This is my working hypothesis: whenever we really get to know and care about other people, a real love for real flesh and blood people will trump all our theories, generalizations, presuppositions and stereotypes. Strangers will become sisters. Issues will become bridges. Fear will be transformed into friendship.
Anthropology trumps ideology.
I read a newspaper article about a small group of churchwomen who are living this truth in Columbus, Ohio. The Dublin Community Church displays a banner that proclaims the United Church of Christ motto: “God is Still Speaking.” Some Muslim neighbors were curious about what that meant and so they walked into the church to find out more. When these women were introduced to the weekly women’s study group, they all decided to venture friendship and see what might come of it. That was ten years ago. Today their bold experiment has blossomed into solid relationships of shared trust and mutual respect. Columbus Dispatch journalist JoAnne Viviano describes this unusual community of women.
The key to the success of the collaboration has been a radical open-mindedness that allows the women to accept differing beliefs without arguing or feeling the need to change one another.
“Always, in this room, we treat everyone with respect and acceptance — not just tolerance,” group leader Barb Anderson said. “It doesn’t mean we have to agree… The main thing is that we respect differences, we focus on what we have in common and we concentrate on doing things that are good for all people.”
Zeliha Celiker, a Muslim woman from the Northwest Side, said she has learned much and grown much through her participation in the group.
“It’s nice to get to know more, because when you know more, you love more,” she said.
“When you know more, you love more.”
We Liberals often hear criticism and sometimes even derision when we talk about love as an answer to the world’s problems. The criticism is unfair.
When I speak of love, I don’t mean a warm fuzzy feeling. I don’t mean we all hold hands and sing Kumbaya. I’m talking about hard work; I’m talking about persistent purposeful efforts to break down barriers and build bridges. I’m talking about stubborn patience, enduring hope and never ending grace. This kind of love is not easy. This kind of love is the same painful, sometimes bloody work of Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Jesus Christ.
And even though our newsfeeds are rife with hopelessness, this kind of hopeful respectful work is going on all across the globe. Efforts to build loving authentic community across divides are happening in all sorts of places. The Dublin Community, for one, shows us how.
One goal is to try to see all sides of issues and realize that things are not black and white, but complicated, the Rev. Lisa Bowersock, Dublin Community Church’s associate minister, said.
Zeliha Celiker offered a perspective from the Quran, Islam’s holy book:
“God says that ‘I have created you into different nations, so you can meet and get to know each other.’ So I think that shows us how we should be living in this very diverse world.”
Of course, tragically, sometimes the reverse is true: sometimes ideology trumps anthropology.
Sometimes parents disown their gay or transgendered children. Sometimes friends are estranged because of politics. Sometimes family members let their religious interpretations judge and alienate the ones they love the most.
I grieve these divides. I yearn for us to find harmony in our diversity, to deepen our unity as we celebrate our variety. I yearn for the day when all God’s children will actually, more truly demonstrate what it means that all humanity is created in the image of God. We are inextricably bound together within this human family; the sooner we recognize and honor that truth, the better.
So here’s my take away from the Dublin Women of Religious Diversity, the WORD group:
1) Treat all people with respect and acceptance. Respect and acknowledge our differences but focus on what we share in common.
2) Accept the diversity among us a gift. We are smarter, stronger, wiser, better together than we ever could be apart.
3) Get to know someone who is different. Be curious. Listen. Learn. Understand. Venture friendship and see what might happen.
4) Do something together. Build something lovely. Grow something strong. Give something good. Do something helpful for others.
5) Don’t be afraid. Because when you know more, you love more.
Dublin Community Church (United Church of Christ)
Thanks for this great story JoAnne Viviano
Charlotte Vaughan Coyle lives in Paris TX and blogs about intersections of faith, culture and politics on her website and Intersections Facebook page. She is national secretary for Coffee Party USA and contributes regularly to the Join the Coffee Party Movement Facebook page.