Interfaith panel explores ‘Truth and Reconciliation’

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

The third in a series of “Truth and Reconciliation” events brought clergy together to Central Reform Congregation to hear from “truth tellers” on the topic of religion and spirituality last Thursday night.

“In a way, it shouldn’t have affected me but I remember it now,” recalled one man who took the microphone to talk about his experiences when his religious school principal told the class that homosexuals deserve pity and prayer. “I remember how it felt now, to feel isolated and officially excluded.”

Others rose to speak to the panel including a nun-turned-atheist, a relief volunteer upset about the distribution of bibles during a disaster recovery effort and a protestor who told a story about police being called by a pastor during a peaceful demonstration outside a church. Topics dealt with everything from treatment of gays to the problem of sexual abuse in religious communities. 

Along with CRC’s Rabbi Susan Talve, the three religious panelists sat and listened to stories, sometimes apologizing for the negative experiences that had happened.


“I hear you,” panelist Rev. Traci Blackmon, pastor at Christ the King, United Church of Christ told one participant. “I hear the pain and I know that that pain is real.”

The idea for the event sprang from the events last year in Ferguson. Amy Hunter, director of racial justice for the YWCA, said that while there was a heavy presence of Christians at the protests during and after events that roiled the North County suburb, there were also many who were not.

“It started this really rich conversation about how people either feel included or excluded in organized religious groups and [we] noticed that there are all these other – atheist, agnostic, Bahai – groups that were not included in conversations about religion and what liberation might look like,” said Hunter. “The panel, the people who are in positions of power or perceived power, are really just to affirm and sometimes apologize for any harm or hurt that has come of their institution and structure.”

Some audience members during the event did note that while they wanted to be a part of protests, they did not enjoy the faith- or prayer-based aspects of such activity.

“We came to the protest to proclaim the truth that black lives matter,” said one. “Instead, we listen to somebody preaching. We’re asked to pray for people. That’s not what we are there for.”

After the event, panelist Barbara Gadon, senior minister at Eliot Unitarian Chapel in Kirkwood, said she believed the evening went well.

“I think there were a lot of people we heard from who have been seriously hurt by the church and I think those are voices that need to be heard and acknowledged. I feel like we did that,” she said. “I struggled with some of the things people said. It is hard not to take offense and be defensive. I really learned a lot from my colleagues here about how to put that aside.”

Talve, who sometimes stood as a moderator and other times sat with the panel, said she believed the conversation had been important. She told the group that, as a Jew, she had had the experience of being excluded by “Jesus language” at events and understood how “God language” might make atheists feel excluded.

“These are always very difficult, challenging, wonderful sessions,” she said later. “Whatever is supposed to happen always happens. That’s what I find. As long as people are telling their truth and we make space for it, something transformative will come out of it.”

Sarah Barasch-Hagans, a rabbinic intern at Central Reform Congregation, also acted as a panelist for the evening.

“It is nice to learn that people are willing to share such personal things for the sake of the community. I’m always surprised and impressed to learn that people are willing to do that,” she said.

Julie Angelica, an unaffiliated ex-Roman Catholic audience member, said she hopes there is an opportunity for future conversations. She felt it went well and helped bridge understanding between viewpoints but hoped there would also be an unaffiliated person on the panel.

“I think the purpose of the truth and reconciliation model is deeply needed. I think there are people who should be here who don’t come to these things,” she said. “That would really help move things more.”

Future events in the series will explore education in September, health and gun violence in October and “hueism/colorism” in November.  

The September and November events will also be held at CRC.