I just returned from a very moving convocation at the Claremont School of Theology where I am on the faculty. We were celebrating the historic founding of a new interreligious theological university that brings together institutions representing the three Abrahamic faiths, along with our newest partner, the Jains. The Jains are an eastern religion founded in India over 2,500 years ago who are perhaps best known for their deep commitment to the concept of no-harm or ahimsa.
While each partner institution will continue to train religious leaders in their own traditions, the Claremont Lincoln University will be a space where future religious leaders and scholars can learn from each other and collaboratively seek solutions to major global issues that no one single religion can solve alone. The CLU's founding vision of desegregating religion was reflected in the extraordinary religious diversity present at the convocation held in a standing room-only auditorium. I sat next to a Jewish cantor and a Muslim woman who had tears flowing down her face as we listened to the prayers offered in all four religions along with a reflection from a Humanist speaker.
The keynote address was given by the Honorable Ebrahim Rasool, South Africa's ambassador to the United States and an international leader in interfaith dialogue and cooperation. He called on the audience to build across religious boundaries, reminding us that there is more that unites us than divides us. He told the audience that we must build solidarity in the face of the double edged sword of globalization that has created both enormous wealth and deepening poverty. To do so, we must speak to the divine in the other so that we can achieve our shared goals based on the values and principles held in common by the world's religions.
As we approach the 10th anniversary of 9/11, we are all undoubtedly remembering that day and taking stock of how our country has changed in the intervening decade. There has no doubt been a loss of innocence that over time appears to have hardened into anger and widespread xenophobia.
Even though Muslims had lived peacefully in the U.S. for decades, (there were Muslim believers among the slaves brought to U.S. in the 18th and 19th centuries) they have been recast as the religious other. There is now widespread animosity against Latino immigrants as well. Even our president has come under suspicion in some circles for supposedly being a foreigner.
The United States government has spent the last decade waging war in two Muslim countries in which more than 7,000 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis and Afghanis have died. Following 9/11, the U.S. deported thousands of Muslims and placed countless others on terrorist watchlists.
No doubt, these long wars have fomented unprecedented levels of Islamaphobia back home. This has now culminated in at least 13 states introducing legislation that would ban the use of sharia or Quranic law, which is being stereotyped based on its most extreme interpretations. It is seen as alien to the U.S. and its Constitution, even though that Constitution guarantees freedom of all religions. However, those who are advocating for these bans are labeling sharia as "foreign law," even though much of our judicial system is modeled on English Common Law.
In the midst of these raising tides of anger and xenophobia, the creation of the Claremont Lincoln University is like a small beacon of light in the foggy ocean -- redirecting us to another shore, by inviting us to live in the midst of the beauty embedded in our many religious traditions.
I feel fortunate to be a participant in this new venture and hope that I can become a voice encouraging others, especially other Christians, to enter into meaningful relationships with our sisters and brothers of other faith traditions. I am intrigued by Jesus' words in Matthew 8:11 in which he tells his followers that "many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven," which suggests that people of other religions are also connected to the divine.
Dr. Helene Slessarev-Jamir is the Mildred M. Hutchison Professor of Urban Studies, a member of the Sojourners board of directors, and the author of Prophetic Activism: Progressive Religious Justice Movement in Contemporary America.