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On Faith: Making a salad out of our different faiths

April 27, 2012|By Tom Thorkelson

During a two-year period sometime ago, while I presided over the National Conference of Christians and Jews (NCCJ), we worked to establish "Interfaith Councils." To the best of our ability, these included all the faiths in this diverse environment where we live. We now have 11 Interfaith Councils in Orange County, which include every faith from Baha'i to Zoroastrianism.

For example, the mission statement of the Interfaith Council of South Orange County states: "We are representatives of diverse faith communities and friends gathered for the purpose of promoting respect, tolerance and understanding for the beliefs, cultures and traditions of all religious faiths through interfaith dialogue, education, service and activities."

Our other councils have similar mission statements.

I have heard people describe the interfaith concept like a stew. We have carrots, celery, tomatoes, onions, and meat that, when cooked together, provide nourishment and good taste. I prefer to think of it as a salad, where every ingredient retains its own identity, and yet, together provides a unique taste and is also healthy and good for the body.

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Sometimes people use the word ecumenism to represent interfaith. While the dictionary definition is "a movement or tendency toward worldwide Christian unity or cooperation," that implies to some it is a compromise of doctrines or beliefs to ultimately make it possible to unite.

We have seen this happen successfully and to the benefit of their membership in a number of faith communities. It also restricts "unity" to being between Christian faiths. For that reason, I prefer the use of the term "interfaith" to represent the desire to work together without the goal of converting someone from their faith to yours.

Recently, I shared my feelings about the subject of "toleration." While "tolerance" is a positive term, I prefer to use the word "respect." My goal in the interfaith community is to encourage everyone to respect the people of all faiths, even though we may differ from them theologically.

I also have the goal of helping all of us understand each other's respective beliefs and teachings from their perspective. Frankly, I want more than just to be tolerated.

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