Six years ago I invited an Imam to join me at the Lutheran convention. As I extended the invitation, I wanted him to know that we had differences on some important issues. In words I remember as if they were spoken yesterday, he said, “We disagree on these things. But let us work on the things we agree on.” He accepted the invitation to speak.
More fundamentally, he and I agreed that our traditions taught that all human beings are human and worthy of respect, no matter our differences. I knew that he might vote differently from me, advocate differently from me, and take a different stance on important, passionate issues from me. On another day, we would be on different sides hoping for another outcome – but doing so while honoring each other’s humanity.
Our mission at PTU is to bridge bias and build unity through multi-faith peacemaking.
At PTU, we believe in a pluralistic America. That is, we believe in an America in which there are numerous, distinct ethnic, religious, and cultural groups which together form our understanding of who “we” are as a people. Part of this means working to gather in respect and mutual love with people that we disagree with. That means there are times when PTU gathers people across all kinds of racial, religious, and cultural lines so that we can recognize that we, in all our differences, form an “us.” That we are together, in all our passionate differences, a part of one nation, one people, one humanity. This can be uncomfortable in these polarized times. But it is important for us to respond together to this polarization by standing together in public. We are working on this through our new program, Let’s Go Together.
One part of the scope of our work is to gather people of many wisdom traditions and cultures to recognize our common humanity.
Because we believe in a pluralistic America, it is important to ally with groups whose inherent human dignity has been denied. This is not because one group is inherently more important than another. Rather, it is because on this continent we have fallen far short of honoring the value of people of many ethnic, religious, and cultural groups. It is not okay for people to take a neutral stance in the face of dehumanization, systemic oppression, and violence toward any group of human beings. We work to help communities of wisdom to stand up with one another. Silence is consent and passivity is not love. We provide coaching for this through our course The Practice of Authentic Allyship.
Our scope of work includes training communities of wisdom how to ally with religious and cultural groups under the pressure of dehumanization.
There is a tension between these two kinds of work. Between honoring our shared humanity despite some differences in beliefs and values, and courageously speaking out when one group denies another’s human rights and dignity. But I want to contend that both are necessary right now. Further, I believe that communities of wisdom must do both kinds of activities.
Our nation is dangerously polarized. Social cohesion, the glue of trust that holds us together, is decreasing. This polarization is already leading to an increase in political violence, which is always wrong, no matter its ideological excuses. Communities of wisdom can play a role in rebuilding our social cohesion with other communities – especially those with whom they disagree.
Our nation is dangerously unequal. Some groups of people are not given the same chance to realize “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. This lack of equity is a form of violence in itself. It creates a social hierarchy that diminishes the vision of “we the people, in order to form a more perfect union.” Communities of wisdom, especially those in the majority, can play a role in working for equity for all people – following the lead of those most impacted.
Leaders will need to be very clear with their communities about the need for action on both increasing social cohesion and working for equity – and when they are working on one or the other.
One manifestation of our polarization is a search for purity. We only want to work with people we agree with. Many don’t want to work for social cohesion “with them.” But that is exactly the point of work for social cohesion. A functioning democracy requires that we see the people who disagree with us as human beings, even while we have the right to evaluate the behavior of those who have made polarization their identity.
Another manifestation of our polarization is passivity. We want to refrain from any controversy. We don’t want to work for equity because it will be costly. But that is exactly the point. A functioning democracy requires that we actively pursue the ways our union could be more perfect and that we stand with those who are paying the price for that inequity.
Many leaders of communities of wisdom say that we are entering a difficult and dangerous time. At PTU we want to encourage communities of wisdom to work on both social cohesion and equity. This is the time to bring our deepest wisdoms, the gifts of divine inspiration, human compassion, contemplation, and our best selves to meet the challenges we are facing. I believe we must both bridge bias and build unity, because all human beings are human and worthy of respect, no matter our differences.