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Inter-Faith, What is it?- Carl Carmichael

In referring to the book “Interfaith Leadership: A Primer”, by Eboo Patel, he breaks Interfaith into two parts, “Inter” and “Faith”, with definitions for both. “Inter” is “Who am I? Who are you? How do we relate to each other?” “Faith” is diversity as expressed by differing religious groups or faith communities. These questions are common, but they are experienced in different ways, depending on your particular point of view. “Inter” refers to intergroup relations as expressed by a particular belief system, and the Aspen Institute’s Eric Motley defines faith as “timeless values” and we look at faith as “collective wisdom shaped by our biblical understanding of history and human nature, the themes of love, faith, hope and forgiveness were the cornerstones of our collective journey, reminding us that love and forgiveness is the law of life”. While this is a Christian view, it can be easily rearranged to suit nearly all religions and faith communities. Motley quotes from the noted theologian Reinhold Niebuhr “we must be saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness”. Since becoming the Wyoming Interfaith Network, I have learned that while we as members have and stand for many different belief systems, there are within our different faith communities many commonalities which lead us to come together as one organization, where we share certain communal thoughts and beliefs which bring us together to form one universal society based on our mutual beliefs and spirituality. Peter Berger’s key insight that “modernity pluralizes, a dynamic that makes the inner lives of individuals highly complex because it shifts identity from fate to choice. Pluralization not only has implications for the identities of individuals and communities, but also makes relations between them a highly salient feature of the modern world”. Diversity and pluralization lead to understanding and knowledge of other different faith communities, and is the bridge between religious differences. Diana Eck draws the difference between diversity and pluralism in the following way “diversity is simply the fact of people with different identities in intense interaction; pluralism is the achievement of understanding and cooperation”. There are a variety of ways of engaging religious diversity positively. Robert Putnam says “one is to bring people from different backgrounds together toward common goals, another is to bridge the social capital between religious groups” by forming “networks of engagement”, associations that involve people from differing faith communities. Now on to Barriers, Bunkers, Bludgeons and Bridges. As Patel defines them, “Barriers are built by people who are interested in proudly proclaiming the righteousness of their identity and loudly denouncing other identities. Bunkers are people who want to seal themselves off from a world of diversity, they believe their path is the right and only one. Bludgeons are those who are violently antagonistic toward people who are different, they are self-righteous about their own superiority. And finally, Bridges seek to build bridges of understanding and cooperation. They experience various levels of frustration, opposition and success.” Patel goes on to say “bridge builders show respect for the particular ethics in each faith tradition, highlights the relationship building that will take place while applying these ethics, and lifts up how their cooperation strengthens and celebrates the core narrative of diverse, pluralistic groups working together”. All this highlights the mantra of the Interfaith Network: Be Bold, Fear Not, Build Bridges, Do Justice. The Network is already busy with these words, but Build Bridges, as is noted above, is now a vital part of WIN’ s values. The Wyoming Interfaith Network has been busy building pluralistic bridges of understanding between diverse faith communities, with great success. We have brought a variety of faith communities together in common understanding and acceptance of each community’s varied faiths, finding agreement and cooperation within each faith community, looking past our differences and coming together with our similarities, to the benefit of all our disparate viewpoints. Our united efforts are a positive and rewarding reflection of just how different faith communities can work and function together, regardless of our differences. The Interfaith Network embodies the words of our mantra, and pledges to continue to work for and live out those words of wisdom and encouragement. Carl R. Carmichael, Chair of the Board

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