Interfaith dialogue as a concept is becoming more and more relevant in social justice conversations, and that is exciting! Not only is there more dialogue on embracing various religious, nonreligious, and irreligious world views a push towards achieving social justice, there’s also been conversation on how to apply one’s own faith through a social justice lens.
However, as time passes, I have become more and more underwhelmed by interfaith conversations, especially those facilitated primarily by white people.
I have been to a conference where I attended an interfaith diversity panel in which the majority of the panelists were white. It was only listed as a “diversity” panel because of the religious diversity. While it is important to have discussions amongst various faith leaders, if we go without acknowledging other identities that play a huge role in one’s worldview, are we really learning anything from such conversations?
The New York Times published an article about more black worship leaders leaving predominantly white evangelical churches since the election as a way of gaining safety for their racial identity. Despite Buddhism’s deep roots in Asian culture, people fail to realize how often it’s commodified and appropriated by white masses (e.g. appropriation of yoga, “spiritual” antiques/talismans, etc.). Cisgender atheist or unaffiliated folks tend to overshadow LGBTQIA+ narratives (despite nearly half of that population being unaffiliated) when wanting to focus on “biology” or why “singular they/them pronouns are unnecessary.”
These are only a few examples of the reason for better facilitated conversations.
The religious diversity we have in America is very much a result of the influx of immigration, forced or otherwise, over the years. To ignore that aspect of religious diversity in favor of majority white spaces is unacceptable. It completely dismisses the deep rooted history of white Christian colonizers oppressing people of color by taking the most important thing that made people of color feel safe: their faith. It completely dismisses how white Christian colonizers have rebranded themselves by fetishizing certain aspects of other worldviews to claim without naming their roots (e.g. prayer and meditation practices in Buddhism, cultural/modest wear in Islam).
When engaging in interfaith dialogue and interfaith spaces, intersectionality is the only way we can turn these conversations into tangible actions to help marginalized people within our communities; especially when certain identities intersect with an underrepresented faith/non-faith group.
I am a Christian woman of color. And every day I am required to navigate the ways in which I can apply my faith in social justice work without taking away the space of my Muslim, Jewish, atheist, agnostic, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Pagan peers’ stories. Every day I am required to navigate how to de-colonize my faith when it is often viewed as the white man’s faith and to be push others as well to reclaim their world views without wearing themselves out.
In my experience, most predominantly white churches will preach about simply praying through our struggles. In moments of peril and systemic oppression, they refrain from addressing such issues amongst the masses because apparently “we don’t go to church to hear what’s in the news.” However, women of color in my experience who read Scripture argue that while prayer is comforting, without action, it becomes hollow. It took me years to feel comfortable in expressing my faith and applying the intrinsic values of humanitarianism, justice and kindness outside of just my own life. I was told for a long time that when it comes to the problems of the world, I should just “pray about it; besides, when we go to heaven, you won’t event have to worry about this anymore.”
But why wait for heaven when we can try to solve at least some of these issues now?