Highlighting the Common Ground

Highlighting the Common Ground

October 11, 2016

Four religious leaders representing Christianity, Judaism and Islam spent several hours recently talking to a Glenmeadow Learning audience at Western New England University about religion and its connection to violence, and they shared their viewpoints on the importance of letting go of stereotypes and working toward respect and tolerance.

The overall lesson from the panelists was that religious groups across the country—and the world—need to come together in small groups of individuals and as larger communities, to learn from and to understand one another.

“I’ve learned something from each one of you,” a member of the audience said moments before the panel came to a close.

Leading the group of panelists for the talk, the first in the fall Glenmeadow Learning series, was Rabbi Jerome Gurland, retired cultural liaison coordinator and lecturer at Western New England University and a Glenmeadow resident. The talk was called “Interfaith-ful Dialogue: Religion, Respect, and Tolerance,” and well over 60 people from the community gathered to hear the discussion and to work on comprehending conflicts that occur in the name of religion.

The program began with Rabbi Gurland offering a statement for panelists to respond to, which included this background for context:

“On April 26, 1956, Rabbi Leo Baeck… at age 93, gave his final address at a study conference in Brussels on dialogue between Christians, Jews and Muslims. The Nazis had granted Rabbi Baeck safe passage out of Germany. His response: ‘Not until every Jew has been safely out of Germany.’ Rabbi Baeck spent the war years in a concentration camp. Yet only 11 years after liberation, he is said to have set the cornerstone of interfaith dialogue as ‘the knowledge and acceptance of the differences and similarities of religions.’”

Here are snapshots of panelists’ responses:

The Rev. Dr. William Bergmann
, rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Clinton. When you take ignorance and couple it with fear, it very easily turns into hate. That’s as true today as it was in the beginning of time. We need to begin to know each other—to know our similarities and differences, our loves, hates, affections and fears. Who are we really? Do we really live the things that we profess and say? Education is essential in that learning, but it’s not all of the equation. One can be well-educated as well as a hateful bigot. There’s a difference between knowing something about someone, and knowing them.

Rabbi Mark Shapiro, rabbi emeritus of Sinai Temple in Springfield. Religion does great things—all religions. It has a great capacity to organize our lives and tell us where we’re going and how to journey there. Religion is a great force for the good of the human experience. On the other hand, religion can burn us, make us hate others; our love of our religion can turn into hate of others. Too much religion makes us dangerous. The problem with religion may not be with religion; it may be with human beings. Judaism may very well be better than Jews. Christianity better than Christians. Islam better than Muslims.

Dr. Martin Pion, a professor and the director of the Institute for Theology and Pastoral Studies at Elms College. Relationships between Catholics and Jews really came to a head after the Holocaust. It became a catalyst for people to agree we do need to look at our historic relationship. By 1965, a document on how Jews and Roman Catholics should be working together was produced. Known as the Nostra Aetate, it became a pathway to improved relationships and ongoing dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Jewish community. Recently, Catholic-Muslim dialogue began in the U.S. We are trying to work with each other and collaborate with each other to deepen our understanding and get rid of negative attitudes and stereotypes and reassess who we are.

Dr. Mohammad Saleem Bajwa, a physician in the area and the founding member of the Islamic Society of Western Massachusetts. Islam is a most misunderstood religion. Islam is a relative newcomer in history. Events preceding 9/11 and 9/11 itself alerted people that there’s some problem, and, of course, other events are happening now. Everybody’s looking at Islam in light of these events. That’s damaging Muslims and Islam. There’s a great need for interfaith understanding and respect for each religion and tolerance. There is a great need to sit together and work together. We are all from one god, we are going to worship one god and we are not going to fight with one another.

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