“When we understand each other, we inevitably find that it’s much easier to get along,” Harris added.
UVMA leaders have chosen to increase interfaith understanding by “lingering on the things we agree upon,” Walton said.
“This is not an attempt at ecumenism,” she said. “We’re not trying to eliminate theological differences. We’re just trying to understand them, and to focus our attention on the things we have in common.”
For example, for a number of years Utah Valley Ministerial Association has sponsored a National Day of Prayer gathering in Utah County, having identified prayer as one of those things that people of faith have in common. A wide variety of faith groups have been represented at the event, from Catholic to Hare Krishna, from Baptist to Baha’i, and from Methodist to Mormon.
Bringing all of these faith groups together to pray for America is, to Harris, the most natural thing in the world.
“There’s a lot of evil that we’re all facing every day,” she said. “The world can be a scary place. So when we come together to pray for our country, we’re drawing strength from each other and from whatever our higher power is.
“We’re not trying to blend theology, we’re trying to blend faith,” she continued. “We all believe. We may believe differently, but we are linked by the act of believing. We can appreciate our similarities and honor our differences. But in the shared act of praying we come together as one, even if we all pray in different ways.”
Another commonality among UVMA faith groups is the desire to serve.
“What we’ve found is that virtually every faith group, from atheists (whom she characterizes as a faith group because “they believe in not believing”) to Zoroastrians, are usually involved in some kind of charitable activity,” Walton said. “They work with senior citizens, they work with the homeless, they do humanitarian work in third-world nations — whatever it is, everyone seems to have something going on in terms of charity.”
So UVMA is trying to harness that shared benevolence on behalf of homeless people in the area with a quarterly outreach that will also serve as a way of drilling and preparing for unforeseen emergencies.
“Whenever there’s a crisis, religious and civic organizations swing immediately into action providing food, clothing, shelter and medical attention for everyone, including the homeless,” Walton said. “The VOAD group (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters) does drills during the year to prepare for all kinds of possibilities, only they do tabletop drills. We’re saying, let’s practice our emergency response on the homeless.”
The plan is to “tell all of the religious and service organizations to bring their homeless,” she said. “We’ll have everything set up like it was a crisis, and we’ll have doctors there to check them and we’ll get them food and clothing and bedding — whatever they need. It’s a great opportunity to practice, and it can bless the lives of so many people who really need our help.”
It also gives people of all faith groups to be at their very best.
“In times of crisis or disaster everyone pulls together,” Harris said. “Such times have a way of bringing out the best in people. You see that differences don’t matter — people matter.”
And that, she said, is the essence of interfaith activity.
“The bottom line for me with interfaith collaboration is we need each other,” she said. “When there are emergencies and disasters a person’s faith preference doesn't matter. In fact, it doesn’t really matter if they have any faith at all. What matters is their need, and our response to that need.
“That’s true even when there is no crisis,” Harris added. “Together, working as an interfaith community, much good can be done.”
Through love, as opposed to tolerance.
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