At the 62nd annual Interfaith Thanks-giving Service held at Temple B’Nai Israel on Nov. 24, the featured speaker was Imad Enchassi, the imam of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City. This was the first time in our city’s history that an imam had spoken in such a capacity at a local synagogue.
As we enter this season of religious holidays, one aspect that excites me, as a Christian minister, is the strong interfaith relationships among the various faith communities.
Now, you might not realize how well the various faith communities in Oklahoma City get along with one another and all of the dialogue and work that we do together. This is probably become some religious people give off the impression that you must agree with them ” that they are not interested in dialogue or work with others who believe differently. Yet in this century, as conflict between religions has increased, there is probably no more important endeavor for us to engage in than interfaith friendship and dialogue.
Fortunately, the diverse faith groups of Oklahoma City discover strength in their relationships with one another. For example, the same night as the interfaith service, the Institute for Interfaith Dialog held its annual Friendship Dinner. This institute is led by the Turkish Muslim community, and the event was held at Oklahoma City University, which also co-sponsored the dinner.
The emcee for the evening was Oklahoma Secretary of State Susan Savage, and the keynote speaker was Chief Judge Robert Henry of the U.S. Court of Appeals Tenth Circuit, who recently announced he will become the next president of OCU. He spoke that night on “celebrating democracy as a key to living together.”
My husband and I attended this dinner and enjoyed sitting at a table with, among others, immigrants from Indonesia, Azerbaijan and India, representing a variety of faith traditions. I believe that my own spiritual journey is strengthened by my friendships with those of other faiths. This fall I enjoyed attending Rosh Hashanah service and a Ramadan iftar. More than once I’ve written my sermon at The Red Cup while a Nazarene minister, a rabbi and a Greek Orthodox theologian are sitting at the same table. We’re like the start of a bad joke.
Recently, I was elected to the board of directors of The Interfaith Alliance of Oklahoma. This organization works “to promote the positive role of religion” while also challenging intolerance and extremism. The board has members from more than a dozen faith groups and denominations. Through this and other organizations and opportunities, the local Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Christian and other communities come together every month in order to make this a more diverse, respectful and peaceful community.
This rich cultural and religious diversity strengthens our city. We have the opportunity to learn more about one another and to build relationships with those who believe differently than we do. This makes us more humble, respectful and compassionate ” key aspects of the spiritual journeys of all the great faiths. So in the process of living with those who believe differently, we come closer to the ideals of our own faith tradition.
Enjoy the holidays, and find a way to benefit from the beautiful religious and cultural diversity of Oklahoma City.
Jones, who holds a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Oklahoma, is pastor of the Cathedral of Hope United Church of Christ in Oklahoma City.