Tom Glenn answers the question, “Why is the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto important?”

Thoughts From Tom Glenn, Chair of The Wilbur and Hilda Glenn Family Foundation

I was not particularly political in my younger days.  The Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, and a long list of human rights issues were rather tangential to my young, unsophisticated mind.  With advancing age and some semblance of maturation, I began to wish I had been more aware of social justice issues in my earlier years.  Joining others concerned about religious bigotry was a good start, but I had no idea at the time that the topic would soon invade the consciousness of so many Americans.

Published in two Atlanta papers in September of 2016, the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto denounces religious bigotry and encourages interfaith cooperation.  It is the work of approximately 30 concerned individuals who began conversations in January of 2015, well before we could have predicted ensuing events that would threaten one of our most cherished freedoms.

The Manifesto’s call for “respect and accommodation for diverse religious and secular identities” does not encourage agreeing with or even learning about someone else’s religion or philosophical position.  But it reasserts Americans’ centuries old desire to pursue their various faiths with impunity.  Such freedom was undoubtedly on the minds of the brave souls in those frail little ships that sailed across the Atlantic long before the United States, the Constitution, or the First Amendment were envisioned.

At times, life’s challenges can become so daunting that our faith is all we have left to keep us going.  We should have the freedom to cling to that faith without being maligned.  Though such freedom was envisioned more than four hundred years ago, it remains a dream to many.

During the nineteenth century, Mormons were brutally victimized by an extermination order (Missouri Executive Order 44).  During John Kennedy’s campaign for the Presidency, Protestant leaders railed against the notion of a Catholic in the White House.  Bigotry against Jews continues, and there is now a regrettable increase of anti-Semitic activity on college campuses.  The outpouring of anti-Muslim rhetoric since 9/11 is yet another unfortunate example of our country’s darker side.  All of these examples of bigotry speak to the importance of the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto, but I believe there is an even more compelling reason to confront the issue.

Fear of the unknown arouses our protective instincts and heightens our sensitivity to change, making us easy prey to those seizing such opportunities to support their political intentions.  According to Robert P. Jones’ The End of White Christian America, 2008 was the last year on record when Protestants as a whole represented a majority of the United States, and by 2014, the religiously unaffiliated made up 22% of the U.S. population.  Changes in both demographics and religious affiliations are taking place much faster than previously predicted, and the potential for exploiting fear increases with them.  If there was ever a time for us to learn how to get along with each other, it’s now.

In the coming months, others involved with crafting the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto will be offering their views on why the Manifesto is important through website posts similar to this one.  These impressive thought leaders inspire me, and I urge you to read what they have to say.

I am no longer a college student of the turbulent sixties, but I find myself in an atmosphere reminiscent of those days when there was much to fear and dread.  It is my hope that through interfaith cooperation, we can live in peace and harmony as we become a more diverse nation.

If you feel so compelled, I invite you to sign the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto to show your support for religious cooperation and tolerance.