Recently, I sent a 10 question survey to several people of varying religions to help me as I wrote these posts. I’ve included some of the responses to the survey and some of my own experiences in Part 1 and Part 2 of this topic. This is Part 1.
A special Thank You to Nancy (Methodist), Jacob (Seventh Day Adventist), Sara (Orthodox Christian), and Kathryn (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) for your participation.
6 Benefits of Having Good Interfaith Relationships
According to Google, there are over 4,200 religions practiced in the world.
That’s a lot of ways to view life and what may come next.
We can either let those differences divide us, or bring us together to benefit in these six ways.
1. Strengthened Faith and Beliefs
“On your journey with God, the others outside of your faith can challenge your beliefs, which can help you better understand your own, and you can grow from them.” –Jacob (a Seventh Day Adventist)
Questions and a little friendly opposition from those that think and live differently from us can spiritually stretch us—in a good way!
My high school friend, who was a Methodist, helped me do just that. Religion was the center of many of our conversations, and we were both required to look deeper into what we believed and why. We would ask each other questions about doctrines we followed, and I read my scriptures more and actively searched for answers to tougher questions about my faith. I felt notably happier, more solidified in my beliefs, and more united with my friend on what we shared in common.
My friend was genuine, respectful, and honest as we discussed religious topics, which allowed me to feel comfortable in expressing things that were really important to me. His example made me want to be a better listener, a better inquirer, a better Christian.
2. Promote Peace
“Any time we expand our horizons to try and understand one another we are better off for it. It can prevent so much of what ails our society.” –Kathryn (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)
Hatred, fear, and misunderstandings can rule our lives and hurt many people, if we let it.
But if time is spent understanding other faiths and perspectives, misconceptions may be clarified, problems can be identified and peacefully resolved, and fear can be alleviated. Sara, an Orthodox Christian, noted that when people do not feel threatened, they are more able to form a relationship. If we reach out to others in love, we assist in creating more united communities.
3. Understand and Love Others Better
Our belief systems are major contributors to how we think and live. If we spend time with others who hold different religious views, we can understand them better.
I used to think that being friends with someone that is gay would be difficult. I view same-sex relationships (not feelings alone) as sin, and I can’t support everything that a person who is homosexual may want to support. From the other side, someone who is gay might view me as unloving or a bigot. It wasn’t until one of my close friends came out to me after five years of being friends that I realized that a goody-good, church-going girl and a homosexual (and Atheist) could, in fact, have a fantastic friendship.
We benefited so much from our time together. We were able to understand our unique life perspectives better. And now, because of the great relationship I had with my friend, I have better relationships with other friends who are gay. I have more compassion for their struggles and understand how important it is that they know I care about them, even if I can’t support everything they may want me to. From his side, my friend now knows that not every religious person is going to condemn him to Hell on sight, and that his friendship can be treasured despite any major differences.
4. More Hands to Do Good
Another benefit of having good relationships with other faiths is that we can come together to make a big difference in our communities. We can organize and participate in group efforts to achieve common goals.
“I strongly believe that it is the duty of different faiths to unite on certain issues in which they are in agreement, such as fighting abortion, providing better access to food and clothing for those in need, striving to maintain strong family values, caring for the elderly, and making our communities altogether more kid-friendly and life-loving- to treat all humans with the dignity with which we would treat Christ….I believe most faiths can agree on the aforementioned duties, especially Christians.” – Sara, Orthodox Christian
Simply put, more hands get more done! We can spread kindness and service even further by working together.
5. Learn From Each Other
Nancy, a Methodist, pointed out that learning from each other is a benefit of interfaith relationships.
I completely agree with her. In addition to having my faith challenged (in good ways!), I have learned many things from interacting with people of other faiths and lifestyles.
I was taught one of the most important lessons about God’s love and my pride in an unexpected place: a hotel bar.
In summer 2011, I waited tables at a hotel restaurant to pay for my next semester of college. The food was so expensive that many guests opted to eat somewhere else. In fact, evening business was so slow that I almost told my sister, MaLee, to not even bother applying to work with me.
Three weeks after I started the job, a tornado devastated the town of Joplin, Missouri. Volunteers and FEMA workers were sent to the area to help rebuild the city, and my hotel housed a large group of these workers for several months. The workers were a pretty rough bunch who swore a ton, drank double their weight, and specialized in crude discussions. I was annoyed that my tables still weren’t filled, but the bar suddenly was as these workers came to drink away the day. They were often the only guests in the evening, so we had a lot of time to converse with them, which I did reluctantly. All I could focus on was how uncomfortable I was in that environment and how I wished I could quit.
One evening, one of the men told me about how he missed his grandchildren, and how nice it was to have people to talk to at the end of the day.
That comment made me stop in my tracks. I hadn’t even considered that the workers were lonely as they spent weeks at a time away from their families. I became ashamed of how I had been feeling towards them. How could I think I was too good to converse with these people?
I got off my high horse and tried harder to get to know the workers, and surprised myself as I began to look forward to seeing them during my shifts. Many of them were so kind to me that my cold heart melted away. Soon we had inside jokes, I knew many of their family member’s names, and they gave me boy advice after a tough break up. We talked about everything under the sun, including religion. MaLee and I were able to answer many questions about our faith and clear up misconceptions. When the summer ended, I was sad to say goodbye to them.
These experiences reminded me that all people are children of God, and are completely worthy of kindness and friendship. The FEMA workers may have learned about faith from me, but I learned a greater lesson about humility and love from them.
6. Learn How to Respectfully Disagree
“Similar to when you don’t agree with your parents- you still love and respect them, right? Even if they make it clear that your disagreement is the worst possible idea you’ve ever had, they still love you, you still love them, and you still interact with them in a respectful way. I believe it’s the same when it comes to inter-faith relationships. I can disagree with someone of another faith on every single pillar of their beliefs, but I can still show them love with my actions and words and discuss our differences without malice, because they are still a person made in the image of God. Learning to do this is a benefit in itself; learning to love all, which is very difficult to do.” -Sara (Orthodox Christian)
Friendships teach us how to treat people with care; without care, friendships crumble. We may learn to think before we speak. We try harder not to offend. We forgive a little more easily and listen a little more. By doing these things, we can navigate disagreements and come out still feeling mutual respect.
When we establish interfaith friendships, we will see more good in ourselves, other people and in the world.
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