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)

Rev. Dr. George B. Wirth: Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto encourages us to become “a city that is not too busy to relate”

Dr.-George-WirthWhen our Steering Group of 35 Interfaith leaders from all across Atlanta re-discovered the Minister’s Manifesto, published on Sunday, November 3, 1957 in the Atlanta Journal and Atlanta Constitution, something significant happened. We realized that the 80 white ministers who signed that Manifesto sixty years ago were standing up and speaking out for racial justice and equality. We also found out later that Rabbi Jacob Rothschild from The Temple had helped to write the Manifesto, and remembered that all of this occurred while William Hartsfield was our mayor, a visionary leader who described Atlanta as “a city too busy to hate”.

This historical background served as the inspiration for the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto which was published in our local newspapers last fall, signed by 75 religious, academic, business, civic and political leaders from all walks of life throughout metro-Atlanta. Since then, more than 600 people have added their names to the Interfaith Manifesto, which is “a statement denouncing religious bigotry and calling for interfaith cooperation.” As you may have already heard, the four basic principles of this Manifesto are:

-To advance interfaith cooperation, respect, and accommodation for diverse religious and secular identities

-To marshal religious diversity and respond to human rights challenges with innovative solutions

-To celebrate Atlanta’s broader significance as a beacon to this country and the world regarding civil, human and religious rights

-To take a stand and speak out against acts of hatred and intolerance that threaten the foundation of our society

The Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto of 2016, hearkening back to Rabbi Rothschild’s involvement in writing the Minister’s Manifesto in 1957, was initially drafted by a Muslim and an Eastern Orthodox Christian from the Interfaith Youth Core in Chicago who have served as consultants to our movement here in Atlanta. Moreover, the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto has become a guiding light to the numerous interfaith organizations in our city which embrace a similar vision as we promote cooperation and a sense of unity among so many different faith traditions.

Back in the late 1990’s, I heard a sermon at Chautauqua Institution in New York delivered by Dr. Joseph Hough who was then the President of Union Theological Seminary in New York City. As he looked out over the 4,000 worshippers gathered together in the amphitheater, he said in closing that the future of the 21st century would largely depend on the different world religions learning to respect one another and to live together in peace. That statement caught my attention and it reminded me of something that Mark Twain wrote with tongue in cheek in 1896:

“So concerned was I about the discord and violence among God’s creatures, that I decided to take the matter in hand. So I built a cage and in it, I put a dog and a cat. After a little training, I got the dog and the cat to the point where they lived peaceably together. Then I introduced a pig, a goat, a kangaroo, come birds and a monkey. And after a few minor adjustments, they learned to live together in harmony. So encouraged was I by this success, that I added an Irish Catholic, a Presbyterian, a Jew, a Muslim from Turkestan and a Buddhist from China, along with a Baptist missionary I had captured on the same trip. And in a very short while, there wasn’t a single living thing left in the cage.”

-Mark Twain, “Man’s Place In The Animal World” 1896

Now we know that Mark Twain was a cynic, so we might expect that kind of attitude from him, despairing about human nature and our inclination toward discord and dissension. But with the intolerance, bigotry, and violence that has been unleashed across America and throughout the world thus far in the 21st century, who of us could claim that we are making real and substantial progress toward religious reconciliation and healing among the nations?

That is why the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto is needed now more than ever before – to lead us toward embracing a new theme:  “A city that is not too busy to relate” – across religious and racial barriers, across economic and ethnic divisions, across class and cultural differences. That, I believe, is the compelling vision which God has called us all to affirm: The Beloved Community which Martin Luther King Jr. dedicated his life to creating which takes us beyond being a city that is too busy to hate.

So let us join hearts and hands and voices together as we stand up and speak out for justice, reconciliation, unity, and cooperation as people of faith while respecting those who do not adhere to any form of religion. If not now, then when? If not here, then where? And if not we ourselves, then who else will do it? The time has come for the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto to become a guiding light leading us in the right direction.

The Rev. Dr. George B. Wirth

Pastor Emeritus, First Presbyterian Church

Rev. Dr. Joanna M. Adams discusses the plague of religious bigotry and the importance of hope

jma3_webIn a few weeks, the Jewish community around the world will celebrate Pesach, or Passover, a time for remembering the Lord’s mighty acts of liberation on behalf of the Hebrew people, who had endured the shackles of bondage for four hundred years. The Lord “passed over” the houses of the Jews, sparing their children during the last of the ten plagues, which had included, among six other menaces, frogs, flies, thunder and hail.

If I were asked to come up with ten modern day plagues, I could do so in a heartbeat, beginning with the quickly spreading epidemic of religious bigotry in our nation. The demonizing of followers of Islam, both American born and foreign born, and the proposed ban on entry to the United States of citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries top the list. So would the alarming number of anti-Semitic threats and incidents involving Jewish schools and community centers. I would also include extreme speech. When laced with vitriol, it poisons politics, public airways, and private conversation.

If we ever needed the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto, we need it now. As the Lord, through Moses, intervened in the midst of terrible times, I believe that the Lord will act, is already acting through people of good will. Instead of becoming resigned to endure troubling times, you and I need to be out there, gigging the frogs of fear and swatting down the flies of mean-spirited fundamentalism. We need to speak out in our city, using our voices to thunder against injustice. We must be hail-makers, pounding into the ground the seedlings of hatred that are growing in our city and across the land.

Atlanta has been a beacon of light to the nation in the past. After all, this city was the birthplace of the great Moses of modern times, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As he led the south and indeed the entire United States to higher moral ground through the Civil Rights Movement, he thundered against injustice and called out purveyors of hate, but it was always to the end of replacing that hatred with civility and love. He was always a man of possibility, not negativity. In his honor, here are a few a few modern day possibilities (not plagues) that come to mind:

  • Atlanta will build upon its good traditions of tolerance, mutual respect, and inclusion.
  • We will not revert to the negative aspects of our past but instead will learn from them so as not to repeat them.
  • We will in our neighborhoods and social networks, in our faith communities and in our common life refrain from contributing rhetorical negativity into the atmosphere.
  • We will be always cognizant that people need to be lifted up and inspired, not made to feel belittled and discouraged.
  • We will pray that the day will soon come when America will once again live up to its ideals of liberty and justice for all. (Note: no qualifiers attached to “all”).
  • We will elect leaders who bring out the best in us, instead of pandering to our basest instincts.
  • We look for ways to create zones of civil discourse and then ourselves initiate the conversations.
  • We will align ourselves with the great moral teachings of the faith traditions to which we belong. In my case, I want to keep my life and values and treatment of others lined up with the way of Jesus who showed us what being human was meant to be and who embodied the universal love of God. Indeed, God must love diversity; otherwise, we would all be alike.
  • Daily, we will take a deep drink from the fountain of hope as we plan what we can do to heal and build up. St. Augustine once wrote, “Hope has two daughters: anger and courage. Anger at what is and ought not to be and courage to make what ought to be come to be.” Hope has changed the world before and will do it again.
  • We will work to improve our vision during these often dark and ominous times.

One day a great teacher asked his students, “How can one know when the night has ended and a new day has begun?”

One answered, “When you hear the rooster crow.”

Another said, “When you can see the silhouette of a tree against the horizon.”

“No,” the teacher answered. “It is when you can look into the face of a stranger and recognize him or her as your brother or sister. Only then can you know that a new day has begun.”

Preacher, educator, writer and community leader—the Rev. Dr. Joanna M. Adams continues to fill many roles since stepping down from her position as Morningside Presbyterian’s Senior Pastor and Head of Staff in January 2010. In January 2012, MPC was proud to honor Joanna as the church’s Pastor Emerita. One of her most recent endeavors is the blog Higher Ground, sponsored by The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, in which Joanna, an imam, a rabbi and another noted Christian minister discuss issues, challenges, and successes while demonstrating how collaboration can create a strong community. Other Presbyterian churches Joanna served during her 30 years of ministry include Atlanta’s Central, Trinity, and North Decatur, and Chicago’s Fourth Presbyterian.

A graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary, Joanna holds an honorary doctorate of divinity from Davidson College and also received the Alumni Association Medal of Honor from Emory and Columbia’s Distinguished Alumnus/ae Award. She currently chairs the boards of the presbytery’s New Church Development Commission and the Intown Collaborative Ministry. Among organizations she’s been instrumental in founding are the Our House preschool for children facing homelessness and the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, working for inclusion of all believers. Her adult children have followed her into the fields of education and theology and her husband Al is a distinguished Atlanta attorney.

Reverend Dr. Gerald Durley: “This Is Our Moment”

4449194I signed the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto with mixed emotional feelings. This document is a powerful statement to encourage people of all faiths to stand together and speak out against the fears, hatred, and ignorance which are dividing our country.

My feelings were mixed because once again, now sixty years later, there still exists a strong need to publicly denounce many of the same civil and human atrocities that America faced decades ago. I questioned whether the signing of another manifesto would make any difference given the current political climate. I wondered whether this was just another futile effort fueled by the frustrations and disappointments of a few well-intentioned people.

To fully understand my apprehensions for signing another manifesto, one would have to appreciate my personal and professional perspectives as to why I even questioned the validity of another manifesto and its impact in 2016 and beyond.

In 1960 I left Denver, Colorado on a basketball scholarship to pursue an education at Tennessee State University. I had never lived in the South nor experienced blatant overt racism. The bus trip from Denver to Nashville was memorable, because at the Tennessee state line the bus driver “forcefully instructed” me to move to the rear of the bus and sit behind the white line which separated white and Negro passengers. I was unaware of the transportation segregation laws. Arriving at the bus terminal I was told that if I were thirsty that I had to drink from the water fountain labeled “For Colored Only”. Of course, there were those standing nearby who made certain that I drank from the appropriate fountain.

Incidents like these and many others became the foundation upon which I committed my life to fighting to end discriminations of any form against any person or group. As a civil rights veteran, I personally experienced and witnessed, fifty-seven years ago, religious bigotry, racial hatred, anti-Semitism, intolerant behavior against people who were different and worst of all I saw people, of good faith, remain conspicuously silent. I saw and felt violence personified, by people who allowed their fears to overrule their faith. I knew instinctively that when or where any group was being denied their constitutional rights that the oppressors, as well as those who chose to close their ears and eyes to injustice, would suffer.

Back then, as now, we were a divided nation by laws, fears, ignorance, racism, classism, sexism, genderism, and all types of phobias. There were countless protests, marches, speeches, rallies, and yes, manifestos which were written to challenge the bitter climate that pitted people against one another. Segregation and discrimination were a part of the American culture.

In 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education called for the desegregation of public schools, however Southern legislators said that the laws to desegregate were unconstitutional so they wrote and signed “The Declaration of Constitutional Principles of 1956.” It was called “The Southern Manifesto” and it resisted forced integration.

In that environment eighty white ministers from the Atlanta Christian Council signed and issued the first Ministers Manifesto in 1957. The Manifesto broke the foreboding silence of the Christian community. Today, we sign an interfaith manifesto to send forth a faith statement that we will not tolerate racial hatred, bigotry, nor every form of religious discrimination. A second manifesto entitled “Out of Conviction: A Second Statement of the South’s Racial Climate” was issued after The Temple bombing in 1958.

These two manifestos were significant catalysts for changing laws and attitudes by challenging displaced hate, bigotry, and discriminatory behavior.

Now, once again, in 2017 America is being divided by hateful divisions – political, racial, and religious rhetoric. The necessity to “build bridges rather than walls” is mandatory. The challenge and charge must emanate from an interfaith, intercultural army of compassionate, creative, and committed warriors.

Communication is based on understanding, respecting, and trust. The Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto has been created to encourage communication among all of those who pursue the causes of equality, fairness, and justice. This Is Our Moment In Time to not remain silent, but to once again link arms, hearts, minds, and pledge to actively eradicate any of the “negative-isms” which are poisoning our nation.

Let’s Once Again:





A veteran of the Civil Rights movement, The Rev. Dr. Gerald L. Durley is now deeply involved in interfaith work.  As a World Pilgrim, he has traveled to Israel, Turkey, Jordan and other destinations with Muslims, Christians and Jews to better understand the differences and similarities among people, cultures and beliefs.

Dr. Durley was pastor of the historic Providence Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta for 25 years and has been intricately involved in global warming climate change discussions across the country.  He appears in the film The Great Warming, participated in the Climate Leadership Retreat at the Garrison, and testified before the Environmental Protection Agency.  Dr. Durley has worked across faith lines to promote interfaith relations and has been a vocal, outspoken advocate for assisting groups and individuals to communicate across faith disciplines.

Audrey Galex: Lofty goals are often lived out through small acts of doing what is right


by Audrey Galex, President of the Board for Faith Alliance of Metro Atlanta and Program Content Manager at the AIB Network.

“To understand other people, even your enemy, you must be willing to walk a mile in their moccasins.”

It was Labor Day weekend, 1971. I was 12-years-old.  I was standing on the pulpit at the Tri-City Jewish Center in Rock Island, Illinois, becoming a Bat Mitzvah, taking on the obligations of a Jewish adult in the traditional, religious coming of age ceremony. And those were the words I shared, as part of a reflection on the portion of sacred scripture that accompanied that week’s observance of Sabbath.  They are words that continue to guide me.

By the time I was 12, I knew how it felt to be “other.” I was the only Jewish child in my kindergarten class at the Villa de Chantel, a private Catholic School. I was one of four Jewish children in the public elementary school, once I transferred to Denkmann Elementary in second grade. My younger sister Harriet was one of them.

And I knew how it felt not only to be ‘other” but to be shamed for it: In sixth grade, when I was 11, I was ridiculed for being and “looking” Jewish: my big nose, my frizzy hair and my olive skin. No one would sit with me in the lunch room or on the school bus. It was, I learned later, a rite of passage, a hazing to be endured, to be accepted into the “cool clique.”

That seemingly trite experience left an impression on me: It was a week that changed how I thought about “otherness,” and I vowed I would never look down on anyone, ever, for being different from me.

Yet what left an even bigger impression was the small act of courage of the one friend who stood by me and stuck up for me.

Monica and I met when she was four and I was three. I spent every Christmas with her, eating Norwegian lefsa bread. She spent every Hanukkah with me, eating latkes. I went to Vacation Bible Camp with her at the neighborhood Lutheran church. She attended Junior Congregation with me on Saturday morning at the synagogue. We went to Brownies and Girl Scouts together.  Our moms were the troop leaders.  She ate Sabbath dinner with me on Friday nights at my grandma Sugie’s house. I even think she liked chopped liver better than I did.

No one had to teach us about respecting each other’s faith traditions: We simply lived it. We walked in each other’s moccasins.

And when the chips were down, she was her sister’s keeper.

The Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto calls us to take dramatic action. Its charge is set out in simple, straightforward and eloquent language. Its outlined principles speak to the best and highest aspirations in human consciousness.

Yet I am reminded of how lofty goals are often lived out through small acts of doing what is right, risking ostracism, or worse. I think of Monica who stood up to bullying. I think of a woman who sat down on a bus. I think of a man who walked across a bridge.

I also think of the Atlanta women who have met regularly for more than a decade as an interfaith sisterhood. I think of the hundreds of men and women who have traveled together as World Pilgrims. I think of the Muslim and Jewish women who have baked together in an interfaith baking circle. I think of the university professor and his children who acted out Nasruddin Hodja stories at a recent “Winter’s Light” interfaith storytelling gathering.  I think of the warmth and camaraderie in the room at the recent annual meeting of the Faith Alliance of Metro Atlanta.  I think of the Atlanta mother who has just recently gathered dozens of people to stand in loving solidarity outside Atlanta mosque’s during Friday jumaa prayers.

And despite the fear, hatred and violence that’s become all too common, these individual acts are reminders of hope.  They illustrate how Atlanta continues to serve as a beacon – one made up of individual candles – of people willing to reach across differences of faith, of their “otherness,” to learn from and with each other about how to get along.

Taken together, they advance the larger quest for interfaith understanding and cooperation.

And they challenge us to find ways, small and grand, day in and day out, to do what my friend Monica did, and walk in another’s moccasins, even if no one will sit next to you on the bus.

Audrey Galex has just begun her second year as president of the board of Faith Alliance of Metro Atlanta. She is Program Content Manager at the AIB Network. She and her husband Dave Schechter have three children: Maayan, Eyal and Ronen. They belong to Congregation Bet Haverim, a Reconstructionist synagogue in Atlanta.

Judy Marx: Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto shows we will depend on each other to survive

color headshot06by Judy Marx, Executive Director of the Interfaith Community Initiatives

I am the daughter of a Holocaust survivor. My dad, who turned 90 just a few weeks ago, rarely spoke about his experiences during the war. My brothers and I knew the rough outline: he grew up in Frankfurt, Germany, stayed there until his deportation to a camp, was liberated, and a year later came to the US with his family. It wasn’t until his first granddaughter was born that we persuaded him to tell his whole story.

In his memoir, my dad revealed what he believed allowed him to survive. It wasn’t that he was “better” than anyone else or more clever or more devout. He told us that survivors were “lucky,” not good or bad. He saw that there was no difference between those who survived and those who were murdered. Some people were lucky and many more were not.

Several of the turning points in my father’s stories are moments when individuals who happened to have the opportunity to help, did so. It was my dad’s lucky encounters with people who were actively doing the right thing that allowed him to survive. People who may have thought of themselves as good, but were passive and did nothing, only helped the oppressors.

I believe that one of the lessons of the Holocaust is that we need to work harder to create our own good luck.

As I write this, a group of World Pilgrims (Christians, Muslims and Jews) are traveling together in Guatemala. A program of Interfaith Community Initiatives, World Pilgrims journeys offer opportunities for people of faith, clergy and lay leaders, to really get to know each other. A World Pilgrims experience is a sacred journey that deepens each participant’s own faith as she/he gains appreciation for the commonalities and differences in other religious traditions. Mostly, pilgrimages encourage real friendships that cross faith, race, gender, and even political divides.

The friendships that develop over the course of a Pilgrimage are lasting. We support each other when times are tough and celebrate the good things. The honest discussions can be challenging, and sometimes feelings get hurt, but we all recognize that our friendship is stronger when we can agree to disagree. Since the first pilgrimage in 2002, every time a community feels threatened, World Pilgrims have been there to do the right thing: protecting a mosque, mourning a massacre, standing against injustice.

I am honored to have been a member of the group that helped develop Atlanta’s Interfaith Manifesto. While the words of the Manifesto itself are important, to me, the real value is the list of those who endorse it. I look at that list and I feel very good about Atlanta. While the list of well-known community leaders who signed on is impressive; I find more comfort in the many, many names I don’t recognize. The growing list of people actively stating that they believe in Interfaith Cooperation, respect and celebrate our community’s religious diversity, and will take a stand to support those principles is hopeful and inspiring.

The Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto is a sign to the world that we will not depend on luck to survive. We will depend on each other.

In March 2015, Judy Marx was named the first Executive Director of Interfaith Community Initatives, Inc. (ICI). In this position, she oversees ICI’s many programs, including World Pilgrims™, Atlanta Interfaith Leaders Forum, and Immersion Experiences, as well as represents interfaith efforts at community events and works with faith leadership across the city.

Prior to joining ICI, for three years Judy consulted with nonprofit organizations to improve their fundraising, community relations and leadership development. Judy spent 12-½ years with American Jewish Committee where she served as the Atlanta Director, and where she was the Founding Director of the award-winning Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. She has remained involved in the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, co-chairing the Film Evaluation Committee for two years and currently co-chairing the festival’s Community Engagement Committee. Also, in 2011 and 2013, Judy produced ReelAbilities ATL, Atlanta’s only disabilities film festival, working under the auspices of Georgia Community Support & Solutions.

Eboo Patel Brings His Message to Atlanta

by Tom Glenn

Eboo Patel, founder of the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) always gives a great speech, but he made one the other night that was particularly powerful as some three hundred college students, along with supporting faculty and student affairs professionals from all over the United States, gathered at IFYC’s Interfaith Leadership Institute dinner at the Loudermilk Center in Atlanta. In the wake of recent developments at odds with interfaith cooperation, Eboo crafted his comments to focus on the concerns of those students dedicated to interfaith cooperation. Sharing those concerns, I listened attentively to his various profound messages, some of which I will pass along.

Addressing the contentious, divisive environment now before us, Eboo called for thoughtful, non-combative dialogue when confronting bigoted rhetoric, emphasizing that venting our frustrations seldom changes opinions. The statement he used as an example, “I always thought you were a bigot,” demonstrates the type of dysfunctional attitude that never achieves positive results.

In his answer to a question about frustration from failure to change attitudes, Eboo pointed out that one’s actions – as opposed to statements — can inspire others in ways that are not always immediately apparent. Civil Rights Movement history is replete with stories of heroes whose actions inspired subsequent – though frequently not immediate – changes in attitudes and calls to action.

In a way that I found most moving, Eboo described how goodness often emerges from bad situations, and how beauty can spring from ugliness. (This is the part we really needed to hear). He gave examples ranging from an Underground Railroad departure point in Savannah, Georgia, to the inspiration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s heroism at a particularly vicious march confrontation in Chicago.

These comments reminded me of recent reports of reactions to changes in U.S. immigration policy. This is a contentious issue, to say the least, but we are now seeing more examples of people of different faiths standing up for each other. This is a departure from the more commonly observed Christians-for-Christians, Jews-for-Jews, or Muslims-for-Muslims reactions. Now, we are seeing Catholics, Jews, Unitarians, Episcopalians, Lutherans, and leaders of other faiths objecting to the demonization of Muslims. This strikes me as a particularly beautiful thing at a time when we can use all the beauty we can get.

The one commonality across all of Eboo’s comments was that taking the high road when confronting a difficult situation is always best. And it was most gratifying to hear one of the preeminent leaders of interfaith cooperation convey this message to a group of highly motivated young people.

Dr. Derreck Kayongo answers the question, “Why is the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto important?”

Thoughts from Dr. Derreck Kayongo, CEO of The Center for Civil and Human Rights

As a young boy growing up in Uganda under the reprobate leadership of Idi Amin in the seventies, I witnessed this leadership begin to develop a new form of authoritarianism, which took on a religious tone.

In the summer of 1975 Idi Amin announced that Uganda was to change its calendar. Rather than Saturday and Sunday being the weekend days of rest, we would instead rest on Friday so he could worship his god and go back to work on Saturday and Sunday. This change was for the purpose of following his Muslim tradition. On the surface this appeared to be a cause for a concern. The decree was done without the consent of the people, parliament, or even the Muslim community that sought to live in harmony with everyone else.

After the calendar change decree, my family and I along with many others started to see what seemed as an innocuous action set off a series of dictatorial actions that began the end of Uganda’s democracy. After the war began, over 200,000 Ugandans were killed within a span of eight years. My family left a comfortable life and ended up as refugees during Idi Amin’s miasma of terror.

Why is this story important to the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto? It is a cautionary tale to remind all of us how intolerance begins and what happens in its aftermath. Like a tumor, intolerance begins as a benign growth and if one doesn’t pay attention to it, it shouldn’t shock any of us when it becomes cancerous and starts to eat away at the very core of our wellbeing.

Intolerance shrinks the marketplace of ideas and it requires a lot of resources to master at the expense of innovation and a diversity of opportunities for all. The only way I have been afforded another chance at life, as a former refugee, is when I came to this great nation that offered me the opportunity to be someone with dreams and aspirations. A free America suggests that you are equal under the eyes of God with inalienable God-given rights and that’s a powerful and empowering raison d’être for a country to have at its core. Who would have ever imagined that I would go from a miserable refugee boy to now being the CEO of one of the most significant organizations in Atlanta!

The Center for Civil and Human Rights represents the successful evolution of the American spirit. We as Americans can set upon the journey of correcting our misdeeds of yesteryear and create the voting rights bill, Brown vs. Board, and so many other legislative victories to create a true and perfect Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

To that end, the point of the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto is to remind us of our success in inclusiveness and to instruct us not to cower behind the oppression of intolerance. As Americans, we are supposed to be the global example going beyond tolerance at its best and striving for a far more integrative measure. We must pursue a religious love that authors equality at all levels within our social, political, economic and spiritual life. In Christianity, where I belong, like in many religions, we say love your neighbor as you love yourself. Let’s determine to set our civilization apart by being the very essence of love. The Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto seeks to bring God’s Kingdom in heaven down on earth so the least among us can get reprieve. Your participation in that action is a Godly act and shall be noted for its gumption!

Derreck Kayongo is the Chief Executive Officer of The National Center for Civil and Human Rights, Inc. He and his family fled a civil war in Uganda and settled in Kenya as refugees. He then found his way to the U.S. where he became a successful entrepreneur as the founder of the Global Soap Project, a program which takes partially used soap from hotels, recycles them into new bars of soap, and redistributes the new bars to vulnerable populations around the world. Kayongo has been featured as a TEDx speaker and at several corporate and university forums. He recently coauthored, “The Roadmap to Success,” with Dr. Deepak Chopra and Dr. Ken Blanchard. Within this work, Kayongo focuses on Understanding the Instructive Power of Failure When Building Successful Ventures.

A rabbi, a priest and an imam walk into a……

Thoughts from Hal Schlenger, Senior Vice President of Programming at Temple Kol Emeth and chairperson since 2007. 

You probably knew that Cobb County’s history of religious intolerance and bigotry was a legacy that couldn’t be ended soon enough. The story of Leo Frank, a Jewish business person, is one of the county’s low moments. As much as we could dwell on, or worse, perpetuate such behavior, a growing group in Cobb and N Fulton counties has dramatically changed the local reputation.

To hear a Catholic priest and Jewish rabbi telling jokes to an audience of upwards of 1,000 people, to hear the Islamic Call to Prayer sung from a Jewish temple’s pulpit, and to hear Sikh, Universalist Unitarian, Episcopal, Protestant and Mormons speak from the same pulpit over the past 12 years is proof that something has changed in Cobb County.

Awarded the Creating Community Award by the Cobb County commissioners in 2010, the annual Ecumenical Thanksgiving Celebration is a shining example of cooperation, brotherhood and sisterhood, and building the trusted friendships that was missing in Cobb County.

The group started by demonstrating how we could “coexist,” which aligns with the Manifesto’s call for “respect and accommodation for diverse religious and secular identities.” The success of the early events became a springboard for celebrating our commonalities, reducing xenophobia and enabling trust and new friendships. For a Palestinian raised in Gaza to speak of discovering the commonalty and trust of Christians and Jews, to hear quotes from the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Quoran, the Sikh’s Guru Granth Sahib, the Bahá’í’s Aqdas, and to hear members of what is now 18+ faith-based organizations form a choir that rehearsed and sang together – and of course the humor between the rabbi, priest and iman, is proof that the manifesto’s objective is realistic and achievable in the near term.

Interfaith Success Story

At the suggestion of planning committee member Asif Saberi, we shifted the annual theme of the reflective messages from “how your faith view Thanksgiving” to other themes that allowed us to show the vastness of our multiple faith’s commonalities. Think about these themes and you’ll see that we’re providing a foundation for the manifesto’s call for respect and enable people speak out and stand against acts of hate and intolerance with confidence and personal experiences: The Golden Rule, Peace Begins with Me, What You Teach Your Children about other religions, and The Ripple Effect: Together we create waves (of change).

We invited feedback by writing on a Wall of Words as well as Facebook and Twitter. A sample of what people said:

  • Never stop this service. It is an amazing thing. It inspires me to think through other people’s perspective.
  • My spirit soared.
  • We are all just walking each other home.
  • The world is perfect; there are just a lot of people having a bad conversation.
  • Bridges are walls turned sideways.
  • Whatever effects one directly affects all of us indirectly… Martin Luther King – #manyfaiths
  • So proud and amazed at the continued presence of so #ManyFaiths!!!
  • Sometimes the best way to solve your problem is to help someone with theirs.
  • Be part of the ripple!
  • Feeling so grateful to be amongst all these openhearted people of faith. G-d is good!
  • We’ll be back. Wonderful!

List of participating congregations:

  • Ahmadiyya Muslim Community
  • Baha’i Faith of Marietta
  • Chestnut Ridge Christian Church
  • Congregation Etz Chaim
  • Earthkeepers, First Nation
  • East Cobb Islamic Center
  • East Cobb United Methodist Church
  • Emerson Universalist Unitarian
  • First United Methodist Church of Marietta
  • Hebrew Benevolent Congregation Temple
  • Holy Trinity Lutheran Church
  • House of Hope International Christian Church
  • Islamic Center of Marietta
  • Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta
  • Masjid Al-Muminum
  • Roswell Community Masjid
  • Saint Benedict’s Episcopal Church
  • Saint Catherine’s Episcopal Church
  • Sikh Educational Welfare Association
  • St Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church
  • Temple Beth Tikvah
  • Temple Kol Emeth
  • Transfiguration Catholic Church
  • Trinity Presbyterian Church
  • Unitarian Universalist of Metro Atlanta North
  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
  • Unity North Spiritual Community

Now What?

Hal Schlenger, Senior Vice President of Programming at Temple Kol Emeth, is the event’s chairperson since 2007, which was initially chaired by Randy Suchke. Learn more about Temple Kol Emeth here. 

The Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto Leads to the “Beloved Community” by Soumaya Khalifa

Thoughts From Soumaya Khalifa, Executive Director and Founder of the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta

At the recent Atlanta film screening of “Newtown” at the Lovett school, an audience member made a comment that we need to build community and to care for each other if we are to stop gun violence. His statement made me think immediately of the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto. The Manifesto is all about building community, caring for each other regardless of our diverse faith traditions, standing up for each other, and simply being the “beloved community.” The principles of the Manifesto are: advance interfaith cooperation, marshal religious diversity, celebrate Atlanta’s broader significance, and take a stand. Interfaith understanding is the civil rights movement for the 21st century.

One would say that my personal journey in the interfaith work started with the establishment of the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta (ISB), but actually it started long before. I remember as a very young child attending French Catholic school in Alexandria, Egypt, that was run by nuns. The school offered a church service during school time. I remember going to the church service and going home to tell my mother that I went to church. My mother would try to explain to me that we are Muslims. I agreed with my mom by saying “I pray to God at home as a Muslim and sing to God at church”. I believe that was the beginning of my interfaith journey.

In August 2001, along with a group of metro Atlanta Muslims, I started the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta with a vision of building bridges of understanding between the Muslim communities and the wider community and having American Muslims speak on their own behalf. It was a simple vision with a lot of opportunities. We started by training those interested in being part of the ISB on the First Amendment, because we are an educational organization where we “teach,” rather than “preach”. Education and knowing about the “other” is a first step in building community. As human beings, we fear what we do not know.

My journey with the ISB has been a life enriching experience. I have had the opportunity to work with people of different faiths and no faith. We started the Jewish Muslim Baking Group early on where Jewish and Muslim women would come together to bake something but it was really about getting to know each other, learning about our many similarities, and also our differences. Through the work of the ISB throughout the years, I had many opportunities that not too many people have. These opportunities include attending a Ramadan Iftar at the White House hosted by the President of the United States and participating in Christian Muslim dialogue at the World Council of Churches in Geneva. From the beginning, the ISB has been and continues to be about recognizing our partners through a number of initiatives including the Building Bridges Award, and working to change the narrative about Islam and Muslims through the “100 Influential Georgia Muslims” and the “40 Under Forty Georgia Muslims,” which showcase the incredible contributions of American Muslims to the state of Georgia in many areas including medicine, science, law enforcement, legal profession, philanthropy, and much more.

At the ISB we saw a need to also educate about other faith traditions. We collaborated with the Faith Alliance of Metro Atlanta (FAMA) to create the Interfaith Speakers Network (ISN). There are six religions represented by ISN: Hinduism, Buddism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam. and Sikhism. Each faith is represented by people practicing it. This gives authenticity to our panels.

Over the years I have heard concerns raised about interfaith work including (1) it will make me compromise my faith, and (2) I will be bringing the “lite” version of my faith to be accepted. The answer to both of these concerns is a definite NO. Interfaith collaboration makes one study their own faith tradition more so that they are better able to engage with others. Interfaith conversations start off with finding out what we have in common while realizing that there are also differences. Differences are discussed after trust has been built.

My challenge to myself and others is to take our interfaith engagement to the next level. We need interfaith collaboration and understanding today more than ever. The Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto provides a structure for all of us. May we all be agents of positive change in our communities and work together for our Beloved Community.