To live together, various faith communities must learn to celebrate what they share in common instead of just focusing on differences, a moderate Baptist leader told an interfaith gathering last month in Atlanta.
Daniel Vestal, coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, was one of seven speakers to address a theme of "The Art of Living Together" Oct. 11 at an event sponsored by the Istanbul Cultural Center for Culture and Dialogue.
Earlier, Vestal and his wife were part of a delegation of 17 Jews, Christians and Muslims who spent 12 days together on an ICC-sponsored trip to Turkey.
"We learned from one another, and we laughed and we cried," Vestal said. "We ate and we shopped, we prayed and we sang.
"Perhaps most important of all we experienced community, among ourselves and with our Turkish friends. Across theological, cultural and linguistic differences, we experienced authentic community."
Vestal said all three of the "Abrahamic" faiths--Islam, Judaism and Christianity--"make distinctive, and I would say even exclusive, claims."
Jews, he said, think they are God's Chosen People. Christians claim to follow the Savior of the World. Muslims believe Muhammad is the Final Prophet. But before those claims, he said, the three traditions "share a common humanity."
"We're a part of one family, the human family," Vestal said. "In that family we really are like children, children of the same parent. So let us celebrate our family relationship, our common origin, our essential human nature, our bond of humanity."
The three religions also share a "common brokenness," Vestal continued. He suggested a starting point for building community as "humility."
"Perhaps we all would do well to admit honestly and humbly that we have contributed to the misunderstanding and the confusion that is around us," he said. "We've had our share of fears and prejudice. We've acted foolishly and spoken foolishly. We're all broken--just in different places and in different ways."
A third step in learning to live together, Vestal said, is to "share in our common suffering."
"Perhaps the acid test of faith, whatever faith--Muslim, Jewish, Christian or whatever--is what do we do with suffering," he said. "What do we do with our own suffering, and what do we do with the suffering of the world? Do we enter into the pain of the world, and do we act in compassion and love to alleviate that pain?"
"In the last few months we have experienced intensified demonstration of human suffering: a tsunami in Asia, hurricanes in the U.S., mudslides in Central America, famine in Africa, earthquake in Pakistan," he said. "If ever we need to care for one another, it is now."
More than 250 guests attended the third annual interfaith dialogue dinner aimed at promoting dialogue among different religions and cultures. It included a moment of silence dedicated to recent sufferings in the United States, South Asia and Central America and concluded with collective wishes of further dialogue through future meetings and projects.
The Istanbul Center works to build awareness of Turkish culture and strengthen cultural and educations ties between Turkey and the U.S. It supports Turkish students studying in the U.S., helps Turkish immigrants and sponsors occasions for discussion and travel between the two countries.
"ICC is committed to interfaith dialogue, and CBF is committed to interfaith dialogue," Vestal said in a press release prior to the event. "It has been personally rewarding to form genuine friendships with people from faith traditions different from my own. Such friendships create community and foster understanding, which is very important in today's world."
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.