Interfaith efforts

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For all of religion’s talk of love and peace, religion reporters continually face the question: Can the world’s religions learn to get along? Many of the world’s most violent conflicts are stoked by potent mixtures of religion and politics. In the United States, religious groups are constantly skirmishing over how religion plays out in public, from movies to the Pledge of Allegiance and prayers before city council meetings. Those conflicts are countered by two growing trends: More marriages — and families — are made up of members of different faiths, and more communities are made up of more members of different faiths. Both these trends provide new, personal avenues for understanding as well as conflict.

  • The increasing number of interfaith families is a largely undocumented trend. Several organizations serve the needs of interfaith families, though mostly Jewish-Christian. Look for stories of adapted traditions or tensions in marriages, funerals, holiday celebrations, adoptions and the religious education of children.

  • Religious tensions often play out in pop culture or the public square through reactions to movies, television shows, music, public holiday observances, graduation prayers and more.

  • Some faith groups eagerly participate in interfaith efforts, including some Jewish groups, Sikhs and the more liberal Christian denominations.They are willing to pray to God with other faiths without excluding them (such as by praying in Jesus’ name). Others, particularly conservative Christians, shun interfaith events because they believe making their message acceptable to others requires watering down their own beliefs— that the only way to salvation or to pray is through Jesus Christ.

  • Great stories can be found when faith groups are unexpectedly thrown together in a common cause (like helping hurricane victims) or when they form unlikely alliances.Conservative Christians, Mormons and Muslims agree regarding same-sex marriage, for example, but disagree on much more. Sometimes,opinions do change, offering tales of transformation. Jews, Christians and Muslims have found individual friendships can transcend differences over Middle East politics.

Mixing it up

Interfaith activity among congregations has more than tripled since 2000, according to the Faith Communities Today 2005 survey.Minority faiths outside of Christianity were the most involved in interfaith activity, followed by mainline Protestant congregations.