By Cherilyn Crowe
How well do you know your neighbor? How often do you talk about your religious beliefs with those who do not share them?
People with various religious perspectives say it’s time to start new conversations with those around you.
In December, a coalition of 15 organizations – including the Baptist Joint Committee – launched an innovative project titled “Know Your Neighbor” and participated in a White House convening on religious pluralism. This month’s cover story includes details on the event.
Created by Gurwin Singh Ahuja, a young Sikh man concerned about his own community’s challenges, Know Your Neighbor calls on all Americans to share their own beliefs as well as understand and respect those of others. The coalition believes that dialogue is desperately needed to reduce religious tensions and maximize the strength of our nation’s diverse heritage.
BJC Executive Director Brent Walker emphasized the need to move past stereotypes and look out for our neighbors’ well-being. “Our religiously plural democracy and the religious freedom we enjoy depends not just on constitutional protection against governmental interference; it also depends on the willingness of American citizens on a personal level to understand and respect each other, including our differences,” Walker said. “The Know Your Neighbor initiative encourages all of us to do so, ensuring America remains true to its heritage and promise.”
The website for Know Your Neighbor features a pledge that all are encouraged to sign, promising to get to know people with other beliefs and “speak out against hatred and misinformation.” For more information, visit knowyourneighbor.us.
The website also contains testimonials from people sharing personal stories, including how they rely on their own faith or their encounters with those of other faiths. Three Baptists are featured: Roy Medley, general secretary of the American Baptist Churches USA, shares what he learned through various Baptist/Muslim dialogue efforts; Mary Elizabeth Hanchey, a Baptist student at Duke Divinity School, shares a story of befriending a Muslim woman while their newborns battled for life in a hospital; and George Mason, pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, shares how his faith brought him through his church’s encounter with Ebola.
The members of the Know Your Neighbor coalition are the ACLU, Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Center for Inquiry, Hindu American Seva Communities, Interfaith Alliance, Interfaith Youth Core, Islamic Networks Group (ING), Muslim Advocates, National Council of Churches, National Sikh Campaign, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Religions for Peace USA, The Shoulder to Shoulder Campaign, and Sikh Coalition.
From the January 2016 Report from the Capital. Click here to read the next story.