colossal clichés, but true.

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