Atlanta Spirituality Conference with Rev. Dr. Barbara Brown Taylor focuses on Living with Religious Difference

The Cathedral of St. Philip will be hosting a Spirituality Conference featuring the Rev. Dr. Barbara Brown Taylor on October 28 entitled, Holy Envy: Learning to Live with Religious Difference.

This one day conference will explore how religious pluralism challenges and deepens Christian identity in a world of many (and no) faiths. More about this event:

“Fifty years ago, only international explorers, foreign missionaries, or soldiers deployed overseas encountered people of vastly different faiths. Now anyone with a computer can go on a virtual Hajj to Mecca or learn meditation from a Zen master online. Spirituality has become as global as trade, raising all sorts of questions for people who never had cause to think about how many ways there are to approach the divine. What is a Christian to do? Barbara Brown Taylor has some ideas, based on teaching world religions to college students over the past twenty years. Join us for an introduction to “holy envy” and a few other rules of religious understanding.

Barbara Brown Taylor is a New York Times best-selling author, college professor, and Episcopal priest. Her first memoir, Leaving Church, won a 2006 Author of the Year award from the Georgia Writers Association. Her last book, Learning to Walk in the Dark, was featured on the cover of TIME magazine. She has served on the faculty of Piedmont College since 1998 as the Butman Professor of Religion and has been a guest speaker at Emory, Duke, Princeton, and Yale, as well as a guest on SuperSoul Sunday with Oprah Winfrey. Taylor and her husband Ed live on a farm in the foothills of the Appalachians, sharing space with wild turkeys, red foxes, white-tailed deer, and far too many chickens.”

Find more information and purchase tickets here.

Thomas Kemper: “Love the Neo-Nazis?”

Many of us were stunned by the hatred that spewed forth from Charlottesville as white supremacists demonstrated that racism remains far more virulent in our society than many of us realized.  And the neo-Nazi chants of “Jews will not replace us” made it abundantly clear that this orgy of hatred was not limited exclusively to racial bigotry.

In a recent blog posted to this website, Thomas Kemper, General Secretary of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church, described a dramatic demonstration of interfaith collaboration as he and people of many different faiths endured a bombing that killed 40 people in the Istanbul airport last year.  More recently, he has shared the emotions he experienced as the swastika was unfurled in Charlottesville.  His statements are particularly insightful because he is German.  When Thomas compares the Charlottesville incident with Germany’s past, he knows that of which he speaks.  His statements authenticate the gravity of the situation upon us.

Love the Neo-Nazis?

Thomas Kemper, General Secretary of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Churchs

As an international agency, the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries, which I lead, seldom makes statements about events in the United States. Yet as a Christian and as a German I feel compelled to publicly register my shock at the mid-August scenes from Charlottesville where blatant and unashamed Nazi images were prominent and shouts of “blood and soil,” the Nazi “Blut und Boden,” heard—all symbols of evil Nazi ideology. And, young Americans stretched out their arms in the “Heil Hitler” salute and waved swastikas—in the United States of America, in Virginia, in 2017.

The heavily armed militia of the “Unite the Right” rally is a jarring reminder for me of Hitler’s SA marching through the Brandenburg gate in the 1930s at the end of the Weimar Republic and igniting the Nazi reign of terror and death. I am not saying the scenes from Charlottesville are comparable to those days but I could not help but to associate Charlottesville with moments during the Weimer era in Germany. The images from those days and the reports from Charlottesville are so strikingly similar.

It is inexplicable to me how such hate and violence can be expressed in such a public way in the United States today. It is also distressing to Christian friends in Germany who honor with affection the American example of democracy and openness. Retired German United Methodist Bishop Walter Klaiber in a recent letter to friends and colleagues in the United States wrote of the deep sorrow in his heart as he saw the swastika unfurled in Charlottesville. These emotions are so strong because we Germans remain grateful to the American people for liberating our country from Hitler and his fascist regime. 

We Germans have a sad history. We know we killed over 6 million Jews and other minorities such as Roma, Sinti, and homosexuals. We are still struggling with this past, reminding our children of it, trying to help them gain familiarity with and perspective on the Holocaust and its horrors. We pray this history may not be repeated and “Wehret den Anfängen,” translated “Resist the beginning” is a call to constant vigilance wherever Nazism and Fascism is rearing its ugly head. For Christians everywhere must stand up to neo-Nazis.

What remains unresolved for me is the question of how the church, including The United Methodist church, must and can react. We cannot tolerate racism, white supremacy, and Nazi hatred. That much is clear, but what about ministry to neo-Nazis—those who are full of fear and anxiety and have lost their way in the world? How do we welcome them, offering God’s transforming grace? Is that possible? I have no idea how that would work or what such an effort might look like. What would the UMC look like if it reached out to neo-Nazis? Is it possible to love neo-Nazis and white supremacists into peace, justice, and mercy?

Alicia Philipp, President of Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, shares thoughts on Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto

Life is a journey. Our relationship with a higher being is a journey too. Mine is a familiar one in some respects – 16 years of Catholic education, raising my children in the Methodist faith and then a time in the Presbyterian Church. And for a time I had another key experience as part of a teenage Jewish girl’s life as she prepared for bat mitzvah. I was wandering in terms of organized religion but always maintaining a belief in God.

This journey was enhanced even more when I traveled the Middle East under the leadership of Max Miller who tied the people, places and key events in the Abrahamic faiths together. That experience made me realize we are much more like a tree with different branches than different trees – we share so much more than what divides us.

The best ever example of this came when the Community Foundation launched the Higher Ground Group – an amazing, faith-filled and joyful foursome of Rabbi Alvin Sugarman, Rev. Joanna Adams, Rev. Joseph Roberts and Iman Plemon El-Amin. For five years, I sat in meeting rooms and public forums as they discussed the toughest problems in our world and community, always faced through a faith lens. I heard them all quote from the Old and New Testaments and the Koran. They understood and respected each other’s faith while being grounded in their own. It was civil discourse in its purest and finest form.

The Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto is the vehicle that takes this civil discourse, curiosity and belief out to each of us to shape for ourselves in our sphere of influence. You don’t have to be ‘churched’ to join, you simply have to be open to thoughtful dialog that may take you out of your comfort zone, but in a good way if you are open to it! Bring your desire to see a community with cooperation and respect. To get inspired, read some of the blogs done by Higher Ground from 2011 to 2015 here.

ALICIA PHILIPP is president of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, one of the largest and fastest growing philanthropic service organizations in the country. This year she is celebrating her 40th year with the Foundation. When she joined in 1977 its assets were $7 million, today they are approximately $955 million. The Community Foundation strengthens the 23-county Atlanta region by providing quality services to donors and innovative leadership on community issues. They do this by connecting the passions of philanthropists with the purposes of nonprofits doing that work. To that end, in 2016, the Community Foundation received $135 million in gifts from donors and granted out more than $125 million via 7,300 grants to more than 2,400 nonprofits locally, nationally and abroad.

Philipp has served on the board of the Council on Foundations, the Southeastern Council of Foundations, Independent Sector and the National Center on Family Philanthropy. In 2017 she was named to Georgia Trend magazine’s Business Hall of Fame after being on its “100 Most Influential Georgians” list for many years. She has also been named one of the “100 Most Influential Atlantans” by the Atlanta Business Chronicle and the ninth most powerful Atlantan by Atlanta magazine.

Philipp received a bachelor’s degree from Emory University and a master’s in business administration from Georgia State University. She lives in Decatur and has two adult children, both of whom live in Europe.

Hope for the Future: Why the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto is Important


Growing up Methodist, a tiny minority religious community in overwhelmingly Lutheran/Roman Catholic Germany, left me with a strong desire for greater interaction and understanding among religious groups. This feeling was deepened through learning and remembering of the Holocaust and what my forebears had done primarily to Jews, but also to other minorities like homosexuals or Roma and Sinti. I found opportunities to engage in interfaith dialogue as I discovered on the global level The United Methodist Church, a communion of over 12 million people of faith worldwide, is often called upon to promote multi-faith advocacy and action.

No experience so solidified my commitment to strong interfaith collaboration as what happened on June 28, 2016, when I was suddenly awakened from a nap in the transit lounge of the international airport in Istanbul, Turkey, by terrorists’ bombs. They killed more than 40 people and injured some 240 others. We ran this way and that, Christians, Muslims, and devotees of other faith, all focused on survival and all sharing a deep desire to get home, to be with our loved ones.

None of us knew what was happening; we knew we were threatened; we knew we needed a way out. As I sought shelter in a kitchen closet with an Asian man with whom I could communicate only with frightened eyes, I knew in a flash that until all faiths and cultures stand together against hate and violence, the world is doomed. It was a moment of solidarity with all people who face uncertain futures—and that is all of us. I felt this common humanity among us, a desire to reach out and take one another’s hands, to change the patterns of violence and xenophobia that plague our world.

This awareness was confirmed as we gathered for evacuation and I spoke with a family returning to Somalia, another going home to Egypt from a trip to Europe, and a young local woman caught in the melee without a passport while seeing off a friend. There was a sense of oneness in the bus that took us to a local hotel.

The Istanbul experience became part of my personal narrative as I, the head of a large international organization, had the opportunity to tell my story to the press and to various live audiences. The importance of interfaith collaboration also became more self-consciously a part of my professional agenda, linked to my organization’s goal of promoting justice, peace, and freedom.

Not long after this experience in Turkey, the agency that I lead, the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries, moved from New York City to Atlanta where I learned of the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto. I took the opportunity to join the cause it represents and to contribute to this blog. Given its leadership in civil rights, building on the deep legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Atlanta is a fitting place for the Manifesto, which calls for interfaith cooperation and a reduction of religious bigotry in the state, nation, and world. I am impressed by the number of people of many religious traditions who have signed the Manifesto and I plan to share that opportunity with colleagues and friends.

If people of faith and their leaders do not stand together in affirming a common humanity, there is no hope for the future. We must lead the way.


– Thomas Kemper, General Secretary, Global Ministries United Methodist Church

Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto and Atlanta Habitat for Humanity: Engaging and Uniting Our City

Often times, the non-profit that I work for, Atlanta Habitat for Humanity, is noted for its strong Christian roots in Americus, Georgia due to its founder, Millard Fuller. What people usually do not know of this is that Atlanta Habitat was founded south of Atlanta on Koinonia Farm— an intentionally mixed-race community that persisted during the middle of the Jim Crow era. In the 1940s, Koinonia Farm was a progressive community whose simple focus was to bring different races together and provide a space for them to work and live as equals.

Fast forwarding 60 years later to my role at Atlanta Habitat, an affiliate of what is now Habitat for Humanity International; I see those roots and basic principles played out in our current religious climate. After 9-11, Atlanta Habitat saw the need to bring diverse religious congregations together to serve in a peaceful and meaningful way. Since 2002, Atlanta Habitat has built 10 interfaith houses; meaning, Atlanta Habitat has provided the space and opportunity for dozens of diverse congregations and interfaith groups to build a home in partnership. Atlanta Habitat provides a safe space where everyone can put their ‘faith into action’ and serve a greater good – building alongside a qualified and working family who will ultimately purchase an affordable home.

In being a safe space for interfaith religious cooperation, there have been many growth opportunities in Atlanta that Atlanta Habitat has had the pleasure of witnessing. The Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto is just that, an opportunity to transform Atlanta through engaging and uniting. With the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto’s goals being to advance interfaith cooperation, marshal religious diversity, and celebrate Atlanta’s diversity, I feel the concept that Millard Fuller lived out in the 1940’s, has re-grounded itself presently in Atlanta, with a focus on working across both racial and religious lines. It is exciting to see support grow for working across lines of differences to advance the common good. Atlanta Habitat is in support of the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto and will continue to partner in order to advance interfaith harmony in our city.

We will continue to work, build, and partner with organizations, individuals, and congregations to remind Atlanta – and beyond – that our similarities are much greater than our differences.

Haley Hart is a social and civic advocate whose work passionately supports issues she cares deeply for: education and service opportunities across diverse religions and environmental sustainability. Currently, Haley serves as a Sponsorship Coordinator for Atlanta Habitat for Humanity, the sixth largest Habitat affiliate in the world which has been recognized as an ‘Affiliate of Distinction’. Haley’s team raises over $4 million dollars annually and she works directly with 70+ diverse faith groups where she facilitates opportunities for congregations to build together across racial, socio-economic, and faith identity boundaries. These efforts directly support Atlanta Habitat’s home-building programming. Haley serves on the Faith-Advisory Committee for Habitat for Humanity International where she shares her broad experience in helping to create programs and tools for other organizations faith and interfaith engagement programs.

Deanna Ferree Womack: The Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto Calls Us into a Common Future

What distinguishes humans from other living beings is not primarily our wisdom but rather our ability to look toward the future. According to a New York Times article by psychology professor Martin Seligman and science columnist John Tierney, we ought to call ourselves Homo prospectus instead of Homo sapiens because human wisdom arises from our power of prospection. We are drawn to the future, they say, far more than we are driven by the past. This understanding of human life resonates with me as a Christian with a faith centered on future hope. Yet as a historian and professor of multifaith relations, I also believe that the way we speak about the past (and how accurately we remember it) matters for our visioning of the future. This is why I so deeply appreciate how the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto points us back to our history as Americans and as Atlantans and then calls us into a common future.

With the growing religious diversity in the United States and transnational networks of communication, trade, and travel that connect us to communities across the globe, our future promises to be full of interfaith encounters. The prospect of living alongside members of multiple religious traditions may seem new to some American Christians, especially those in rural areas like the Midwestern farming town where I grew up. Interreligious engagement, however, became an American reality long before anyone now living in the US could claim an American identity. Even before our Constitution enshrined religious freedom as a foundational right, the first Jewish synagogues were founded in the eighteenth-century American colonies. The earliest Buddhist temple in the US was erected in the 1850s, and our nation’s first documented Muslim communal prayer was held in North Dakota in 1900, although the Muslim presence in America dates to the colonial period. We have a multifaith past. Indeed, despite Euro-centric imaginings of the Western Christian story, our society has become what it is today through a long history of cultural interconnections, civilizational interdependence, and interreligious collaboration.

Considering contemporary American conversations, it may be particularly helpful to note what we could learn from Islamic history. For example, the works of Greek philosophy and science that have so profoundly shaped Western culture were translated into Arabic and preserved in early-medieval Baghdad during the Abbasid Caliphate. This Muslim dynasty supported the city’s thriving translation movement and other pursuits of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish scholars. Along with developments in medicine, navigation, printing, and other technologies, these ancient Greek texts traveled through Muslim Spain into the Latin West, paving the way for the Renaissance and the Reformation. In Iberia itself until the late Middle Ages, Christians, Muslims, and Jews lived and worked together in an environment of convivencia, or coexistence. Although our modern conception of minority rights did not exist in these medieval societies, the level of religious tolerance under Islamic rule far surpassed anything one could find in Christian Europe at the time.

For similar examples in more recent history, we might look to the Arab regions of the Ottoman Empire in the late-nineteenth century, where an ethos of intellectual exchange emerged among members of the Abrahamic faiths during the Nahda (modern Arab renaissance). In my research on this period, I have discovered that Arabic-speaking women in Ottoman Syria participated in these cultural currents by publishing books, articles, and poetry through the modern Arabic press. What I find particularly enlightening is that Christian and Jewish women authors claimed Arab-Islamic heritage as central to their own identities and spoke with pride in the achievements of Islamic civilization dating back to the Abbasid era. This common heritage also bound together the Syrian Christian and Muslim immigrants who arrived in the US in the decades before World War I. Muslims were the minority in the Arab American communities that grew in the Northeast and Midwest, but it is significant to note that this was the second wave of Muslim migration to the US and that it took place more than a century ago. The earliest wave consisted of West African Muslims forcibly brought here as slaves.

Interfaith encounters are not a new reality in America or in Atlanta, as the Interfaith Manifesto reminds us. Religious diversity enriched the Civil Rights Movement in this city, and here today we have countless opportunities for building multifaith relations. For this reason, Atlanta is an ideal setting for training the next generation of interfaith leaders, which we seek to do at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology and at Georgia Tech, Candler’s partner in the Leadership and Multifaith Program (LAMP). Looking to the future, these young leaders – and all of us – can draw wisdom and inspiration from local and global histories.

The stories I have highlighted of religious exchange in medieval Baghdad, in Islamic Iberia, in Ottoman Syria, and in our own nation’s history do not represent perfect models that we could fully replicate today. As we have seen too many times before, attempts to preserve or recreate the past usually end with one group’s imagined past becoming a source of oppression for others. Instead, we should allow history to teach us that interreligious cooperation is possible and is necessary for human flourishing. Then we will find the courage to take up the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto’s challenge to stand against religious intolerance and marshal religious diversity in new and more fitting ways. Join me in answering this call to build a common future.

Deanna Ferree Womack is Assistant Professor of History of Religions and Multifaith Relations at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, where she teaches on Islam in America, Christian-Muslim relations, interfaith dialogue, and global religions. She also directs public programming for the Leadership and Multifaith Program (LAMP), a joint endeavor between Candler and the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts at Georgia Tech. Womack is ordained as a minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and came to Candler from Princeton Theological Seminary, where she completed her PhD. Her research focuses on Christian-Muslim and American-Arab encounters in Ottoman Syria in the pre-World War I period.

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.