Iftar Remarks

The Path to Peace Is Justice Road
On June 7, Interfaith Paths to Peace hosted an Iftar dinner at Second Presbyterian Church. More than 500 people were in attendance. Iftar is the evening meal when Muslims end their daily Ramadan fast at sunset. What follows are Jason’s remarks that evening.

Good evening. I am honored and humbled to have been asked to share a few brief remarks this evening.

I am about to issue a challenge to us all. However, what I am about to say is primarily a challenging message for Christians. Nonetheless, I feel that it is imperative that this message primarily directed at Christians in our community be heard by Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and others in our community.  

Eboo Patel, 
an American Muslim of Gujarati Indian heritage, who also served as a member of President Obama's Advisory Council on Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnerships, recently wrote a Huffington Post article entitled “MLK Was an Interfaith Visionary, Too.”  Patel notes that W.E.B DuBois famously wrote that “the problem of the twentieth century will be the problem of the color line.”  No one did more than King to address that problem.  Patel also points out that King showed that race was one part of his broader concern with human relations at large in one of his final books, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community: "This is the great new problem of mankind. We have inherited ... a great 'world house' in which we have to live together -- black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Muslim and Hindu ... Because we can never again live apart, we must learn somehow to live with each other in peace."

Just as DuBois’s words were proven to be prescient, Dr. King’s words written more than sixty years ago have proven to be prescient and accurately prophetic as well. Principally due to advances in technology and the emergence of a truly global economy, we all now find ourselves living in much closer quarters to one another in the great world house. Unfortunately, the blending together of our religiously, ethnically, and racially diverse families is not going smoothly at the moment. Our social constructs and political systems and religious frameworks have not kept up with the pace of technological change. Domestic violence appears to be more prevalent in our world house than domestic tranquility. 

How may we as residents of this world house play a role in reconciling the currently raging family fued?

I am a not a Southern Baptist, I am a Baptist from the south. There’s a big difference between the two. Baptists originally came to these shores in search of religious liberty and tolerance after being persecuted on the other side of the Atlantic. Baptists played an important role in preserving religious liberty and the separation of church and state in the United States Constitution when it was written. Religious tolerance is an important part of the process toward learning to live together in our world house, but at this moment we need more than that.

I am firm believer in the transformative power of relationship. It’s one thing to tolerate someone else’s religious believes and practices, but it’s another to be in relationship with those who practice another religion. Tolerance does not require investment. Relationship does. Tolerance does not make a person vulnerable. Relationship does. Tolerance does not open the door to change. Relationship does. Tolerance endures the presence of another although often begrudgingly. Relationship demands that parties respect one another. Respect requires a shared sense of equal standing and worthiness. Interfaith relationship through which people come to better understand and respect one another is an important part of the process toward learning to live together in our world house, but at this moment we need more than that.

To suggest this evening that religious tolerance and entering into respectful interfaith religious relationship is all that is needed to help resolve the serious global, violent conflicts we face would not only be naïve, it would be blasphemous. It’s would be akin to the Governor of Kentucky swooping to predominantly black neighborhoods in our community that have been ravaged by violence to tell them that the solution to the violence in their communities is prayer. People of faith know that prayer is important and that tolerance and relationship are important, but those matters are only parts of a process that requires utilizing other tools at our disposal.

Allow me to suggest that if we want to really help resolve the problems we face in our world house, in addition to practicing religious tolerance and in addition to developing respectful interfaith relationship, we need to link arms with one another, move forward together, and lift our voices in unison for justice. Many have often stated that peace and justice are two sides of the same coin.

Our World House will be justly arranged when as the Declaration of Independence states people’s unalienable rights are protected – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. When people have the economic and educational resources to live life and laws and policies in place to live life freely, then they can pursue happiness and not be tempted to as quickly resort to violence. Unfortunately, violence may be woven into human DNA, but when our human predispositions are sown into fields of injustice fertilized by poverty, lack of education, and hopelessness, violence is much more likely to grow.

We are at an Interfaith Paths to Peace organized event. I believe that the name of the path that leads to peace is a road called justice.

What times such as these call for are people from different faiths walking this road together as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel did side-by-side over a bridge in Selma, Alabama in 1965. History has proven that when people from different faith traditions walk the path of justice together then the likelihood of peace increases significantly. Thus, we must march together and work together in various forms and fashions in opposition to policies and proposals that curtail life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for anyone who is a resident of our shared world house such as refugees or immigrants; the impoverished or sick; no matter their religious tradition or nationality. All of our faiths call upon us to love our neighbors as ourselves.

However, these days I am not sure we even have neighbors anymore because now we’re all in the same house together. Thus, it’s even more imperative that we live in right, just relationship with our roommates whom we cannot avoid like we can a neighbor we might be able to avoid for weeks or months on end. May we not just tolerate. May we not just relate. May we coordinate. Our world is too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love and justice.