Principled Pluralism Requires the Courage for Difficult Conversations

The theme for this first week of the Chautauqua summer is “21st Century Literacies” and in an increasingly diverse and multicultural America, one variety of these literacies — religious literacy — is an imperative. That is because in the 21st century, we have become a much more religiously diverse nation.

There are few more difficult conversations today than the one over religious diversity: whether we navigate it successfully or become polarized by it will determine whether we will remain faithful to some of our nation’s most cherished founding principles. Our ability to accommodate religious diversity connects us to our founding era and to the principles embodied in our First Amendment.

It also connects us to our more recent past. The mid-20th century gave us the Interfaith Movement — or Interfaith 1.0, if you will. Interfaith 1.0 emerged in a nation that was overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly Christian. In the discourse of Interfaith 1.0, liberal faith denominations were able to bridge differences based on shared values —commitments to separation of church and state; to self-determination; and to the rights of women and minorities. Its proponents — some here today — are classic liberals in the sense of believing that it is up to the individual to determine her own good, and that this good cannot be interfered with by the state or the church, absent objective harm to others. Interfaith 1.0 was a conversation between the likeminded. It made many contributions, but was, in some measure, an echo chamber.

The conversation about religious diversity also connects us to the future. In the 21st Century, a multifaith and multicultural Interfaith 2.0 has emerged from the nation’s shifting demographics. Interfaith 2.0 faces challenges of bridging that are way more complex than what preceded it, but at its best, it’s a robust conversation. It’s a little like what Wynton Marsalis says about jazz:

Jazz means working things out musically with other people. You have to listen to other musicians and play with them even if you don’t agree with what they’re playing. It teaches you the very opposite of racism and anti-Semitism. It teaches you that the world is big enough to accommodate us all.

The Inclusive America Project was the Aspen Institute’s response to some troubling phenomena: an Islamophobia that first expressed itself just after 9/11, but become florid some ten years later; the increasingly bitter political feuds between secular Americans and the religious right, and the isolation of some immigrant religious communities that suggested disturbing parallels to sections of London and Paris. We spoke to religious leaders, government officials and community workers who recognized that reliance on old tools would not be enough — we would need to be far more intentional in our approach to religious diversity in the coming years. With former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Harvard Kennedy School Professor David Gergen at the helm, we brought together a distinguished panel which also included our host today Dr. Robert Franklin, and published the Principled Pluralism Report.

The American tradition of openness to people of different faiths has historically been one of our greatest strengths, and I, along with the distinguished panel that wrote the report, believe that tradition will continue. But we must tap the best successes of our past, we must adapt to new challenges, and we must be willing to have difficult conversations with our neighbors and fellow citizens about some of our most deeply-held convictions.

It is only through this willingness to engage that Interfaith 2.0 will lead us to a society based on religious pluralism, a term defined by the Harvard Divinity School’s Diana Eck as “the active seeking of understanding across lines of difference.”

When the Justice and Society Program embarked on the Inclusive America Project in 2011, our goal was to explore practical approaches to the pluralism that Eck described. But we learned that bridging was not enough.


Madeleine Albright, David Gergen and Eboo Patel at the inaugural Inclusive America Project event, 2012. Photo: Steve Johnson/The Aspen Institute

We saw that to be successful those involved in interfaith engagement needed to do two additional things: increase our religious literacy and understand that not every difference can be bridged. Bridging is good when it is a matter of understanding, respect and shared action. But on matters of theology, bridging is neither possible, nor in many instances desirable. You know that little phrase “agree to disagree?” When it comes to religious pluralism, that is a powerful concept.

Through our research, we learned that there are three major axes of tension over religion in America today:

  • The first is the division of people of faith and non-religious people, or the “nones” as Professor Robert Putnam and David Campbell call them in their landmark book American Grace.
  • The second is the division between the so-called “Big Three” faiths — mainline Protestants, Catholics and Jews — and minority religious groups. Please note that I include Judaism in the “Big Three” not because of absolute numbers, but because these are the three faiths, long represented in this nation, that took the lead in Interfaith 1.0.
  • The third is the conversation that takes place (or does not take place) between progressive and conservative sects within a religion—the intrafaith divide. Sometimes, the most bitter divisions are those between co-religionists.
 
King Fahd Mosque, Culver City, Ca. Flickr photo by Clinton Steeds and used under Creative Commons. 

Why is now the time for this conversation? One reason is our steadily shifting demographics. According to Pew Research Center polling, the “nones” comprise a growing percentage of Americans: less than 10% until the 1990’s, they are now 23% overall and 35% among millennials.

In 1955, 92 percent of Americans were Protestant or Catholic, and 4% Jewish. Sociologist Will Herberg titled his portrait of religion in mid-twentieth century America “Protestant-Catholic-Jew” and wrote that to not identify with one of those is “somehow not to be an American — even when one’s Americanness is otherwise beyond question.”

Today less than 50% of Americans identify themselves as Protestant, and there is a growing divergence in beliefs between evangelical churches and the mainline Protestant denominations.

While the most significant demographic change is the growth of disaffiliation, there has been significant growth in minority religious groups. For example, the U.S. Muslim community, tiny in the 1950’s, has grown largely due to immigration trends. There were 1 million Muslims in the U.S. in 1992. That number grew to 2.75 million in 2011, with the total projected to rise to 6.2 million by 2030. Hindus and Buddhists, less than 1% of the US population presently, are 7 and 6% respectively of recent immigrants.

These statistics are only a snapshot of the emerging religious diversity of our nation. Our religious diversity is both a challenge and an opportunity. How do we feel about this, and how should we feel?

Today, our attitudes show some trends that should concern us. First, while the U.S. is arguably the most religiously observant nation in the industrialized world, our religious literacy is low. Fewer than half of those surveyed by Pew in 2010 knew that the Jewish Sabbath begins on Friday, and only slightly more could identify the Qu’ran or Ramadan. In the absence of knowledge, though, there are still a lot of opinions, not all flattering. Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists are viewed unfavorably by white Evangelicals, but better by mainline Protestants and Jews; while Catholics, Mormons and Jews are viewed unfavorably by the “nones.” The sharpest tension is between white evangelicals and the non-religious, particularly atheists.

And as we muddle along in our confusion, we are not doing it in isolation. Professor Michael Walzer has observed that secular modernity has been the midwife to religious extremism, a reaction to its ambiguities. We are without doubt in a battle between the ideals of religious pluralism and religious fundamentalism; and to win, pluralism must present a compelling narrative and practice.

Pluralism and tolerance

Religious pluralism is not a new concept in America. In fact, one of its earliest formulations was articulated by our first president, George Washington, in his letter to the Touro Synagogue of Rhode Island. In response to a letter from its leaders, the president said:

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

So, Washington’s formulation appears to be, since all are capable of equal loyalty to the new nation, all are equally free to the practice of their faith, and all faiths are equally privileged in the political arena.

The contemporary view of pluralism espoused by Eck, a view I share, is a “thicker” concept than tolerance, and more even that Washington’s side-by-side pluralism. Engagement with difference is hard work, and given human limitations it is aspirational. But before the conversation can begin, we should understand where the tensions are. Let’s look at each.

First, Secularism and Faith Communities.

At a recent meeting in Washington DC, the Secular Coalition of America had as its speaker Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), a vigorous advocate for the separation of church and state. Coons framed his remarks around a personal story. He told the crowd that as a student at Yale Law School deeply engaged in liberal and progressive social causes, he had begun to attend lectures at the  Yale Divinity School, and became so enthralled by what he was learning that he enrolled for a joint degree. Coons was shocked to learn the social cost of his decision among his law school classmates.

Some of them literally disowned me, he said.

His roommates moved out. Some of his friends acted as if he had lost his mind.

For exploring his own religious beliefs, Coons faced “real bigotry” from a peer group he believed to be enlightened and open-minded.

 
Touro Synagogue, Newport, RI. Flickr photo by Moarir de Sa Pereira used under Creative Commons.

There is one man’s experience of the tension between the “nones” and those of faith. For the “nones,” the wounds are equally raw. Two-thirds or more of the unaffiliated say that churches and other religious institutions are too concerned with money and power and too involved in politics. Many are alienated by the views of organized religion on issues like same-sex marriage and reproductive rights. Others resent being evangelized.

Many of the “nones” — unlike the New Atheist movement embraced by people like Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris — don’t reject the notion of a deity. It is organized religious practice and attendance at religious services that has dropped precipitously.

They too can point to ugly incidents: the federal judge (incidentally, an observant Methodist) who got death threats after he ruled that a statue of the Ten Commandments should be removed from the State Supreme Courthouse; or the young girl in Rhode Island who was publicly condemned by her state representative for challenging a prayer banner in her school.

Last term’s Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case was a good example of secularists and religious adherents talking past each other. To the Green family, which owns Hobby Lobby as a closely held corporation, the ACA requirement that its health care plan cover the cost of what they believed to be abortifacient contraceptives amounted to violation of their religious liberty. The Supreme Court agreed. But to secular supporters of their workforce, the Greens were doing nothing less than imposing specific religious mandates on workers regardless of whether they shared those beliefs.

The firestorm that preceded and followed the decision burned up the internet, magnified by the ubiquity of social media tools.

Next, let’s consider Majority and Minority Faiths.

The second axis of tensions mentioned was that between the “Big Three religions” and minority faiths. For many of you, it may seem cavalier to jump past the interfaith conversations that have been going on for more than fifty years between Jews, Catholics and Protestants. I do that only because they have been so stunningly successful. Liberal denominations of Protestants and Jews, joined since Vatican II with increasing vigor by the Catholic Church, have engaged in conciliation and reconciliation in extraordinary fashion. That was Interfaith 1.0, facilitated by organizations like the Anti-Defamation League, the Conference of Christians and Jews, and the work of the Chautauqua Institution itself.

A modest version of these conversations occurred in living rooms and vestries around the country, fueled by tea and marble cake. But at its best, it supported and was fueled by the challenge of the civil rights movement. The unforgettable images of black, white and brown clergy, arms linked, facing police and angry mobs, marching with Dr. Martin Luther King, left an indelible impression on the American psyche, and illustrate what interfaith cooperation at its finest can accomplish. It continues with the active role organizations like Sojourners play in the battle for immigration reform.

That’s the heritage of Interfaith 1.0, and it’s a grand one.

Even before 9/11, Interfaith 2.0 had begun, as changing demographics meant that more faiths and more faith denominations demanded and received a place at the table in discussions of religious faith and its engagement. But 9/11 was transformative, lending a new urgency to the conversation because it was widely recognized that the consequences of religiously-motivated violence could be transformative in this nation, as it has been overseas.

In its consequences, especially for the largely well-integrated American Muslim community, we saw a resurgence of socially-sanctioned, religiously-motivated bigotry. The controversy over the Park 51 community center (also called the “Ground Zero Mosque” in media reports) near the World Trade Center ruins was a vivid example, but there have been other examples. Here is the voice of a young Muslim woman, speaking of how well-accepted she felt in her adopted US homeland:

 “Growing up in America has been such a blessing,” she began. “Although in some ways I do stand out, such as the hijab I wear on my head, the head covering, there are still so many ways that I feel so embedded in the fabric that is, you know, our culture. And that’s the beautiful thing here, is that it doesn’t matter where you come from. There’s so many different people from so many different places, of different backgrounds and religions — but here we’re all one, one culture. And it’s beautiful to see people of, you know, different areas interacting and being family.”

Terrific, right? Except that this is an NPR interview that featured Yusor Abu-Salha, a young Muslim woman, and it was broadcast after she was murdered in Chapel Hill last year in a dispute ostensibly over a parking space. Her slaying has been categorized as a hate crime.

According to statistics compiled by the F.B.I., anti-Muslim hate crimes multiplied after September 11th, and they have remained five times as common as they were before 2001. Most religiously-motivated hate crimes are against Jews: in 2013, 59 per cent of such crimes were of this type, whereas fourteen per cent were anti-Muslim. But many American Muslims feel that increasingly, they are portrayed as terrorists in the media, and surveys repeatedly find that Americans harbor chillier feelings toward Muslims than toward any other religious group.

The U.S. is not the Middle East and it is not Europe. We are not riven by sectarian violence, and there are few pockets of long-term unemployed unassimilated children of immigrants. In this county, unlike Europe, if you are born here or naturalized, your passport and driver’s license is the same whether you are fifth generation or first generation. We also have no Front National as they have in France, or Golden Dawn party as they have in Greece, and even the most conservative of our politicians decries any religiously-motivated violence. That is a great strength, but we have to earn it with each succeeding generation. It is not an inheritance.

 Whether the lure is a white supremacist website or a jihadi one, there are hundreds of hands on the internet willing to reach out and pull young people in and down a dark path. We need to reach out to safeguard our kids, and give them the tools to safeguard themselves. That outreach often needs to cross faith lines: both because it is right, and also, because it is prudent.

The third axis is the intrafaith divide.

Here’s one story about it:

A man is rescued from a desert island, where he has lived alone for some years. His rescuers find two structures he has built on the island. When asked what they are, the man points to the closer one. “This is my synagogue” he says proudly. And the other building? “Oh, that’s the other synagogue. I wouldn’t set foot there!”

Now that’s an old joke, yet it still resonates. Within each faith there is a broad spectrum of views on religious truth; and even amongst adherents to any denomination, believers pick and choose, although they may not admit that in the confessional.

But the fact is, that there is increasing polarization between denominations within faiths. This is something it is hard for an outsider to understand. But if you have tuned in to the bitter dispute over whether women can worship in Jerusalem at the Western Wall or be ordained as rabbis; or whether Salafist preachers will be allowed to sermonize in US mosques to encourage violence aimed at non-Muslims; or whether evangelicals even can engage in discourse with liberal protestant denominations over same-sex marriage, you will appreciate that these intrafaith disputes can be the most divisive.


The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, D.C. Flickr photo by Lawrence OP used under Creative Commons.

Islam has Shia, Sunni, Sufi and Salafi, vastly different in their interpretation of the Qu’ran. An imam who is my colleague told me at the White House Conference on Countering Violent Extremism that one of the most urgent needs of the U.S. Muslim community is a safe space for imams to converse with each other over the relationship of faith and civic responsibility, and the proper, nonviolent interpretation of Islam.

Many of my friends here today are Methodist, and your beliefs diverge in significant measure from that of the evangelical Baptist denominations.

When we worked on the Inclusive America Project report, we had a recurring conversation with our conservative evangelical brethren. They worried that a report on interfaith cooperation would shade into what they termed “syncretism” — where the doctrinal differences between different faiths are blurred, and a universalistic view emerges that all beliefs are equally valid, that “all the trails converge at the top.” Such ideas may not be controversial to you, but to many folks, they are.

For such evangelical believers, it is difficult to bridge with more liberal denominations, because the rejection of their views is so elemental to their own self-definition. One of the most important and difficult conversations we must have is that ‘agree to disagree’ one: that there are fundamental and unbridgeable differences of faith that we cannot resolve; but that still, we can work for the common good.

To bring it home, consider this: If you and I can agree that working in a soup kitchen is a good thing, is that the conversation we should have? Should we leave the question of salvation out of the picture? Or must we first acknowledge that our views of salvation are different, but that today’s topic is how to get people to the soup kitchen? Salvation becomes the elephant in the room if we don’t address it first. But if we do, hungry folks may never get fed.

Since I’m trained as a lawyer, there is one more layer I feel compelled to add to this discussion, and that is how the Constitution views all this.

Our country was founded on principles of religious tolerance and pluralism. But as Washington formulated it, that founding presupposed that in taking on the bounds of citizenship, we accept that there is an essential loyalty due to the U.S., not only to its political institutions but to its constitutional structure and its social norms.

Our First Amendment free exercise jurisprudence over the last thirty years or so has mostly been focused on trying to accommodate religious free exercise. It has been a pretty capacious accommodation, meaning that religious minority status in this country is privileged far more in the law in most respects than other types of minority status.

How far accommodation goes is a challenge: to members of minority groups who must ask themselves how far they must allow their children to part with their history and heritage — and for the majority which must determine how much to accommodate difference. We see this all the time in the courts.

Can Muslim prisoners wear a beard? Yes.

May peyote be used for religious purposes? No, said the Supreme Court, but Congress reversed that with passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Can the Amish keep their children home from high school? In the landmark Yoder case, the Supreme Court said “yes,” but perhaps if asked the same question today, as to a less sentimentalized denomination, the answer might be “no.”

We try to show respect, but at some point, the harm principle emerges. Will female genital mutilation be tolerated? Of course not. Can an Orthodox Jewish man require an airline to move the woman seated next to him? Probably no — because of the harms to the dignity and autonomy of the woman who is moved to make the accommodation. But if I was asked by my seatmate to move, I would, with reluctance, say yes. The dignity we require through legal sanction and what we choose to accept may be different. The line is harm. As Washington said, we all must comport ourselves as good citizens. When my tolerance for difference butts up against your absolutism that is when we reach the true potential for a flashpoint. That’s the limit of pluralism.

There are the tensions, now what are the sources of hope?

 First, religious literacy is essential to combat misinformation and ignorance by informing and educating people about diverse religious and non-religious perspectives. Americans don’t know the basic facts about their own religions, they don’t know about the religions of other members of their communities, and they know even less about religions practiced around the nation outside their communities. Most do little to educate themselves about other faiths. That has to change, and we need your help with your school boards, community and youth service organizations to bring these conversations — not teaching religion, but teaching about religion — back into the public space.

Even more important is personal familiarity — usually in the form of interfaith relationships.

Putnam and Campbell call this the my “Pal Al” effect — having a Muslim friend not only creates a more positive attitude toward Islam in general, but it spills over into a positive attitude towards other religious minorities.

And again, we need your help to create safe spaces for those conversations in your communities. Ask a new colleague at work out for a beer or soft drink, ask about his kids. Reach out across your desk, or across town. That bridging is essential, and it really isn’t that hard.

Our own work at the Inclusive America Project focused on five key sectors: youth service organizations, universities and colleges, the media, religiously affiliated organizations and government. Primary recommendations of the panel were:

  • That directors of youth service organization should foster a more inclusive sense of what it means to be an American by developing appropriate ways to help young people understand how religious beliefs contribute to the mosaic of our society.
  • That colleges and universities should make the study of religious diversity a priority; and work to create campus environments that promote honest and respectful explorations among students from different religious backgrounds.
  • That the media should help religious leaders and ordinary folks tell positive stories about their faith traditions and their ordinary life experience. This is being done more and more through documentaries, and even situation comedies like “the Little Mosque on the Prairie,” a Canadian Broadcasting Company show being brought now to the U.S., that seeks to depict minority religious community life as unremarkable and typical — “de-otherizing” in this case, Muslims.
  • That religiously affiliated organizations should join in educational, civic and cooperative projects that serve the common good.
  • That clear guidelines should be developed to encourage positive interactions when the government interfaces with faith organizations based on relationships of trust.

Here are some of the recommendations, at a slightly more granular level, that we later used as guiding principles as we studied how the YMCA, the YWCA and the Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs, together the nation’s largest youth service organizations, are coping with the increasingly diverse populations that they serve:

For youth service organizations we recommended conducting internal needs assessments to identify challenges and existing strengths. Then, identify and scale up effective practices. That might mean a pilot program on foods associated with different religious holidays or a service project that engages common values of charity.  Each community can make choices appropriate to its population and the existing degree of multifaith understanding. Perhaps the organization focuses on training staff members to create inclusive environments for religious diversity. When we did the Y study, we found that in many communities, counselors were hungry for information and guidance on how even to begin discussing religious diversity and guidance as to what kind of discussions were and were not permissible given organizational policy.

And there were some great best practice models out there: programs at the Y of Greater St. Louis did service on Martin Luther King Day through which the teens explored how YMCA character values aligned with core faith values around social justice. At one selected Y, participants in the Teen Leaders Club took part in a panel of teens representing Christian, Hindu, Muslim and Orthodox Jewish faiths: they shared the basic tenets of each faith and described the joys and challenges of practicing their religion. The Boys and Girls Clubs have begun to incorporate some basic religious literacy in its Youth For Unity national program that celebrates diversity.

One of the best models for multifaith interaction around the common good is an organization operating around U.S. campuses today, Interfaith Youth Core. Founded by Eboo Patel, it operates around the country, and is based on his vision of a nation where “interfaith cooperation is the norm.” He envisions a country where:

Mosques, churches, and synagogues are regularly engaged in interfaith exchanges, every college campus has an interfaith council, [and] every city has a day of interfaith service. You would expect everyday citizens to have a basic level of interfaith literacy, [and] you could expect religious prejudice to be as out of bounds in a political race as racial prejudice or sexism.

Following release of our report, we looked around the country for promising practices. There were many to be found

  • In some communities, congregations are twinning — pairing up to share experiences and meet together. Any congregation can find a partner congregation in their community. And an even more thought-provoking experience is to twin via Skype with a congregation across the country; or even across the ocean. Tony Blair’s Face to Faith project allows young people to do this sort of twinning in the classroom; congregations can as well.
  • The Southern California-based National Disasters Interfaith Coalition trains congregations on how they can help in times of natural or manmade disaster; through work done by congregations together, communities of trust are built that are useful in all kinds of contexts.
  • Clergy retreats are extremely helpful, particularly to clergy from minority faiths. One imam said to me that the friendships and collegial relationships he formed through such retreats were critical to him in times of crisis.
  • If you are part of a congregation or a faith-based group, you can advocate within it to make multifaith conversations a priority. Just one such activity each year can be transformative. It can add to religious literacy, and it can introduce you to your “Pal Al.”

And a caveat: For Interfaith 2.0 to become a norm, evangelicals must engage and so must the “nones,” our most rapidly growing demographic groups. It is therefore vital that at least some of this work take place in neutral venues: not churches or synagogues, but museums, public libraries, symphony halls and community centers.

Some very valuable work is being done on the campuses of evangelical colleges. Traditionally resistant to engage with other faiths, these schools are now becoming more receptive to dialogue. Here is what one student at evangelical Kuyper College said about an intercultural class on Islam:

  • Before this class, I felt deep anger and hatred every time I heard the word Muslim. God has completely changed me. I now see individual people, created in the image of God, who are just trying to live their lives. They are a lot like me.

At the same time, the concern of minority religions and the non-religious in these conversations need to be addressed. That is the fear of being evangelized.

For anyone who is new to these types of projects, and even for those who are old hands, there is a wonderful guide by Leonard Swidler called the Dialogue Decalogue which provides a set of ten principles to foster authentic and respectful conversations about difficult issues of faith. Remember the concern that evangelicals expressed to us about syncretism? Here is Swidler’s sixth principle, which addresses it:

Participants must not come to the dialogue with any preconceptions as to where the points of disagreement lie. A process of agreeing with their partner as much as possible, without violating the integrity of their own tradition, will reveal where the real boundaries between the traditions lie: the point where s/he cannot agree without going against the principles of their own tradition.

And that is why these conversations are hard. It is easy for a Jew of a liberal denomination and a Protestant from a liberal denomination to find agreement on matters of faith. It is much harder for people in an intrafaith dialogue between liberal and evangelical or Jew and Muslim. But the transformative joy comes when you do agree, not necessarily on matters of faith, but on matters of peace, service and social commitment. And that is our aspiration for a Principled Pluralism. 

But I cannot leave the subject without speaking of one last thing: we must be each other’s rapid reaction force, and we must help each other to learn resilience.

Last month, we witnessed an unspeakable tragedy in Charleston, South Carolina. Nine beautiful souls in Bible study were slaughtered by an evil monster. The nation joined the people of Charleston in grieving. Hundreds of people, of all colors, joined in grief and worship at Emanuel AME Church.

That a white gunman chose to slay good African-American Christians while they studied Scripture was no accident. Because we feel most safe in our houses of worship, the terrorist in his malevolence sought to deprive the parishioners of Mother Emmanuel the protection of sacred space.

But here is what we also saw:

  • A city and nation coming together
  • An outpouring of concern and love
  • A white mayor who has devoted a distinguished career to racial reconciliation reaching unhesitatingly to the black community
  • The families of victims, suffering the worst pain of their lives, living the precept of mercy and forgiveness
  • A call to finally, once and for all, strip the state Capitol in Columbia and others throughout the south of a flag that for many is a symbol of oppression and dehumanization

The attack in Charleston was framed by its perpetrator as an attack on African Americans. But there are many places he could have accomplished the same murderous goal. That he chose a church says to us that his attack was based not only on race — it was an attack on religion. That the response of thousands was to decisively say “no” to this is a triumph. It is the triumph of the many people of good will over the haters. At the Inclusive America Project, one thing we urged communities to adopt is the idea that an attack on one faith is an attack on all faiths. In Charleston, we saw the worst of humanity; but in the response we saw the best. The tragedy of Charleston will further fuel a conversation around this country about race, but it would be a pity if it does not also spur a conversation about the place of faith in our country; and in acknowledging that while there is more work to be done, if we show this nation as a vast and open-hearted community, we have every reason to have confidence that we can build a Principled Pluralism.

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Edition: July/August 2015
Filed Under: Culture, religion, pluralism