Interfaith discussions, controversial issues can co-exist peacefully

Danforth Center on Religion & Politics sponsors April 6 panel

The insult-laden screaming matches that often mark today’s political and religious disagreements don’t have to dominate the national dialogue, suggest two former St. Louis clergymen who have grappled with interfaith issues and found a path to the common good.

A panel discussion on the future of interfaith cooperation, featuring Rabbi Steve Gutow, JD, and the Rev. Michael Kinnamon, PhD, is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 6, in the Bryan Cave Moot Courtroom of Anheuser-Busch Hall on Washington University in St. Louis’ Danforth Campus.

Ghazala Hayat, MD, board member of Interfaith Partnership/Faith Beyond Walls, will open the question-and-answer session.

The discussion, which is free and open to the public, is sponsored by the John C. Danforth Center on Religion & Politics and the Michael and Barbara Newmark Institute for Human Relations of the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis.

Finding common ground doesn’t mean sacrificing individual beliefs, Gutow and Kinnamon say. But it does mean speaking and listening with an attitude of holiness and with a willingness to change your opinions.

“When we seek theological unity, we need to be aware and respectful of the fact that our views of the other religious tradition may not be in synch with the Christian’s view of Christianity and or the Jew’s view of Judaism. We must respect and work to the best of our ability within the confines of the self-view of the tradition, not our view of what we think the other should believe,” Gutow says.

Discussion flourishes when a few simple rules are maintained, Kinnamon says.

“Refrain from expressing religious or other convictions in ways that might offend the other,” Kinnamon says. “Recognize that differences on public issues are likely grounded in moral and/or religious convictions and are not simply opinions.”

When people of faith hit an impasse, the clergymen advise praying together for guidance.

Gutow is the president and CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the consensus voice of the organized American-Jewish community and is a board member of the Washington, D.C.-based Faith in Public Life, an organization for advancing faith in the public square as a positive and unifying force for justice, compassion and the common good.

He also served as a pulpit rabbi at the Reconstructionist Minyan of St. Louis, where he represented the St. Louis Rabbinical Association on the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis. At the same time, he served as adjunct professor of law at Saint Louis University and was one of the principal organizers of All G-ds People, a regional interfaith coalition.

Kinnamon, a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) clergyman and a longtime educator and ecumenical leader, is the ninth General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA. He is the former Allen and Dottie Miller Professor of Mission, Peace and Ecumenical Studies at Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis.

Kinnamon and Gutow met during their time in St. Louis. They have a long history of working for understanding between ecumenical and interfaith communities and have modeled — through their own relationship — ways in which interfaith cooperation can be a uniting force for social good. Together, they have spoken publicly and co-published several articles on issues ranging from torture and hate crimes to the defense of civil liberties of Muslim-Americans.

The panelists will discuss lessons learned from their experience leading interfaith initiatives and will engage the audience in a discussion about where interfaith partnerships might go from here.

The event is being supported by Washington University’s Interfaith Campus Ministries Association, along with the following off-campus groups: Aquinas Institute of Theology, Eden Theological Seminary, Interfaith Partnership/Faith Beyond Walls, and the St. Louis Rabbinical Association.