On Sunday, February 6th I attended the D.C. Interfaith Leadership Summit that is held annually by the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington. The Summit creates a space for interfaith leaders in the D.C. area to engage in interfaith dialogue with other religious and non-religious communities. This is a day-long event that is kicked off with a large selection of pre-events at various religious and non-religious communities in D.C. This was how I started my Summit experiences.
I kicked off my Summit experience by attending a Sunday service at a Church of Jesus of Latter Day Saints in the D.C. neighborhood of Friendship Heights. Before the service started I met my host Abe Collier at the nearby metro station and then walked over to the church. At the church I met a few other local LDS members who would be attending the Summit from Arlington, VA. Before the service I was told by Abe that a LDS service is a three hour service that is split into three one hour sessions. The first session is the congregational worship in the sanctuary where communion (consumption of bread and wine) takes place. What I found interesting about this part of the service was that the LDS church does observe communion but instead of using wine the LDS church uses water. After the communion was served the Elder gave a speech and several congregation members gave testimonies (witnessing God at work). After the congregational worship the congregation split into their Sunday classes where worship would continue. Abe and I didn’t stay for the Sunday classes but made our way to the Summit that was being held in Howard University’s Divinity and Law Schools.
When I arrived at the Summit I met up with Erin Hagen, Sarah Jones, and a few people I know from the American University Interfaith Council. The afternoon portion of the Summit consisted of group discussions that were centered on topics like social justice and how to include those of no faith in interfaith councils. Before the afternoon sessions started there was an hour or so set aside for tabling by organizations that were present at the Summit. During the time set aside for tabling lunch was also served by a local Sikh temple (Gurdwara).
After lunch the afternoon sessions started. I attended two sessions: one on social just and the media, and the other on how to include the non-religious in interfaith councils. In the first session the goal of the group discussion was to create a hashtag on social media around a social issue. In my small group we decided to create a hashtag highlighting the less favorable side of Black Friday, namely over consumption and the lack of thankfulness during Thanksgiving. In the second session, who Sarah Jones helped lead, the topic was about how to include the non-religious in interfaith dialogue. I thought the group discussion would be one-sided, namely a whole bunch of religious people asking those who are not how the religious can include them in interfaith dialogue. While the discussion grew I was surprised that the discussion turned into one where both sides were asking each other how to be inclusive and how to behave in a way that made religious and non-religious groups comfortable in including those of opposite beliefs. The group also tackled hard questions like, “what is religion?” or “what is Humanism and how is it different from Atheism?” And then there was debate between religious people of different political leanings about what constitutes religion. Thankfully the debate was not heated and people came up to afterwards to talk more about the definition of religion. For the first time in my life I talked to some one from the Religious Right that I didn’t walk away thinking, “I really don’t like that person.” Instead I found myself wishing that I had asked the man for his email or cell number so we could continue our talk over tea (I’m not a fan of coffee, oh well).
As someone who has been active in interfaith dialogue for several years I was excited to attend the Summit after friends, who had attended last year, told me how wonderful it was. Even though interfaith dialogue and groups supporting the movement are quite small in this country it was wonderful to see also two hundred people from the D.C. area attending the Summit. I was also surprised by the diversity in belief of the people who attended the Summit as well. While interfaith dialogue draws the wrath of the Religious Right, it is important to remember that interfaith dialogue is essential in this country to create as society that believes in true religious liberty and diversity.