Managing Editor’s note: all Contributing Scholars begin writing by answering the following question as their first post: Why are you committed to building relationships with those from different religious or ethical traditions? Their answer to this question is below.
I was raised a Mennonite and as such I am committed to the Peacemaking legacy of my tradition. Yet, it is my belief that the pursuit of peace is in vain without seeking understanding. For this reason, I am committed to religious literacy and dialogue. For it is within our most deeply held beliefs that both the greatest source of conflict and the greatest opportunity for peace reside.
I have found that in working towards peace, on the interpersonal level, it is important to be both respectful and open to the different rationalities under which people operate. This was made all the more apparent to me during a roommate disagreement.
After a series of misunderstandings and petty actions had occurred among my housemates, one came to me in a state of exasperation. He felt like his relationship with another member of the house had spiraled out of control and was beyond resurrection. As I sat and listened to him voice his frustrations, I was thinking of advice that I could give him to smooth over the situation. It then occurred to me that he, a Baptist minister, would not require the same kind of advice that I may give myself.
Sharing living quarters with someone gives you the unique opportunity to be privy to his or her lifestyle. Because of this I knew how deeply my roommate valued his spiritual life. I heard him play his gospel music daily. He brought fellow church members over to our apartment regularly. He would frequently tune into religious programming. It was undeniable that his faith did something for him. As a roommate, counselor, and friend I knew that the best advice that I could give him would be of a religious nature. I needed to speak to him in his own language.
“Have you prayed about it?” I asked. His surprise at hearing this question was evident. “No,” he replied, “I hadn’t thought that.” Within minutes he had left and had gone to pray.
As a Mennonite, with more of a Unitarian Universalist theology, I would never have considered giving myself the advice to pray. Yet I believe this episode highlights the necessity of engaging with rationalities, religions, faiths and ways of being other than my own. By digging into difference, I begin to see how others experience the world; bringing these differences out of the dark unknown, and into a place of familiarity that cultivates empathy.
Mahatma Gandhi said that there are as many religions as there are people in the world, and while an attempt to understand every personal experience, every sense of justice and every deeply held believe may be unrealistic, I nevertheless believe that it is a noble and necessary effort. When we engage our beliefs with those of others, we initiate a dialogue that is necessary for building sustainable relationships and communicating across deep chasms of difference.
Simply put, I am committed to building relationships with those from different religious or ethical traditions because I am a peacemaker.