Quaker Universalist Conversations

Why Interfaith Work Matters….

By Brad Ogilvie
FGC Christian/Interfaith Relations Committee                                                     Program Coordinator, William Penn House, Washington, DC

My entry into the world of interfaith work is not fueled by a passion for developing interfaith understanding, or because I think it is important that we all get along. My entry was pretty much a matter of circumstances. I was running an AIDS Housing program in Wheaton, IL, when Bono came to town and energized the up-to-that-point largely silent Evangelical community to speak up about AIDS, but in Africa. So there I was, a gay man with HIV raised by secular humanists but with an extended family of diverse Christian practices, working for Catholics, living among Evangelical Christians, and at the same time exploring my own faith as it relates to Quakerism. What I started to learn was how much I had been misinformed about faith in people’s lives as guiding principles, and how important it was for me, as a committed peacemaker who has a passion for social justice issues, to learn to listen to and appreciate what inspires others in relation to their beliefs while being open to exploring mine.

My current passion is to continue to nurture the bridge-building that is essential to peace-making, but I do this in the interfaith arena with great hesitation. I am always wary of how we use labels to separate ourselves as individuals, and that we can sometimes expend a lot of energy learning to be tolerant of diversity rather than putting differences aside so that we can do the crucial work of equality and justice. In fact, I sometimes find that the emphasis on listening for our differences is just a barrier to working together. I have seen that it can be very easy for “like-minded” people of different faiths can find common ground, but it is working with people not of “like-mind” that is most important. I am very committed to working with people of all faiths and orthodoxies on issues such as HIV/AIDS, poverty/economic equality, and the environment. It is through this common work that I have found the real connections of our faiths that can make a difference. It is a journey that I find takes me deep within as well as far afield.
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