Bringing together national faith leaders

BY PATRICIA CORRIGAN, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

Sometimes, the search for common ground requires a preliminary step. “You can always find a common table and sit and talk,” says Rabbi Steve Gutow, executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs in New York. “Judaism, Christianity and the Islamic faith all ask everyone to look at the holiness inside each of us. It’s hard to do that and then not seek a way to try to find common ground.”

Gutow has found the table and some common ground as well with Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed, the national director of the Islamic Society of North America based in Washington, D.C., and the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, whose office is in New York City. The three will speak here at 7 p.m. Monday, July 13 at Aquinas Institute of Theology, 23 S. Spring Avenue.

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In January, just after the start of the Gaza War, the three crafted an interfaith prayer for peace. More recently, they banded together to speak in favor of national legislation against hate crimes.

“The idea is that we should look into the fact that religion can play a major role into bringing people to understanding even when they differ on the issues,” said Gutow. “None of this could happen if we didn’t have affection and trust for one another, but we do like each other.”

The Jewish Community Relations Council will co-sponsor the event with the Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis, the Aquinas Institute and Eden Theological Seminary.

“Our three speakers have found a way to bridge painful times through prayer, and their work is a model that shows it can be done,” said Batya Abramson-Goldstein, JCRC executive director. “In the course of the evening, they will talk about how we can come from different perspectives and still remain speaking to each other and praying with each other.”

The prayer composed by the three interfaith religious leaders contains these lines: We have not always agreed on decisions involving war and peace; but we do agree that You are on the side of those who suffer, and that peacemaking is our ultimate vocation. We pray in different ways and languages; but we each long to hear your voice and to discern the way You wish us to travel.” (To read the entire prayer, see www.mmsucc.org/communication/vUnifiedPrayerforPeace1-09.pdf)

“The text of the prayer is the key message for the evening, the message that needs to come out again and again,” said Abramson-Goldstein. “The subject of the prayer resonates locally and also has national and international import – and it is such a vital subject for all of us engaged in interfaith work.”

Abramson-Goldstein paused to reflect on the nature of that work. “The good times make it easy,” she said. “It is when we face difficult times that interfaith relationships are truly tested.”

Dr. Scott Steinkerchner, a Dominican friar and adjunct professor at the Aquinas Institute, credits Abramson-Goldstein with coming up with the idea for the event. “We had some grant money set aside for inter-religious dialogue programs, and I went to Batya and said, ‘Let’s dream.’ “

On Monday, each speaker will talk for 20 minutes, and then questions from the audience will inspire an hour-long discussion. “The purpose of the event,” Steinkerchner emphasized, “is to convince people that discussion is the crucial part.” He added that he has two hopes for the outcome of the evening.

“Long term, we really do believe that our only future is together, with our differences enduring. We’re not going to become one religion, or see things one way,” he said. “By turning to God to find solutions to our problems, prayer finds that razor-thin place where we all pray with integrity, where we all want peace. I want to help move that process forward.”

Steinkerchner continued: “More than academic conversations with each other, we need to work together, to know each other. My short-term goal is to get people to see that if we are going to place our relationships in a religious context, the Midwest is the best place in the world for that to happen.”

We Have A Prayer: Interfaith relations in difficult times

WHO: Rabbi Steve Gutow, executive director, The Jewish Council for Public Affairs; The Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary, National Council of Churches; and Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed, national director, Islamic Society of North America.

WHEN: 7 to 9 p.m. Monday, July 13

WHERE: Aquinas Institute of Theology, 23 S. Spring Ave. (Parking in St. Louis University garage on Laclede Ave.)

HOW MUCH: Free (Please RSVP at [email protected])

MORE INFO: 314-442-3871