This week our fellows had a conversation about religious stereotypes. Matthew said something that I really resonated with, that among Christians there is a stereotype of grouping one specific person to their branch and thus assuming everyone is like them. For example, if I as a Catholic met a Protestant who I was not fond of, I might automatically assume that I will not enjoy anyone who is Protestant. I think this particular way of stereotyping is important to address because of the divides it creates with the Christian community. As Christians, we are taught to love all equally yet this common idea of grouping all in one faith together (and then condemning them) is very common. This can be applied outside of the Christian community, when anyone automatically assumes one person defines a faith as a whole. It can be seen happening within many religions, from people who practice and from people who do not.
This past week, one of my devotional readings (devotionals are Christian books with daily scripture readings and reflections on them), discussed the importance of unity amongst Christians. Having a devotional that tied so well into our fellowship discussion last week, I thought it was the perfect topic to reflect on. My entry this morning followed a story regarding Jesus and an adultress, whom the Pharisees (religious teachers/leaders of his day) wanted to see condemned and executed by stoning. Jesus said in response, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). Ultimately, no one threw a stone, because they all recognized that they had too had sinned in their lives. This powerful statement confirms that no one is truly without sin, and that we all make mistakes. Jesus was sent to help us learn to correct our mistakes and learn to accept all people, including those who identify religiously different from us.
So how do we work towards Jesus’ mission of unity? It starts from awareness and learning, which is exactly what my fellows and I are doing through our interreligious conversations. In the past semester’s dialogues, I have learned more about other religions that I have in my entire life. It’s hard to think poorly of someone and their religion when given a first hand look into the traditions they hold and how similar they might be to your own. For us to really resonate from the lessons, empathy is also necessary. In conversations, we have to continue to connect with others on a deeper level, so we can empathize with their pain before we can ever relate. To truthy empathize, people have to look into their own hearts and see what needs to be fixed before we can support other faiths and communities. What biases or stereotypes do you hold? What assumptions have you made about other religions based on interactions with one member, rather than the entire religion?
Once this level of empathy is met, it comes down to the learning which must be done through conversations such as the ones my fellows and I have on a weekly basis. One can also build understanding by witnessing a religious service or prayer, engaging in conversations over social media, or even by seeking out information on your own. Learn the proper history and meaning of traditions people hold, and you will be better able to empathize, therefore contributing to a more united mindset for communities. Finally, to keep the unity of interreligious communities growing, conversations must occur with your friends and family, so that the empathy, lessons, and understanding may be passed on. With more united groups, comes more unity in all other aspects of life. I will continue to spread my awareness and am very grateful that I stumbled along the Interfaith Fellowship.