This past Sunday, I had the great honor of representing Christian Theological Seminary at the Indianapolis Festival of Faiths. The Festival of Faiths is one of my favorite events of the year. Attendees encounter people from many different faiths and sects or denominations inside of those faiths. This year, the people of Indianapolis could hear music from a gospel choir, Buddhist monks, or Mormon youth, just to name a few. Festival-goers could see demonstrations of weddings in three different faith traditions. It gave me great joy to see my city coming together to embrace each other in our diversity, thus encouraging authentic displays of our faiths.
What troubles me, though, is that this celebration only takes place once a year. We make a special space (through great effort and work on the part of the people at the Center for Interfaith Cooperation) but only find a way to engage each other once a year.
What if the experience of the Festival of Faiths was commonplace in daily life? What if we made a practice of visiting each other’s places of worship? What if we made a practice of supporting and encouraging our neighbors of different faiths to authentically and publicly act out their faith? I think our city would be enriched.
However, too often when religious others act out their faiths in public displays, they are asked to kindly refrain from doing so, and sometimes asked in a not so kind way. Muslims are asked to not practice aspects of daily prayers or wear hijab. Sikhs are asked not to wear turbans. Pagans are asked to “tone down” their festivals. Really, anytime we feel inconvenienced or threatened by the religious other, we attempt to silence their voice.
This must stop. We must make more space for authentic religious interaction, more than once a year. We have incredible gifts to offer each other. Our rich traditions do not need to be practiced in isolation.
In the public sphere, we can choose one of two paths. There is a path of religious neutralism, in which we seek to discourage all from displaying or even discussing faith in hopes that we might simply ignore and pretend our conflicts don’t exist. This is a poor way of dealing with our conflicts and solves very little; tensions are simply kept under the surface until something bubbles over and creates destruction. It does, however, keep everyone from enjoying the religious and cultural richness that flows from our faith practices. The other path is one of religious richness. The path of religious richness is what we get a glimpse of at events like the Festival of Faiths. It creates a rich society that creates space for faiths to be distinct and non-threatening to the existence of the other, a place where a gospel choir sings while, across the park, a Sikh wedding takes place. Somewhere in-between, members of all different faiths gather to discuss solutions to issues like global warming, racial injustice, and violence.
I hope we find ways to encourage and embrace the religious other and their beautiful demonstrations of faith.
Photo Credit: David Barickman
As a note, this is not a judgment on those doing the hard work of interfaith organizing in Indianapolis but a hope that the rest of us may more earnestly join them in their great labors for this city.