Doug Shipman: The Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto can be the bridge for our young graduates

AAEAAQAAAAAAAANhAAAAJGE5NTA2M2NiLWVkYjktNDkxYy05NWZiLTIzNTM2NWU2NzBlZAThis time of year brings graduation celebrations across the many campuses of Atlanta’s higher education institutions. This year’s graduating class was born in either 1995 or 1996. The actual events on the fateful day of September 11, 2001 are well chiseled into their memory, but more than likely via replayed videos rather than through direct experience. These recent graduates were only five or six years old when the attacks — largely fueled by religious intolerance and inflicted on people of many faiths — occurred.

The world these graduates grew up in has been marked by religious conflict, hatred, bigotry, and war. Several studies have found that many college-aged students believe religion to be the primary source of conflict in our world. They have grown up with images of “religious” people shouting, oppressing, and even killing those of similar and dissimilar faiths. The perception of faith as a great divider of individuals, groups, and countries is an easily supported and often reported “truth” in our newspapers today.

The past few months have seen religion as a point of conflict become more prevalent in the American discourse. From calls to ban entry to certain religious groups to violent crimes committed in the name of faith — the headlines have too often screamed of religious conflict in our major events. Our young people see the world they are entering as adults as one filled with interfaith conflict and division.

I continually find college-aged men and women I speak with confused with the current situation. Their personal experiences are at great odds with what they see on television. They are more comfortable talking about differences and exchanging ideas across religious lines than previous generations. They don’t “feel” faith as a divider among themselves. They have traveled extensively and have witnessed people in other contexts that paint a more complex, nuanced, and accommodating reality than the one they see in our media discourse. They are looking for a bridge between their reality and the perceptions they see reported around them.

The Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto is that unique bridge they are yearning to find. A bridge between past and present that provides hope that others before them have tread difficult ground to build trust across divisive lines. A bridge between the founding documents of the United States and the current political climate. A bridge between people of faith who want to undertake inter-religious dialogue. A bridge between Atlanta and the broader world.

My experience working to build and open the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Downtown Atlanta showed me the powerful impact of stories. I was once asked by a Mom of two teenagers, “How am I supposed to get my kids to care about Civil Rights History?” I asked her if she had ever heard of Moses. She said, “of course.” I then asked her if she had ever met Moses. She looked at me skeptically and said, “No.” I then asked how she knew about Moses if she had never met him. She answered, “I know the story.” There was the answer — we care more deeply and remember longer when we know a great story.

The Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto is a bridge to the stories that give us hope. The stories of Mayor Ivan Allen Jr. being willing to put principle ahead of politics. The stories of ministers working for equality against the wishes of prominent institutions. The stories of students praying and working for social equality and justice. The stories of a city that remains a beacon of national progress.

Every person in Atlanta has an opportunity to share the Manifesto not as a directive, but as an invitation to share stories. I hope that each of us will find a few young people to share the stories of our past to inspire their future. There are thousands of young graduates with newly minted degrees who are thirsting for encouragement in building a world in the future that matches their experiences and hopes thus far in their lives. Let us be the bridges.

Doug Shipman is the Founding CEO of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights and is currently CEO of BrightHouse Consulting. He tweets @dougship.

Jan Love discusses the intersection of political history and religious responsibility

love-jan-recThe Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto calls on all religious people to exercise the best of their sacred traditions to bolster the best of our nation’s constitutional principles and heritage. This is a particularly meaningful commitment for me, as it marries my two of my greatest lifelong passions: political science and the church.

The daughter of a Methodist minister, I was raised in parishes throughout south Alabama and have been a denominational lay leader at state, national, and international levels since I was in high school, including representing The United Methodist Church on the World Council of Churches from 1975-2006. In school, I devoted myself to studies in political science, eventually earning a master’s and a Ph.D. with a specialty in international relations.

Before becoming dean of Emory University’s Candler School of Theology in 2007, I taught courses in world politics and religious studies at the University of South Carolina for more than 20 years. During my years in the classroom, I never tired of reciting with my students some of the opening words of the United States Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

When those words were written in the 18th century, they launched one of the greatest experiments in human history. This experiment in democracy and freedom was imperfectly imagined and implemented in the midst of slavery, the conquest of native peoples, and the formal disenfranchisement of men without property and all women. Yet the attempt by a collection of courageous and creative immigrants and their descendants to forge a radically new democratic political system in the United States was quite remarkable for its time and remains so today.

As a Christian, I give thanks to God for this country and the privilege of living here. Many of the people who risked life and limb to migrate to the colonies and other parts of the continent in the 17th and 18th centuries were fleeing religious persecution. What is hard to believe today is that the religious persecution they were fleeing took place between various Christian groups, not between entirely different religions. In the 18th century, the differences among Protestants, Catholics, Episcopalians, Quakers, and other Christians were quite contentious and sometimes deadly. For reasons of principle, practicality, and peaceful coexistence, the Bill of Rights adopted in 1789 begins by guaranteeing a person’s right to hold religious beliefs and to exercise those beliefs freely. Part of the genius of the United States’ radical experiment in democracy was to reinforce emphatically that no religion would be established by the state and that each person would have religious freedom.

Some of the founding fathers were deists, but others were what we now know as Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Quakers, Lutherans, and Roman Catholics. For their time, their work together was an extraordinary effort in civic cooperation across deeply held religious differences. But as much as they understood significant and contentious differences among sacred traditions in their time, most of these men would be absolutely stunned by two developments in the 20th century: first, that Christians have worked hard to cooperate ecumenically and for the most part end their history of internal strife and at times even violence; and second, the growth of religious diversity in our country.

In the late 20th century, the United States became one of the most multireligious countries in the world, primarily due to immigration. In the 21st century, residents in both urban and rural areas interact with and often live next door to people of faith traditions other than their own. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Baha’is and other religious adherents are the doctors, lawyers, clerics, business people, computer programmers, educators, custodians, mechanics, and other professionals we encounter every day. Unlike any previous period in American history, people of many different religious commitments (or no faith commitment) go to work, schools, hospitals, recreational facilities, grocery stores and malls together, but they often don’t understand each other’s religious identity or communal practices.

Even if surprised by such developments 228 years after they adopted the Bill of Rights, I suspect the founding fathers would be appropriately proud of how remarkably insightful they were to insist on a foundational principle of religious freedom.

The Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto is an urgent call for those of us from a wide variety of religious traditions to get to know each other better for the common good of our neighborhoods, city, region, and nation. As dean of a seminary that educates students to be faithful and creative leaders for Christian ministries throughout the world, I could not be more delighted to support the Manifesto. Jesus Christ commands Christians to love God and neighbor—even neighbors who are very different from us. The founding fathers intended for us to honor religious freedom. And thanks be to God, the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto embodies these two sets of values that I hold very dear.

Join me in signing the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto here.

Jan Love, dean of Candler School of Theology at Emory University, is an internationally recognized leader in the church and theological education and a scholar of world politics, particularly issues of religion and politics, conflict transformation, and globalization. She is known for her four decades of dedicated leadership in denominational and ecumenical bodies and for facilitating constructive relationships among people and groups with deeply held differences. She is president of the Atlanta Theological Association, president of the Association of United Methodist Theological Schools, and a member of the board of the Association of Theological Schools.

Imam Plemon El-Amin: Interfaith Cooperation Requires Sincere and Open Engagement

3370360“O Humankind! We created you from a single male and female, and made you into nations and tribes that you may come to know one another. Surely the most honored among you in the sight of God is the most righteous of you.” -Qur’an 49:13

This verse is often cited by Muslims as a scriptural incentive to engage in interfaith dialogue and exchange. The conception is that we all come from a single pair of parents and from that common origin, in time, we develop into diverse and distinct tribes, ethnicities, races, nations, and religions. The verse states that the purpose of these differences is to inspire us to know one another, and it also implies that through knowing the other we come to better know ourselves. It is important to note that it further states that our superiority is not found in our race, color, ethnicity, or nationality, but in our righteousness.

During my 40 years of active interfaith engagement, dialogue, and collaboration, the most consistent and intriguing outcome from cross-faith exchanges has been participants thinking more deeply and seriously about their own religious beliefs, practices, and traditions. As I learn about your faith, I reflect upon my own. As I come to know you, I see myself and my possibilities more clearly.

Religious diversity is a given today. In Atlanta, we cross paths at work, at the mall, in restaurants, and on the sidewalks with Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, members of the Bahá’í faith, and Christians of various denominations. Tolerance is not enough as a skill or virtue for interfaith encounter, nor does tolerance necessarily nullify ignorance, stereotypes, half-truths, or fears. Interfaith requires sincere and open engagement and/or relationship. It is not relativism, we do not leave our faith identities or commitments behind. Nor can we have hidden agendas. We must be honest, trusting, and trustworthy, seeking to know a good in common that we can’t know alone or within the limitations of our comfort zones. It requires conscious effort, thought, and deep regard for truth, decency, and humanity.

The Parliament of World Religions offers a Declaration Towards A Global Ethic:

“In the face of all humanity, our religious and ethical convictions demand that every human being must be treated humanely. Every person, without any distinction, has an inalienable and untouchable dignity. And every human is obliged to behave in a genuinely human fashion, to do good and avoid evil.”

This is the spirit and belief that calls me to sign, promote, and embrace the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto. Adding my name to the list of diverse yet intrinsically connected individuals must also obligate me and each of them to live upon the higher values of faith, interfaith, and this Manifesto.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable…every effort towards the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle. Without persistent effort, Time itself becomes an ally of the insurgent and primitive forces of irrational emotionalism and social destruction. This is no time for apathy or complacency, this is a time for vigorous and positive action.”

Dr. King’s words capture why the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto is necessary and important now. The alarming escalation of hate speech, religious intolerance, xenophobia, and racial fears, calls us to respond and take a stand for peace, freedom, equality, and decency. Apathy and complacency are suicidal in this present environment. The Manifesto is a covenant that must evolve into a social contract of civility and justice among the signers and hopefully throughout our City, State, and Nation. Following further insightfulness of Dr. King, on one hand, this Manifesto attempts to touch or change the souls of the individual signers so that society may be changed, and on the other hand, it is attempting to change the society so that individual souls will have a chance.

May our hearts be engaged, our minds enlightened, our souls expanded, our relationships broadened, our commitment deepened, our city beloved, and our humanity fulfilled. Amin

-Imam Plemon T. El-Amin

Plemon T. El-Amin is the Imam Emeritus of the Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam, one of the largest and most progressive Mosques in the U.S. He is the former Director of the Clara Mohammed Elementary School and W. Deen Mohammed School of Atlanta. Working as a close aide and supporter of Imam Warith Deen Mohammed, Imam El-Amin has traveled the nation and the world, representing the concerns and interests of Muslim Americans and Interfaith adherents in such places as Palestine, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Syria, Jordan, Denmark, England, Spain, Egypt, Turkey, Malaysia and South Africa.

Imam Plemon El-Amin serves on various religious and civic councils, including Interfaith Community Initiatives, the Boards of the Faith Alliance of Metro Atlanta, the Atlanta Majlis Ash Shura, the Atlanta Interfaith Broadcasters, the World Pilgrims, and the Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority.

Gareth Young highlights the importance of recognizing one’s privilege when working towards interfaith cooperation

IMGP9713Those of us working to denounce religious bigotry, to speak up against disrespectful and inflammatory rhetoric, and to bring society together in love rather than allow us to be divided by fear and hate, find ourselves living in difficult, even dark times. From this perspective, the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto is a rallying call to equity and justice.

But just as Rev. Dr. Gerald T. Durley expressed in his post last month, I approached signing the Manifesto with mixed feelings. “Is this,” I wondered, “just another ‘group-think’ palliative, on the one hand, a set of platitudes easily read and ignored, and on the other a call to action that makes us feel better without accomplishing anything? Can this document really make a difference?” After deep reflection I concluded I needed to sign the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto, not just to stand in solidarity with those speaking out against bigotry (though that is certainly important), but more deeply because it is an invitation to experience a personal transformation which can lead to deeper joy and meaning, and to creation of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s Beloved Community.

Unlike Dr. Durley, I have never been “forcefully instructed” to move behind the white line on a bus or monitored to make sure I am drinking from the correct water fountain; unlike other African-American friends, I don’t have relatives who were lynched for the “offense” of being black, nor have I experienced racial profiling or institutionalized racism; I cannot imagine being, like Judy Marx, the child of holocaust survivors; and I will never need to explain to my kids, as some Muslim friends are having to, why neighbors won’t let their kids come over to play anymore. I come at the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto from a different direction.

I was born white, Christian, male, and straight to a comfortably middle-class family in one of the wealthiest nations in history; I was protected and cared for and educated well; I had opportunity and access and, on those occasions when I needed a second chance, I received it. In short, I was privileged. But like so many with privilege, I didn’t know it. My education, my early business career, everything about my community and life was white and Christian and straight and comfortably middle class. Other cultural, racial, and religious experiences presented an occasional curiosity, but mostly they were both foreign to me and uninteresting, and in some unarticulated way inferior. I would never have understood myself as prejudiced or racist, but with the benefit of hindsight, I now see very clearly that I was.

My daughter recently told me I had given a great gift in showing her that as a mature adult I could change. These words are wise beyond her undergraduate years, but they necessarily miss that to the extent I gave her a gift, it was only possible because of the far greater gifts I have received from Jan Swanson, from Imams Plemon El-Amin and Furqan Mohammad, from Rev. Dr. Gerald Durley, from Rabbi Brad Levenberg, and from many others of diverse faith, race, sexual orientation, and socio-economic backgrounds who live deep integrated interfaith lives into which they have invited me. My daughter’s words also cannot comprehend the extent to which my current happiness, community, and business success are possible only as a direct result of the compassion, love, and wisdom of the incredible community of interfaith friends who have made themselves deeply vulnerable and shared their pain and suffering, their humanity, and their love and compassion with me.

If change is possible for me, it is possible for anyone. If it is possible for the person I was, not just to realize their prejudice, but to develop a deep and visceral sense of the pain and suffering this causes, and to recognize how much better his own life and those of others will be if he changes, then I believe it is possible for anyone to experience this same kind of transformation.

The Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto, then, is important as a platform for those of us who would stand up against the wrongs of prejudice and intolerance. It is also important as an expression of a life oriented around creating safe spaces and time and inviting all those living in privilege, fear, or ignorance to come on in as we offer love and vulnerability and are willing to be truly known. I invite you to read the manifesto and consider living these truths.

Read the full Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto here.

Gareth Young is an author, podcast host, and speaker. He is active in the community and a successful businessman. His passion is challenging preconceptions and helping people transform and grow into authenticity, happiness, purpose and sense of fulfillment without sacrificing worldly and career success.

Gareth was born in the United Kingdom and, after obtaining a BA in mathematics at the University of Oxford, began his career with Deloitte Haskins and Sells, one of the major accounting firms. He came with the firm to Charlotte, NC as a young audit manager. Two years later he left public accounting and joined BellSouth Corporation, initially managing due diligence, but within a couple of years running mergers and acquisitions transactions domestically and internationally, which he did for almost fifteen years.

After beginning his spiritual journey and moving down a path that would lead to him being ordained a Zen Buddhist priest, Gareth left the corporate world and developed a successful independent consulting business, and this led him into working with Alpharesults to help small and mid-sized businesses take advantage of Georgia business income tax credits. A few years later Gareth also left formal Zen practice to co-found Red Clay Sangha, an Atlanta Buddhist community. He is the serving president of Second Helpings Atlanta and is a board member of the Clarkston Community Health Center, Compassionate Atlanta, and the Faith Alliance of Metro Atlanta, as well as a member of the Board of Advisors of the Atlantic Institute. He is a regular observer of Ramadan, the Jewish High Holidays, and other faith and interfaith events, and is engaged in other social justice organizations and activities.

Gareth is also a blogger and the host of the #NewBusinessMindset podcast, a weekly series of informal conversations to encourage the cultivation of intimacy, vulnerability, and curiosity in the business world, and to bring integration and joy to life. He has written a number of books, including two novels, and contributed to several others. He is a father of two almost-adult children and lives in Clarkston, Georgia.

Masarrat Husain, of the Atlanta Interfaith Leaders Forum, encourages collaboration across organizational, religious lines to make the world a better place

Atlanta’s burgeoning population with flourishing faiths of all denominations are healthy signs for any city. Many interfaith groups in Atlanta are engaged in their own way to bring peoples of diverse faiths closer in order to understand and gain knowledge of their beliefs, practices, and rituals but not to denigrate or belittle them. The Atlanta Interfaith Leaders Forum (AILF) was founded in 2005 by the late Ben Johnson (a familiar figure in religious circles) for this very purpose and with the determination to make Atlanta an Interfaith City. Fortuitously, I became part of it and have since been reaping its benefits of greater understanding, tolerance of others viewpoints, protecting inalienable human rights and equality.

Holding events in churches, synagogues, mosques, gurdwaras, temples and other religious places of worship has reaped great fruits in terms of improving understanding, harmony, and goodwill among different religious groups. AILF would continue to pursue this course for the greater good. Our experience with these events has been very positive and heart-warming.

The recent controversy over attempts to shut down travels from some Muslim-majority countries to the United States and the banning of refugees from Syria has juxtaposed fear and faith. We may, perhaps, overcome this problem with greater understanding between faiths.

At some point in time, it is my belief that many interfaith groups in Atlanta continue to partner with each other to develop programs that will lead to greater strength, viability, and the achievement of intended objectives. Interfaith collaboration shows the community that we can work together across faith and organizational lines to make the world a better place.


Masarrat Husain

Chief, Planning

Atlanta Interfaith Leaders Forum (AILF)