Look who’s talking! (to each other)

I have had enough of “other” talk. We humans share 99.9% of our DNA sequences. The six degrees of separation theory has been updated by Facebook researchers, who say each of us is now linked to any other human on the planet by a mere 3.57 intermediaries. And sometimes we even share the same address.

Last night I ate dinner at an interfaith table in the Stake Center of the local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We had a lively conversation, which somehow revealed that over my lifetime, I had lived in the same place as every other person at the table. These homes were coast to coast and in the middle of the country, too. Three of us had a connection to Oceanside, California. Three were tied to Philadelphia. And four of us had lived in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago.  We compared our addresses and knew exactly where we each had lived.

The dinner was followed by an event at my church, First Presbyterian Church: “An Evening with Mouw and Millet: Building Bridges between Evangelicals, Mormons, and All Faiths.” For two hours, a full house listened to these two scholars describe their experiences of formal interfaith dialogue and informal interfaith friendship. Richard Mouw, of Fuller Theological Seminary, began by telling of lectures he attended as a teenager, where he was taught that Mormonism is a cult. Robert Millet, of Brigham Young University, recounted his father’s rejection of any theological idea which might be shared by Baptists. Mouw told his story of publicly apologizing to Mormons, on behalf of Evangelicals, in a speech at the Mormon Tabernacle, and the heat he took from within his community afterwards. Millet admitted that after a century and a half outside historical Christianity, the LDS church is sometimes uncertain about what some theological language means, and needs to reconnect. Their dialogue of 16 years has built some big bridges across some big divides. The event was sponsored by the local Mormons, hosted by the local Presbyterians, and open to the entire community.  Most of the crowd of about 250 people had never been in a Presbyterian Church before, because most were Mormon.

Yet some of those attending know our church building well. For nine years, volunteers from one of the local wards (an LDS congregation or parish) have partnered with volunteers from our church to host families in our community’s interfaith housing network, Family Promise. “Partnering” means providing meals, companionship, and overnight supervision for the families who are in the program. Our congregation’s volunteers are there on Sunday, Monday, Friday, and Saturday evenings, while the LDS volunteers provide hospitality on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings. We share this ministry for 4-5 weeks per year, taking our turn among the other Family Promise host and partner congregations. Like the families who are sheltered in our Sunday school rooms, Mormons eat and sleep in the Presbyterian Church.

So each time our distinguished guests suggested that people who disagree about strongly held convictions can still collaborate when it comes to areas of common concern, I was tempted to raise my hand to say, “We already do!” I thought of our community’s monthly interfaith conversations at the synagogue, the various actions our interfaith association has taken to address community issues, and the friendships which have developed as we have worked together. And I thought of those many weeks of Family Promise partnership, where we have shared an address with one another, and with families in need.

There’s plenty of room to grow in interfaith work, from the academy to the local level. The world needs people of faith to come together and do this work. Certainly, we won’t discover that we are all the same. That 0.1% difference in our DNA and those 3.57 degrees of separation create the marvelous diversity that makes up the human family and makes things interesting. But what do you know? We are all related, and we even share the same address. It’s called Earth.


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