Interfaith Philadelphia is sponsoring a year of civil conversations in association with Krista Tippett’s radio show called On Being. I have experienced five years of civil conversations, let me explain. Interfaith Philadelphia sponsors the Religious Leaders Council of Great Philadelphia (RLC) which consists of over 30 senior leaders or representatives from various faith traditions. As the senior ecclesiastical leader for the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Philadelphia area, I have been a member of the RLC for the past five years. We meet three times a year and have enjoyed many civil conversations. We bring our unique beliefs from our faith traditions and work effectively on common ground concerns and issues in our communities and congregations.
Krista Tippett interviewed Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks in an episode of On Being that aired on Nov. 11, 2011. Sacks was Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth for 22 years. The title of the broadcast was ‘The Dignity of Difference.’ Sacks said, “And one of the ways God surprises us is by letting a Jew or a Christian discover the trace of God’s presence in a Buddhist monk or a Sikh tradition of hospitality or the graciousness of Hindu life.”
I experienced this one day during a RLC meeting. We don’t normally talk about our different religious doctrines but on occasion we do. I remember one meeting, we divided into small groups to discuss the way we pray and how we worship God. And although each of us had our unique way of worshiping and communicating with God, I learned something profound from each person that helped me improve my personal worship.
In my faith tradition, we believe that we all lived in a pre-earth existence as spirit children of heavenly parents so we are literally all spiritual brothers and sisters, part of God’s eternal family. So, God created diversity for our benefit, learning, and growth.
Sacks concluded the interview with this statement, “I think God is setting us a big challenge, a really big challenge. We are living so close to difference with such powers of destruction that He’s really giving us very little choice. To quote from W.H. Auden, ‘We must love one another or die.’ And that is where we’re at, at the beginning of the 21st century. And since we can love one another, I have a great deal of hope.”
As we live with God given diversity, we need to view each other as literal brothers and sisters, part of one great family. We need to understand one another, so we can learn and grow from each other. Taking part in civil conversations has the power to not only help us understand our differences, but to make us better people, and ultimately, learn to love all of our brothers and sisters.