What do we mean by "interfaith"?
For a lot of people, that word is "loaded." They wonder if being part of what we do at Voices for Earth Justice means they have to give up their most deeply-held beliefs.
To other people, being "interfaith" may seem like a way to avoid making a choice. It's a wishy-washy way of being "faith-based" without having to do much of the "faith" part.
And to a few people, "interfaith" seems like a wolf in sheep's clothing--a scheme by what they think of as "fringe" religions to chip away at "mainstream" religions.
When an organization like VEJ uses a loaded word like "interfaith," it is important to be clear about what we mean when we use it.
Webster's dictionary defines "interfaith" as involving people of different faiths or religions.
You might ask: What does Webster mean by the word "involving?"
Flip a page or two in the dictionary and you find that "involve" means to "engage as a participant."
So, then, when we say that VEJ is "interfaith," we mean that people of different faiths or religions are participating in what we are about and what we do.
So, what are we about? What do we do?
Our name--Voices for Earth Justice--gives the simplest answer:
We are about "Earth justice." To me, that means giving Earth as much care and grace as Earth gives to us. It means helping human beings find the right balance with creation.
We use our voices (we do something) to bring about that Earth justice.
So, then, if Earth justice is what we are about and using our voices is what we do, where does "interfaith" come in?
The simple answer has two parts.
First, all people--regardless of their faith or religion--are born on Earth and depend on Earth to live and to live well. When one group of people abuses or exploits Earth, it not only affects Earth, but all other groups of people who live here. So, we have reasons to help each other care for Earth. Our lives and well-being depend on it.
Second, people of faith--any faith--share a common belief that we are made by love, for love, to love. To be human is to be created for the purpose of loving all of creation. This is the foundation of all faiths.
So, then, nothing could be more essential and true to faith--any faith--than Earth justice.
For that reason, a mission like ours cannot be exclusive; it must be inclusive of all whose faith leads them care for creation. We share in the goodness and richness of Earth and therefore we share in the work of caring for Earth.
Here, I'd like to make a few points about what that looks like.
First, it is rare in our world for people of different faiths to come together. More often, we are avoiding each other or openly fighting each other. Whenever we can find something that unites us, we need to make the most of it. Earth justice is one of those things that all faiths have in common and therefore can give us ground on which to stand together. Indeed, we cannot hope to bring about Earth justice without each other. We are always going to share this planet and therefore we must find ways to care for it together.
Second, it is very hard for people of different faiths to get along. If it were easy, more people would be doing it! Faith is one of those things that is so deep, so essential to our personal identities, that fighting to protect what we believe is reflexive. As human beings, our brains want to make things as simple as possible--to break all things down into "black and white." This is our default setting. We need to admit how disorienting and uncomfortable it is to hang out in the interfaith "gray area." Interfaith relationships take great care and a lot of intention. We need to be up front about this so that we are not hard on each other or on ourselves when it gets difficult.
Third, while bringing people of different faiths together is something we'd all like to do, most of us don't know how to do it. It is one thing to wish something, it is another thing to make the wish come true. There are mission organizations that exist for the sole purpose of building interfaith partnerships and they are good at what they do. However, they often struggle to engage the mainstream. Most people feel like practicing their own faith is hard enough without adding the difficultly of trying to learn someone else's faith. Very few immediate economic or social incentives exist in life to move people of one faith toward people of another.
Fourth, research has shown that the most effective way to bring people of different belief systems together is to make something other than their belief systems their primary focus. Doing something constructive together is the most effective way to help people of different faiths bond. In working on something side by side, people of different faiths don't see each other as "different faiths," but as fellow human beings. They share stories about their families and their lives. They swap skills and talents. They see that they can do something constructive together as people. As rapport and trust build up, a "safe space" grows between them that allows mutual curiosity in.
So, then, what do these points mean for VEJ?
I sum it up like this: Earth justice is what we do. Belief in a Creator is why we do it. Interfaith is how we do it.
People whose faith leads them to believe in a Creator believe they are called by that Creator to care for creation.
VEJ exists to serve those people; to give them access to activities, information, and relationships to help them do Earth justice in their communities and in their lives.
One thing that we build into that work is making a safe place for people of different faiths to celebrate, discover, and practice Earth justice side by side. In doing so, they can discover each other and learn to admire, enjoy, and trust one another.
You may decide this isn't for you. If so, that's OK. We pray a blessing on you as you go the way you need to go in your life. We're not the kind of people who believe that you must be part of us to support what we support in the world. It takes all kinds of people in all kinds of places.
But if relationships with people who are very different from you is something you would like to be part of your Earth justice practice, know that you have a place with us.
Earth justice is what we do. Belief in a Creator is why we do it. Interfaith is how we do it.
Your comments and questions are always welcome. When we say "Voices," we really mean "conversations." Please share in the comment section below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Grace and peace!