It’s not fluff

In the light of a hate crime attack on Dr. Prabjhot Singh in New York, our colleague Christine Hong reflected on the importance of interfaith work. Her reflection is reprinted with her permission.

Interfaith work is not fluffy. It is advocacy on the deepest level. The more authentically we engage in conversation and life with our neighbors of different faith traditions the more we become aware that interfaith work saves lives. Interfaith education and service not only bridges communities but it also prevents hate crimes and tackles the felt needs of humankind. The interfaith community works to seek justice, not selectively, but holistically. It is a community holding onto one another in order to thrive and survive in a world that often seems to be quickly unraveling.

This past weekend the PC(USA) brought together 60 Presbyterians along with panels of ecumenical and interfaith guests to think through the writing of an interfaith stance for the church. One of our panelists was Simran Jeet Singh, a doctoral student at Columbia University, a peacemaker, and an advocate for the Sikh community. Singh encouraged Presbyterians to build love into the foundation of our interfaith stance. The love Singh spoke of champions justice and lives courageously and hopefully into the future.

I received an email from Simran yesterday. After he had spent the day offering Presbyterians encouragement and affirmation for our interfaith efforts he came home to find that his friend and colleague at Columbia University, Dr. Prabhjot Singh, had been the victim of a hate crime. On Saturday night Dr. Singh was attacked in Manhattan. His attackers yelled “Get Osama” and “terrorist” as they beat him.

Reading Simran’s note and his Huffington Post blog on the incident broke my heart. It reaffirmed for me that what we are doing is of the utmost importance. Not only because we are working at understanding the dynamics of interfaith engagement as Presbyterians, but because our friends like Simran and Dr. Prabhjot Singh are hurting. Our encouragers, those who challenge us to be bold, dynamic, and cultivate peace are living in a world, our mutual world, where they fear physical harm because of the color of their skin and articles of faith. This should matter to us. It should hurt us because they are hurting.

Interfaith work is advocacy on the deepest level. It is advocacy not only for faith communities at large but also for the people we share our lives with on the daily: our neighbors, friends, and families. In a very real sense interfaith work is also advocacy for ourselves, for our shared world and future. Interfaith work is the accompaniment of faith communities who, like us, want to raise their children in a world where violence is not the way human differences are handled. Interfaith work will break your heart, but if we can move past the fluff and remember that what we do saves lives, it will also start to mend it.

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