Members of the Quad Cities Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom chapter volunteer at the River Bend Foodbank in Davenport, Iowa, as part of the National Sadaqa-Tzedakah Day in December 2017. Photo courtesy of Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom

Salaam Shalom: Muslim and Jewish women start a movement to thwart religious bigotry

(RNS) — When my friend Atiya Aftab and I started the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom in 2010, we could never have envisioned the need for, or the exponential growth of, what began as a dozen women in New Jersey.

The Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom is the only national group of Muslim and Jewish women in the United States committed to building trust and respect through the development of relationships with one another.

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The women join SOSS as strangers, develop into friends and evolve into sisters. They commit to protecting one another and standing up for each other’s communities. SOSS grew from our group of a dozen women in 2010 to thousands of women in communities large and small across the United States and Canada.

Exponential growth has turned it into a movement: from just 25 chapters in spring 2016 to nearly 120 chapters (with another 30 in the start-up phase) now. In the year ahead, following a successful pilot of five teen chapters, SOSS will expand the number of teen chapters and will develop professional affinity groups, as well.

Women participate in the fourth annual Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom women’s leadership conference at Drew University in Madison, N.J., on Nov. 5, 2017. Photo courtesy of Judit German-Heins


 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

When SOSS began some years prior to the last national election, there was no way to envision the magnitude of anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish sentiment that surrounds us.

The rise in religious bigotry in the United States is also troubling to confront because of the perception that Jews and Muslims are very different from one another and just don’t get along. My experience over the past seven years shows this couldn’t be further from the truth.

The so-called “Trump effect” has brought Muslim and Jewish communities together in new ways.

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We shudder at the demonstrable increase in anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim acts of hate since the Trump election. But the commonalities do not stop there. There are positive aspects to the Trump effect: a rapid growth in people who are rising up against such hate in our midst, who refuse to allow those who would destroy the very foundation of this country to be the only voices heard. This is the new commonality shared between Muslims and Jews today. The common purpose to join together has never been stronger.

Members of the Westchester Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom chapter pose during the National Sadaqa-Tzedakah Day in December 2017. Photo courtesy of Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom

Beginning as a desire among small groups of women to enter into dialogue and get to know one another, our movement has out of necessity taken on an activist focus.

The neglect by the current administration to take action to stop the cycle of hate has forced SOSS members into advocacy. In the past year, members of SOSS have convened a national Unity Vigil to peacefully protest the ban on travel from certain majority Muslim countries. They have repaired desecrated synagogues and mosques, joined anti-hate rallies, educated the public against hate with a social media campaign, written letters to school boards and public officials, and traveled to places where some people had never met Jews or Muslims — and certainly not together.

Last month, SOSS convened its fourth annual women’s leadership conference at Drew University in Madison, N.J. While 100 women attended the first national conference in 2014, registration had to be closed at 650 this year. It was believed to be the largest gathering of Muslim and Jewish women ever in the United States. The theme, “Rising Up Against Hate,” gave attendees the skills, confidence and a support network to respond to hate incidents when they returned home.

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Critics have challenged SOSS to demonstrate that it can change attitudes. A recent study conducted by Civil Politics, a team of university-based researchers, indicated that four out of five women who join become more dedicated to speaking out against hate and also more committed to protecting the stranger. The study also found that nine out of 10 members are proud to tell others about their experience.

Even as our movement of just a dozen women has grown into thousands, our message is still the same: We are stronger when we come together as women, as activists for religious tolerance, and as Americans to build the country we all want to see.

Members of the Capital District Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom chapter pose during the National Sadaqa-Tzedakah Day in December 2017. Photo courtesy of Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom


 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

(Sheryl Olitzky is the co-founder and executive director of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom. The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

Comments

  1. And now for the nitty-gritty:

    What instigated the attack on the Twin Towers, Flight 93 and the Pentagon?

    And what drives today’s 24/7 mosque/imam-planned acts of terror and horror?

    The koran, Mohammed’s book of death for all infidels and Muslim domination of the world by any means.

    Muslims must clean up this book removing said passages admitting that they are based on the Gabriel myth and therefore obviously the hallucinations and/or lies of Mohammed.

    Then we can talk about the
    safety and location of mosques or women’s groups and what is taught therein.

    Until then, no Muslim can be trusted anytime or anywhere…………………………….

    And the OT :

    list of the Jewish god’s approved atrocities:

    •Exodus 32: 3,000 Israelites killed by Moses for worshipping the golden calf.

    •Numbers 31: After killing all men, boys and married women among the
    Midianites, 32,000 virgins remain as booty for the Israelites. (If unmarried
    girls are a quarter of the population, then 96,000 people were killed.)

    •Joshua: ◦
    Joshua 8: 12,000 men and women, all the people of Ai, killed.

    ◦Joshua 10: Joshua completely destroys Gibeon (“larger than Ai”),
    Makeddah, Libnah, Lachish, Eglon, Hebron, Debir. “He left no
    survivors.”

    ◦Joshua 11: Hazor destroyed. [Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews (1987),
    estimates the population of Hazor at ?> 50,000]

    ◦TOTAL: if Ai is average, 12,000 x 9 = 108,000 killed.

    •Judges 1: 10,000 Canaanites k. at Battle of Bezek. Jerusalem and Zephath
    destroyed.

    •Judges 3: ca. 10,000 Moabites k. at Jordan River.

    •Judges 8: 120,000 Midianite soldiers k. by Gideon

    •Judges 20: Benjamin attacked by other tribes. 25,000 killed.

    •1 Samuel 4: 4,000 Isrealites killed at 1st Battle of Ebenezer/Aphek. 30,000
    Isr. k. at 2nd battle.

    •David: ◦2 Samuel 8: 22,000 Arameans of
    Damascus and 18,000 Edomites killed in 2 battles.

    ◦2 Samuel 10: 40,000 Aramean footsoldiers and 7,000 charioteers killed at
    Helam.

    ◦2 Samuel 18: 20,000 Israelites under Absalom killed at Ephraim.

    •1 Kings 20: 100,000 Arameans killed by Israelites at Battle of Aphek. Another
    27,000 killed by collapsing wall.

    •2 Chron 13: Judah beat Israel and inflicted 500,000 casualties.

    •2 Chron 25: Amaziah, king of Judah, k. 10,000 from Seir in battle and executed
    10,000 POWs. Discharged Judean soldiers pillaged and killed 3,000.

    •2 Chron 28: Pekah, king of Israel, slew 120,000 Judeans

    •TOTAL: That comes to about 1,283,000 mass killings specifically enumerated in
    the Old Testament/Torah. (a rather large number considering the population of the earth at that time)

    The New Testament has only one major atrocity, that of god committing filicide
    assuming you believe in this Christian mumbo jumbo. Said atrocity should be
    enough to vitiate all of Christianity.

  2. No one suffers more under Islamism than everyday good Muslims who are just trying to feed their families and make a life. No intellectually rational person would want to leave a liberal democracy and go back to living under religious laws and punishments as described in ancient texts. Having said that, I would not give up my good Muslim neighbors for anything.

  3. Quran (9:30) – “And the Jews say: Ezra is the son of Allah; and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah; these are the words of their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved before; may Allah destroy them; how they are turned away!”

    Quran (3:56) – “As to those who reject faith, I will punish them with terrible agony in this world and in the Hereafter, nor will they have anyone to help.”

    Quran (4:89) – “They but wish that ye should reject Faith, as they do, and thus be on the same footing (as they): But take not friends from their ranks until they flee in the way of Allah (From what is forbidden). But if they turn renegades, seize them and slay them wherever ye find them; and (in any case) take no friends or helpers from their ranks.”

    How long until their imam push for the Jewish women’s harm?

  4. And one solution:

    The Five Steps To Deprogram 1400 Years of Islamic
    Myths:

    ( –The Steps take less than two minutes to finish- simply amazing, two minutes to bring peace and rationality to over one billion lost souls- Priceless!!!)

    Are you ready?

    Using “The 77 Branches of Islamic “faith” a collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the essential virtues that reflect true “faith” (iman) through related
    Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings.” i.e. a nice summary of the Koran
    and Islamic beliefs.

    The First Five of the 77 Branches:

    “1. Belief in Allah”

    aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah, Mother Nature,
    etc. should be added to your self-cleansing neurons.

    “2. To believe that everything other than Allah
    was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these things and
    subsequently they came into existence.”

    Evolution and the Big Bang or the “Gib Gnab” (when the universe starts to recycle) are more plausible and the “akas” for Allah should be included if you continue to be a
    “creationist”.

    “3. To believe in the existence of
    angels.”

    A major item for neuron cleansing. Angels/devils
    are the mythical creations of ancient civilizations, e.g. Hittites, to
    explain/define natural events, contacts with their gods, big birds, sudden
    winds, protectors during the dark nights, etc. No “pretty/ugly wingy
    thingies” ever visited or talked to Mohammed, Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe
    Smith. Today we would classify angels as fairies and “tinker
    bells”. Modern devils are classified as the demons of the de-mented.

    “4. To believe that all the heavenly books that were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran, all other books are not valid anymore.”

    Another major item to delete. There are no books written in the spirit state of Heaven (if there is one) just as there are no angels to write/publish/distribute them. The Koran, OT, NT etc. are simply books written by humans for humans.

    Prophets were invented by ancient scribes typically to keep the uneducated masses in line. Today we call them fortune tellers.

    Prophecies are also invalidated by the natural/God/Allah gifts of Free Will and Future.

    “5. To believe that all the prophets are true. However, we are commanded to follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) alone.”

    Mohammed spent thirty days “fasting” (the Ramadan legend) in a hot cave before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via a “pretty wingy thingy”. Common sense demands a neuron deletion
    of #5. #5 is also the major source of Islamic vi-olence i.e. turning Mohammed’s
    “fast, hunger-driven” hallucinations into horrible reality for unbelievers.

    Walk these Five Steps and we guarantee a complete recovery from your Islamic ways!!!!

    Unfortunately, there are not many Muslim commentators/readers on this blog
    so the “two-minute” cure is not getting to those who need it. If you
    have a Muslim friend, send him a copy and help save the world.

    Analogous stepsare available at your request for deprogramming the myths of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Paganism..

  5. It’s all so SOCIALLY beautiful, this. POLITICALLY, even.

    Not sure, though, how RELIGIOUSLY practical all this is, such that, for instance – THINK ABOUT IT –

    (1) “Members of the Essex County chapter of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom recently joined members of Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in South Orange for a multi-generational Shabbat service.” (Cf. Eric Kiefer, “Essex County Muslim-Jewish Sisterhood Pray In Unity: The weekend service in South Orange, which fell during Hanukkah, was dedicated to ‘building bridges of understanding and unity'”, South Orange Patch, January 1, 2018.)

    (2) “‘Another faith entered the picture with open arms’ … A tenet of Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom is creating [such] one-on-one connections. … ‘When I got to know them one-by-one, I discovered they are just like me. They have the same concerns about their children and their aging parents; we both have traditions that are important.'” (Cf. Robert Wiener, “Jewish, Muslim women attend Chatham prayer vigil: Salaam Shalom ‘sisters’ vow to reject enmity, stand in unity”, New Jersey Jewish News, February 23, 2017.)

    (3) “In an East Brunswick sukka, a group of women and their families gathered to enjoy each other’s company and a delicious kosher meal, and to watch a traditional shaking and blessing of the lulav and etrog. … Sisterhood of Salaam/Shalom … the group of Muslim and Jewish women in southern Middlesex County … over the last four years the women have jointly celebrated Iftar, the evening meals that end the daily fast of Ramadan, and brit mila ceremonies for Jewish newborns.” (Cf. Debra Rubin, “Muslim, Jewish women celebrate Sukkot”, New Jersey Jewish News, October 8, 2013.)

  6. The inter-faith meeting that is described in this article is unsatisfying. The meeting is not taking place at a level where substantive, and painful issues will be discussed. If dialog is meant as an antidote to war, then dialog must necessarily talk about painful issues–issues that cause visceral reactions in the discussants. And that is precisely what is not happening in the inter-faith meeting that is described above.

  7. It doesn’t seem like a religious conflict to me. Members of a Reform synagogue like Sharey Tefilo-Israel would not likely have any problem with an interfaith service. And there is no prohibition I know of to inviting non-Jews to your sukkah or brit milah.

  8. The women pictured in the photographs certainly seem to have had a satisfying time.

  9. Why aren’t you saying that no Jew can be trusted anytime or anywhere? Or dismissing the safety of synagogues due to what is contained in the Torah?

  10. How long until Christians stop sheltering abusers and charlatans while ignoring the victims of their abhorrent, often illegal behavior? Too many victims of Christianity have been silenced for far too long.

  11. These women are taking risks for peace and for that they should be applauded. They are not beholden to any millennium+ old text.

  12. I don’t remember references to Christians in the article Navy.

  13. Yet you, a self professed Christian, saw fit to cherry pick verses from the Quran to support you xenophobia.

  14. “Truly those who keep the faith, and the Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabaeans — whoever believes in God and the Last Day and performs virtuous deeds — surely their reward is with their Lord, and no fear shall come upon them, neither shall they grieve.” (2:62)

  15. thanks Navy. And you a self professed what ever, saw fit to follow me around today and cherry pick points from articles to support your
    Christophobia.

  16. They have the rare gem or two like other “click bait” sites. Just takes some extra time to read in context.

  17. No phobia, just pushing back against American made religion backed fascism.

  18. What does that mean? You cited texts, not history. You said that both the Quran and the Old Testament demanded, encouraged or documented atrocities. Why are you condemning Muslims on the basis of their texts, but not Jews?

  19. Our War on Terror and Aggression:

    An update (or how we are spending or how we have spent the USA taxpayers’ money to eliminate global terror and aggression)

    The terror and aggression via a Partial and Recent and Not So Recent Body Count

    As the koranic/mosque driven acts of terror and horror continue:

    The Muslim Conquest of India – 11th to 18th century

    ■”The likely death toll is somewhere between 2 million and 80 million. The geometric mean of those two limits is 12.7 million. ”

    and the 19 million killed in the Mideast Slave Trade 7C-19C by Muslims.

    and more recently

    1a) 179 killed in Mumbai/Bombay, 290 injured

    1b) Assassination of Benazir Bhutto and Theo Van Gogh

    2) 9/11, 3000 mostly US citizens, 1000’s injured

    3) The 24/7 Sunni-Shiite centuries-old blood feud currently being carried out in Iraq, US troops killed in action,  and 928 in non combat roles. Iraqi civilians killed as of 05/10/2013/, 113,249-123,978 mostly due to suicide bombers, land mines and bombs of various types, http://www.iraqbodycount.org/ and http://www.defenselink.mil/news/casualty.pdf

    4) Kenya- In Nairobi, about 212 people were killed and an estimated 4000 injured; in Dar es Salaam, the attack killed at least 11 and wounded 85.[2]

    5) Bali-in 2002-killing 202 people, 164 of whom were foreign nationals, and 38 Indonesian citizens. A further 209 people were injured.

    6) Bali in 2005- Twenty people were killed, and 129 people were injured by three bombers who killed themselves in the attacks.

    7) Spain in 2004- killing 191 people and wounding 2,050.

    8. UK in 2005- The bombings killed 52 commuters and the four radical Islamic suicide bombers, injured 700.

    9) The execution of an eloping couple in Afghanistan on 04/15/2009 by the Taliban.

    10) – Afghanistan: US troops  killed in action,  killed in non-combat situations as of 09/15/2011. Over 40,000 Afghan civilians killed due to the dark-age, koranic-driven Taliban acts of horror

    11) The killing of 13 citizen soldiers at Ft. Hood by a follower of the koran.

    12) 38 Russian citizens killed on March 29, 2010 by Muslim women suicide bombers.

    13) The May 28, 2010 attack on a Islamic religious minority in Pakistan, which have left 98 dead,

    14) Lockerbie is known internationally as the site where, on 21 December 1988, the wreckage of Pan Am Flight 103 crashed as a result of a terrorist bomb. In the United Kingdom the event is referred to as the Lockerbie disaster, the Lockerbie bombing, or simply Lockerbie. Eleven townspeople were killed in Sherwood Crescent, where the plane’s wings and fuel tanks plummeted in a fiery explosion, destroying several houses and leaving a huge crater, with debris causing damage to a number of buildings nearby. The 270 fatalities (259 on the plane, 11 in Lockerbie) were citizens of 21 nations.

    15 The daily suicide and/or roadside and/or mosque bombings in the terror world of Islam.

    16) Bombs sent from Yemen by followers of the koran which fortunately were discovered before the bombs were detonated.

    17) The killing of 58 Christians in a Catholic church in one of the latest acts of horror and terror in Iraq.

    18) Moscow airport suicide bombing: 35 dead, 130 injured. January 25, 2011.

    19) A Pakistani minister, who had said he was getting death threats because of his stance against the country’s controversial blasphemy law, was shot and killed Wednesday, 3/2/2011

    20) two American troops killed in Germany by a recently radicalized Muslim, 3/3/2011

    21) the kidnapping and apparent killing of a follower of Zoraster in the dark world of Islamic Pakistan.

    22) Shariatpur, Bangladesh (CNN 3/30/2011) — Hena Akhter’s last words to her mother proclaimed her innocence. But it was too late to save the 14-year-old girl. Her fellow villagers in Bangladesh’s Shariatpur district had already passed harsh judgment on her. Guilty, they said, of having an affair with a married man. The imam from the local mosque ordered the fatwa, or religious ruling, and the punishment: 101 lashes delivered swiftly, deliberately in public. Hena dropped after 70 and died a week later.

    23) “October 4, 2011, 100 die as a truck loaded with drums of fuel exploded Tuesday at the gate of compound housing several government ministries on a busy Mogadishu street. It was the deadliest single bombing carried out by the al Qaeda-linked al-Shabab group in Somalia since their insurgency began. ”

    o 24) Mon Jun 4, 2012 10:18am EDT
    o
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – A suicide bomber detonated an explosive-packed car outside a Shi’ite Muslim office in central Baghdad on Monday, killing at least 26 people and wounding more than 190 in an attack bearing the hallmarks of Iraq’s al Qaeda affiliate.
    The bombing on a Shi’ite religious office comes at a sensitive time, with the country’s fractious Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish blocs locked in a crisis that threatens to unravel their power-sharing deal and spill into sectarian tensions.”

    25) BURGAS, Bulgaria | Thu Jul 19, 2012 11:27am EDT

    (Reuters) – A suicide bomber carried out an attack that killed seven people in a bus transporting Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, the interior minister said on Thursday, and Israel said Iranian-backed Hezbollah militants were to blame.

    26 ) September 12, 2012
    U.S. AMBASSADOR KILLED
    Envoy to Libya dies in rocket blast

    27) Boston Marathon horror – April 2013, four dead, hundreds injured and maimed for life.

    28) San Bernardino massacre, December 2015, 14 dead, 22 seriously hurt,

    29) Orlando Massacre- June 2016, 49 killed, hundreds injured by radical, koranic Muslim.

  20. Who’s right on this? Sabith Khan or Jerry Gordon?

    “I think inter-faith work between Jews and Muslims is possible. Not just in the U.S., but everywhere around the world. To see examples of this in action, one just needs to look around, to see the amazing work that several organizations are carrying out. But this enthusiasm should also be tempered with the awareness of sensitivities of who is setting the terms of dialogue, who is benefiting from it and what outcomes do we expect? Without this awareness, ‘dialogue’ becomes part of propaganda and PR – and that is not fruitful.”
    – Sabith Khan, “Is inter-faith work between Jews and Muslims possible?”, Mondoweiss, January 30, 2015.

    “Jewish interfaith dialogue with Muslims has moved beyond mere episodes to one of joint services and soon, joint sanctuaries. It is an insidious form of Da’wah (call to Islam) that some Jewish communal groups are dangerously courting, an act of self destruction undermining the future of the Jewish community in America. This dramatic shift is a reflection of a miscast liberal Jewish interpretation of Tikkun Olam – repairing the world. Miscast, because traditional Judaism views Tikkun Olam as the perfection of an exemplary life in the fulfillment the 613 mitzvoth, or good deeds. … Thus we find JCRCs [‘Jewish Community Relations Councils’], Jewish denominational seminary leaders showing up to break hallal bread with Muslim community leaders who are for the most part representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood. These Jewish community and religious leaders think nothing of attending annual meetings of MB groups like the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), CAIR, and urging their children to make common cause with Muslim Student Association (MSA) chapters in opposing counter-Jihad advocates on college and university campuses. We have found Hillel chapters supporting MSA college chapters, the later endeavoring to deny free speech to those critical of doctrinal Islam and its treatment of women, gays, apostates and unbelievers. There is ready acceptance of anti-Zionist and anti-Israel Jewish advocacy groups on local JCRC’s and even Jewish Federation Israel Action committees. Groups like Brit Tzedek v Shalom, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace, which is now integrated with J Street’s local chapters. As a result, Jewish communal organizations harbor Jewish advocates of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions in the self destructive attempt to force recognition of a Palestinian state. A Palestinian state seeking to occupy ‘the space between the river and the sea’ – Israel.”
    – Jerry Gordon, “Dialogue with Radical Muslims is Dangerous for American Jews”, New English Review, January 2012.

  21. I have been a member of the Jewish community my entire life. The idea that there’s a Muslim fifth column seeking to infiltrate Jewish organizations to make them anti-Zionist is not based in reality. The truth of what I’m saying is borne out by the fact that the only Jewish anti-Israel organizations are created from whole cloth by activists and are considered anathema by the wider community. Other than being pro-Israel, I belong to a pretty liberal house of worship. We’ve done these get-togethers with mosques. It is pretty much as the original article portrays.
    And I must ask, why is it that Christians seem opposed to this? Didn’t Jesus say blessed are the peacemakers? It seems to me that the same impulses that brand The Jews as blind to the alleged messiahship of Jesus make some Christians wrongly think Jews are incapable of understanding their own community’s needs. We are not blind, we are not being misled, we know what we’re doing, and we’re perfectly capable of making our own decisions.

  22. I hear you. But remember, I admit from the start that this endeavor is beautiful socially and politically. Maybe you’re admitting that, unlike to born-again Christians, that’s pretty much what remains of the rest of religions today. The religious essence is gone, almost atheistic, just traditions, rituals, going through the motions, etc. But you’re right; we can be accused of being non-“peacemakers”. We don’t like to co-mingle with other religionists even at a social and political level, by reason of our religious differences. You tell me, how can we be one socially and politically, yet schismatic religiously? It can be done if all those religious differences end up neutralized by these social/political get-togethers.

    I don’t know, man. Just thinking aloud.

  23. I don’t think you have to give up your religion to have interfaith work. Nor do I think that religions are solely a social and political endeavor. The key to it may be whether you see the encounters as challenging your position. There was a kerfuffle last year regarding a liberal Protestant seminary disinviting a conservative evangelical speaker due to his views on women and LGBT. But do you think they would have disinvited a Jewish speaker, simply because he denies the divinity of Jesus? I attended a talk at a Jewish seminary given by a Catholic archbishop on the discussions between Catholics and Jews leading up to and during the Second Vatican Council. Our religious differences are not neutralized if people don’t feel those differences are being threatened.

  24. Your comment pushes me for an update on the matter. Here’s a good one worth sharing with you:

    According to Joseph DeMott, “Religious Conservatives, ‘Nones,’ and Interfaith Dialogue”, University of Chicago Divinity School, Sightings, May 14, 2015:

    “The Aspen Institute just released a new study describing innovative strategies for bringing conservative Christians and ‘nones’ into the interfaith conversation. The report focuses on West Michigan, an area that has historically been a stronghold of conservative Christianity, but has recently seen a significant rise in religious diversity. The West Michigan experience has interesting and important implications for other communities, especially mid-sized cities in the Midwest and South. Here are some key takeaways:

    * When interfaith events are held in houses of worship, conservative congregations rarely participate and ‘nones’ rarely attend. To reach a larger, more ideologically and theologically diverse audience, interfaith leaders can partner with public institutions – e.g., museums, libraries, schools, theaters, and social clubs – and integrate interfaith content into their existing programming.

    * Some interfaith leaders advance the position that all religions are equally valid paths to the divine. This repels religious conservatives, who tend to have exclusive beliefs about the nature of God and the path to salvation, as well as atheists and agnostics, who have little theological common ground with theists. These groups are more likely to participate in dialogue that does not seek theological agreement, but rather mutual understanding and civility; or service projects that build a safer, stronger community.

    * Because many local newspapers are thinly staffed, they increasingly rely on community-contributed content. This gives interfaith leaders an opportunity to provide thought-provoking columns about tolerance and respect; diverse perspectives on faith; and news about interfaith events.

    * Evangelical Christian colleges are increasingly recognizing the importance of exposing their students to diverse cultures and viewpoints. Partnerships with evangelical Christian colleges appear to be an effective way for interfaith leaders to inspire dialogue between conservative Christians, religious minorities, and the nonreligious.”

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