Diversity Requires A Transformation
Rector Chris Girata's latest article in the Katy Trail Weekly
Diversity is a topic that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. In my experience, most people are happy to be politically correct and say that diversity is a good thing, but when we are face-to-face with a person who is very different than us, we’re often unsure what to say or do. Being tolerant of differences is a good place to start, but tolerance is not acceptance. On the flip side, trying to water-down our differences and live to the lowest common denominator isn’t helpful either. Differences are real and they can make life beautifully rich, but only when we seek genuine understanding.
Just over a week ago, I participated in an interfaith panel. This panel, the second in a series at Saint Michael and All Angels Church, featured three representatives from the Abrahamic traditions: Judaism, Christianity (me) and Islam. Last year, we did this panel on a whim, thinking it was a good idea, and we were overwhelmed with interest (to date, last year’s panel has been viewed more than 1.5 million times online). This year, the conversation continued, delving deeper into our traditions.
I mention the panel not because the panel itself is exceptional (although, I think it’s pretty good and you should go watch it), but because of the way in which each of us on the panel approached the topics. Each one of us came to the panel very confident in who we were and in the faith tradition we follow. None of us were interested in dumbing-down our traditions for a kumbaya moment. We wanted to be solid representatives of the faith we held so that we could understand each other better, and in that understanding, actually move toward respect and love.
Love is not unique to Christianity. The call to love and respect others is inherent in every major world religion. The problem comes when leaders pervert the essence of a faith tradition into something ugly in order to get people to do what they want. Without fail, whenever a leader uses religion to motivate a large group of people to hurt or exclude another group, that leader is seeking to protect or consolidate their power. Far too often, religion is used to hurt, not love, and when that happens, more people become disinterested in faith in general and that’s a big problem.
Our American culture has gradually been moving farther and farther from religiosity. Fewer people than ever in our history say they don’t believe God is real. I’ve been in churches my entire life and believe me when I say that I completely sympathize with walking away from faith communities. The great irony is that it’s our churches where people too often experience the greatest judgment and the least amount of love. Humanity is imperfect, every faith group believes that, but that imperfection is often magnified at church.
Yet one critical idea has been missed: the church is not God. God is good all the time and God’s love for each one of us is constant. And that’s critical to know because we need that love desperately. We are made to love and be loved by one another, and when done right, that love is shared best in communities of faith.
If we stop for just a moment (take a moment now) and consider the ugliness in the world around us, how can we not think two things are true: (1) humanity has an incredible capacity for hate and (2) we need that power of love to heal us. We seem more lost each day, and yet, I have great hope for our future because I know that buried inside all of us — and I mean every one of us — is the power to be transformed by love.
Our great faith traditions know the transformative power of love, and we are each given the opportunity to root our lives in that love that transcends the ugliness of our world. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be exploring transformative moments in these pages, and I hope they will inspire us all.
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