Standing Your Sacred Ground

Standing Your Sacred Ground: Unitarian Universalists and Interfaith Leadership

You have what I call a ‘theology of interfaith cooperation’ at your fingertips. For those of you who tend toward the humanist dimension of the UU fellowship, the term ‘ethic of interfaith cooperation’ might feel more comfortable. Bottom line: the resources for cooperation with people who are different lie at the center of the thought and practice of the UU movement.

Knowing, and being able to speak clearly and proudly, this theology or ethic of interfaith cooperation—to call up your own stories, practices, quotations in a range of situations, is absolutely core to effective interfaith leadership. So is having an appreciative knowledge of other traditions. The UU movement takes both of these responsibilities seriously.

When you express this theology of interfaith cooperation, you give many gifts. The first is to share your own light. The second is to strengthen interfaith solidarity. And the third, perhaps somewhat counterintuitively, is to help strengthen the convictions of those with whom you speak. Spending some time in the UU literature brought to mind stories, scripture and language in my own tradition of Islam that inspires—indeed commands—interfaith cooperation.

But always remember this: interfaith work is not just civic, it is also sacred. It is something you UUs know deeply. Nurturing positive relations between people with deep disagreements is holy. Think about St Francis of Assisi traveling from Italy to the Middle East during the Fifth Crusade, establishing a friendship with the Sultan on the matter of prayer while their religious communities were engaged in war. Think about the love between the Prophet Muhammad and his uncle Abu Talib, who resolutely remained a pagan while the Prophet was upending the social order by preaching Islam, and protected him anyway. Think about Martin Luther King Jr after the Montgomery Bus Boycott, when asked whether he felt anger or sought revenge, responded: this is not the time for revenge, ‘the end is reconciliation, the end is redemption, the end is the creation of the beloved community.’

To view the full lecture, video and story 2013 Ware Lecture by Eboo Patel.  Workshops and presentations at General Assembly (GA), the annual meeting of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), have been provided by a variety of Unitarian Universalist (UU) organizations and UUA staff groups over the course of several decades.