Interfaith Voices: A 10-year anniversary
It was only after, perhaps, the third speaker of the evening that the significance of the small gathering at Washington Hebrew Congregation began to sink in. The 75 people had gathered to celebrate ten years of the radio program Interfaith Voices.
The show's product is a decade of civil, intelligent, sometimes deeply probing conversation across denominational and faith lines.
Interfaith Voices is the brainchild of Sr. Maureen Fiedler, a member of the Sisters of Loretto. Its home base is public radio station WAMU at American University in Washington DC, and it is currently aired on 60 public radio stations across the country. Fiedler, who holds a doctorate in government from Georgetown University, has built the program from concerns about religious tolerance following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center to a wide ranging weekly discussion of religious, ethical and public policy issues with the spectrum of religious leaders.
Believers of every stripe -- Muslims, Sikhs, Catholics, Hindus, Protestants, Buddhists among them - as well as those of no belief regularly weigh in on the issues of the day.
The awareness that dawned on me, having come from a day at the computer where our polarizations, religious and civic, were constantly on display, was that accord is not only imaginable. It is possible, across denominational and faith boundaries. This was not an event of cheap grace. And more than once it was emphasized that Fiedler’s effort on the airwaves had moved well beyond seeking tolerance.
The attempt, instead, is to move toward understanding.
Admittedly, the small crowd celebrating the show’s success was of a fairly unified point of view. If anything, it was a demonstration that perhaps some of the most stubborn polarizations persist within our own families of belief or civic and political association. It was a crowd of a fairly liberal bent. Still, the celebration was of something real and tangible.
The speakers included two rabbis, an imam who teaches at a Catholic university, an Episcopal bishop who happens also to be a woman, a feminist theologian, and, of course, Fiedler herself, who has been involved in interfaith and justice activities for most of her life as a woman religious.
The starting point for many of the speakers was 9/11 when the discussion was spurred by a sudden rise in anti-Islamic rhetoric. Rabbi David Saperstein, director and counsel of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, recalled the strong countervailing sentiment at the time among religious leaders: That no group should be characterized or stigmatized by the actions of a few of its members.
You may visit the website and listen to the latest programs on Interfaith Voices
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