Different faiths look at ways of cooperation
The Daily Times-Call
LONGMONT - In stark contrast to the political and religious strife across the Middle East and other parts of the world, representatives from five of the Earth's major religions sat at a table Friday at LifeBridge Christian Church and talked about the similarities and ways they can work together for the common good.
Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Baha'i and Buddhist leaders spoke about the command in each of their religions to help the poor and needy and addressed ways they can work on it together. The five were panelists in an all-day interfaith conference titled "Restoring the Soul of Our Communities."
The conference was hosted by Boulder County Faith Communities Initiative, a grassroots effort begun in 2001 after President Bush called for faith-based and community groups to take a stronger role in providing certain human service needs.
There were several panel and roundtable discussions on interfaith cooperation, volunteerism, and the need to make a difference in the community.
"Building relationships is the key objective today," said Bruce Swinehart, who has spearheaded the initiative and served as moderator.
He gave each panelist seven minutes to talk about the tenets of their faith related to helping those in need. First up was Beverly Williams-Hawkins, a Christian. She read from the Bible about the directive to care for those who are hungry, homeless, naked, ill and in prison.
"Search out the sheep that need to be loved and fed, and you don't have to search very far. They are all around us," she said.
Carema Cook, a follower of Islam, said "one of the tenets of Islam ... is charity."
"There is a list of 500 reasons in the Koran that speak to how we should treat people," Cook said.
She said Muslims are commanded to share their wealth no matter how much or how little they have to give.
"We have to stop being isolated within our own mosque and be a part of the community," she said.
Valerie Dana said followers of the Baha'i faith are commanded to respect all religions.
"The key in all our teachings is service to humanity. God intended us to be responsible for one another," she said.
She added that "we believe all religion came from God and that the differences came from man."
She said Baha'is have 1,000 scriptural mandates with respect to service to others.
"If we speak but do not act, we are not serving our faith," she said.
Giovannina Jobson, a follower of Tibetan Buddhism, said she was glad her faith is being respected in the West as a religion and not a cult. She said Buddhism looks at human nature as basically good and that it is the objective of everyone to seek enlightenment and to "take responsibility of self ... and our behavior and how we treat others."
"We have great respect for suffering. We see it as our teacher," she said.
David Friedman compared Jews to parts of a salad. "We need to mix it up and be a part of everything," he said. "The body needs Christianity, it needs Baha'is, it needs Islam, it needs all the faiths. ... We have a responsibility and an obligation to help take care of everyone."
As each of the panelists spoke, the crowd of about 200 altered moments of rapt silence and quiet murmuring, a sure sign they were listening to what was being said.
Following the panel discussion, Marlene Wilson, a Boulder author and activist credited with starting the Volunteer Connection and for spreading the message of volunteerism around the world for 35 years, gave the keynote address on ways to build partnerships between faith communities and human service agencies.
She provided an outline on ways that volunteer coordinators in religious organizations and human service agencies can organize and motivate volunteers to do more.
"Many people within religious groups are looking for ways to put their faith in action," she said.
Swinehart said the goal of the Boulder County Faith Initiative is to become an ongoing effort, possibly creating an organization to receive state and federal funds and other resources and to coordinate efforts from different faith communities to better utilize their numbers rather than have each one reinvent the wheel on a smaller scale.
For more information, Swinehart can be reached at 303-415-1388 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joe Southern can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 274, or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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