I have been pondering the term interfaith.
Earl and I recently attended an interfaith group’s community supper. A woman asked us why atheists would want to be a part of an interfaith group. Does “interfaith” mean an organization that is promoting a belief in God similar to the way the Baptist Church is promoting a belief in Jesus as the savior?
Churches and interfaith groups sometimes offer programs to the whole community. I lived a few years of my young life in a small town in Georgia. I grew up Baptist but the Baptists don’t dance. The Methodist Church offered youth events which included dancing. I attended the dances as did the mayor’s son who was Jewish. Neither one of us planned to become Methodist but for some reason we didn’t feel uncomfortable at the Methodist Church. We didn’t belong to the church but we did feel welcomed. Of course, while I was there no one asked my friend “Why would a Jew want to attend a dance at a Methodist Church” as the woman asked me “Why would an atheist want to attend an interfaith group?” It only takes one person to make someone feel uncomfortable. I don’t think the woman meant any harm. Sometimes I ask stupid questions and I hope people will forgive me. The response I received from the leadership of OneJax (when I asked why they use the term interfaith) bothers me more than the woman’s original question.
When I sent OneJax an email trying to convince the board of OneJax to quit calling itself an interfaith organization, I received this as part of the response:
OneJax is interfaith in heritage and inclusive in practice.
What does Nancy and Kyle mean when they say “OneJax is interfaith in heritage and inclusive in practice”? I think they need a better response. The United States is racist in heritage. Homosexuality was once punished by prison terms. Women were once treated as chattel. “Heritage” isn’t something to hang our hat on. Heritage is what people are using to keep Confederate Monuments in the town square. That wording might hit people wrong. I think they need a better response.
The true heritage of One Jax is it started as part of the National Conference of Christians and Jews. I don’t know why they moved away from being exclusively for Christians and Jews. I posit that it is time for the board of One Jax to change from being an interfaith organization to a human relations organization as have other members of the National Federation for Just Communities.
I found this wonderful quote in this article about Jonathan Zur who is the Vice Chair – Administration & Secretary of the National Federation for Just Communities:
Racism may be easy to spot in overt forms, but the subtle versions are the most troublesome. That’s the challenge for Jonathan Zur, president and chief executive of the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, which promotes diversity. “It might be a statement or a gesture that the offended person doesn’t know if it was intentional,” Zur says.
You could substitute “religious bigotry” for the term “racism” and I think Zur’s point would still be valid. I posit that discrimination against atheists is just as wrong as discrimination against minority religions.
I would have felt better if Nancy and Kyle had said
1. “One Jax is a group of people that believe in God.”
2. “OneJax is interfaith in heritage and inclusive in practice.”
What do they mean by “interfaith”? At least #1 would make it clear that I’m not part of their club. #2 is vague. It isn’t welcoming because I don’t know what they mean by “interfaith.”
OneJax calls itself an interfaith organization but it is a member organization of the National Federation for Just Communities. I couldn’t find the words interfaith or faith on the NFJC website or in the Wikipedia description:
Perhaps the National Federation for Just Communities concluded that the word interfaith doesn’t fit within their goal of being inclusive?
I would think Humanist groups would want to be part of this “we”:
Who We Are
OneJax is a nonprofit organization that seeks to promote diversity as the foundation for a strong community. We work to increase respect and improve relationships among people who represent the rich menagerie of religious, ethnic, racial and cultural groups that compose our community.
Quotes from this article:
The labels we choose, therefore, carry more gravity, more hidden assumptions than what appears on the surface. … We are at a turning point in the “interfaith movement.” Focused non-profit organizations, contributing foundations and academic centers are well formed enough now that they are going to give shape to the movement and its public nomenclature going forward.
Is “faith” equally important in all religions? Are ethics or a sense of community or rituals more important to some? Is the term interfaith outdated? I have this wild guess that the revelation of sexual abuse within religious institutions and the abuse of charismatic power within cults has turned people off to blind faith. If religious institutions hope to grow, my wild guess is they should emphasize community and ethics and rituals that have been proven to help mental health rather than blind faith.
I posit that the word “faith” is a word that excludes people. I would think many Christians would agree and would celebrate that their faith does indeed make them different from people without faith. I don’t think an organization should name itself with a word like faith if it also wants to describe itself as:
a nonprofit organization that seeks to promote diversity as the foundation for a strong community. We work to increase respect and improve relationships among people who represent the rich menagerie of religious, ethnic, racial and cultural groups that compose our community.