Last weekend I attended the D.C.. Interfaith Leadership Summit that is held annually by the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington. The Summit creates a space for interfaith leaders (both religious and non-religious) in the D.C.. area to engage in a dialogue with each other.
I kicked off my Summit experience by attending my very first Sunday service at a Church of Jesus of Latter Day Saints in the D.C. neighborhood of Friendship Heights. When I arrived at Howard University’s Divinity School for the Summit, I met up with some Americans United employees and friends from the American University Interfaith Council. After the morning plenary, all the attendees had the opportunity to go to a variety of break-out sessions.
I attended two sessions: one on social justice and the media, and the other on how to include the non-religious in interfaith councils. In the first session, the goal of the group discussion was to create a hashtag on social media around a social issue. In my small group we decided to create a hashtag highlighting the less favorable side of Black Friday, namely: over consumption and the lack of thankfulness during Thanksgiving. We came up with #WhenIsEnough.
AU Communications Associate Sarah Jones helped lead the second session I attended. The focus was on how to include the non-religious in interfaith dialogue. I thought the group discussion would be one-sided, namely a whole bunch of religious people asking the humanists, atheists, and agnostics how the religious can include them in interfaith dialogue. I was surprised that the discussion turned into one where both sides were asking each other how to be inclusive, and how to behave in a way that made both groups comfortable. We also tackled hard questions like, “What is religion?” and “What is Humanism, and how is it different from Atheism?” There was a passionate discussion among religious people of different political leanings about what constitutes religion. It was an interesting conversation, and people continued to talk with each other even after the session had ended.
As someone who has been active in interfaith dialogue for several years, I was excited to attend the Summit. My friends who had attended last year told me how wonderful it was. Even though the interfaith movement is still quite small in this country, it is encouraging to see hundreds of people from D.C. come together. I was also surprised by the diversity of belief in the people who attended the Summit. While interfaith dialogue draws the wrath of the Religious Right, it is important to remember that interfaith dialogue is essential in this country to create a society that believes in true religious liberty and diversity.