Five representatives from Auburn’s Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities came together at Temple B’Nai Israel Aug. 14 to discuss their respective faiths.
More than 70 people attended “Coming Together: A Conversation Among Jews, Christians and Muslims,” which featured Father Frank Lioi, pastor of St. Mary Parish; Elaine Cohen and Herb Sussman of Temple B’Nai Israel; the Rev. Philip Windsor, pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church; and Imam Taqi’uddin Ahmed of the Syracuse-based Islamic Society of Central New York.
Interfaith opportunities are nothing new to the Auburn community. The public discussion was an outgrowth of the city’s annual interfaith Thanksgiving service, which was born in the months following Sept. 11, 2001, Rev. Windsor said. The connections established through this Thanksgiving service are strengthened by monthly interfaith meetings of religious leaders in the Auburn area, Father Lioi said.
“Every month we meet for an hour. It’s very informal. Basically what we do is just kind of share what’s going on in our churches. We just kind of talk about what’s happening in the world from our perspectives,” Father Lioi said.
Current events taking place throughout the world spurred religious leaders to hold the public discussion, Rev. Windsor said. The world is rapidly becoming more polarized, and it can seem difficult to find a peaceful middle ground between faith traditions.
“We can’t afford to judge each other by the extremists in our respective groups,” he said. “We have to try to make connections with the moderates. We have to try to understand each other and respect each other.”
The Aug. 14 discussion focused more on understanding and education than on current world events, Father Lioi said, because the discussion leaders didn’t want debates and arguments to break out. Instead, discussion centered on the basics of each speaker’s faith traditions and how these traditions affect the speakers’ daily lives, he said.
“I think the basic goal as I understand it is just to listen to the others and then try to understand what the other religion is about,” Father Lioi said.
Organizers didn’t expect the public discussion to provide a solution for all the religious clashes in the world, but they did want it to be educational. By learning more about all three faith traditions, they hoped audience members would be able to look beyond the stereotypical understandings of each religion.
“People don’t know each other, and a barrier goes up because we think of the other person only in ways that are not representative of who they really are,” Father Lioi said. “I think maybe once we know other things about our own faith, and then we learn other things about (other faiths), we’ll probably see that there are enough common denominators that show it is possible to coexist.”
Followers of different religions don’t have to agree on everything in order to peacefully coexist, he said, noting that one audience member questioned the religious leaders, asking them why they wanted to amalgamate their unique faith traditions into one.
“We’re not trying to amalgamate; we’re not trying to homogenize,” Rev. Windsor said.
Instead, the religious leaders simply hoped to increase the community’s knowledge, understanding and respect of the three faiths, he said.
Although Islam, Christianity and Judaism are three distinct religious traditions, they do have a number of things in common, he added. Abraham is an important figure in all three religions, so during the discussion Rev. Windsor asked the leaders to comment on what Abraham means to his or her religion.
“Abraham had two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. The descendants of Isaac are the Jews and the descendants of Ishmael are the Arabs, and of course the Christian tradition comes out of the Jewish background,” Father Lioi noted.
This helped audience members understand the connection between “the three great monotheistic faith traditions of the world,” he said.