America has been characterized as a nation that tolerates many faiths and somehow keeps diversity from dividing her people.
Exactly how true that is may depend on the person you ask.
When Akron area people representing a variety of religious persuasions sat in focus groups recently to discuss their beliefs, tolerance became hard work.
Differences in core values surfaced immediately.
Are there common beliefs among all people?
“God is supreme.”
“Church and family.”
One person was shaking her head “no” to some of those answers.
Is there truth?
One person said no, another said: “There has to be a truth, there has to be a moral reference point. …”
Is this a Christian nation?
“Absolutely it’s a Christian nation,” was one quick response.
But another disagreed strongly: “It’s not a Christian nation, it’s not founded on the Bible, it’s founded on our two documents.”
As debate bounced from one side of the table to the other, one woman sat at the end, moving her head as if watching a tennis match — back and forth. Sometimes she smiled, sometimes she grimaced.
When the idea was broached that America perhaps is good because it is Christian, she broke her silence.
“When I hear that, it frightens me and hurts me because not so much that I’m Jewish, which I am, but I feel excluded by that.”
The discussions were part of the America Today project, which looks at issues that divide the country. The conversations were led by facilitator Alice Rodgers, of Jemez Springs, N.M.
Of more than 20 focus groups over four weeks, the discussion of religion was perhaps the most passionate.
Religion lies at the root of many of today’s political issues, whether it is the spirituality of the presidential candidate, constitutional amendments on same-sex marriage, or health care at church-related institutions.
The participants in the focus groups were volunteers. One group was made up of lay people; the other, religious leaders.
They were granted anonymity to allow for open discussion without fear of reprisal.
While the groups were diverse, they did not represent all possibilities.
What follows are strings of quotes, grouped to reflect discussion of important issues.
On the question of faith groups “coexisting.”
“I think it’s the way it should be.” (fundamentalist participant)
“I would hope for more than just coexistence. Not necessarily agreement, but at least that we find our common ground.” (United Church of Christ Protestant)
“I brought a visual aid. ‘Coexist.’ (The person had a bumper sticker.) Various religious symbols: Christian, Judaism, paganism, peace sign, Hinduism and some others.” (Unitarian Universalist)
“I think that bumper sticker is fantastic. We should be able to coexist, in spite of our differences. Whether we’re different or not, we should still respect each other and even love each other.” (evangelical)
“I’ve seen that on the bumper of a lot of cars and usually those people are slow drivers.” — evoked laughter. (fundamentalist)
“I think with all the different religions, basically they’re all saying the same thing, with a couple of little changes in verbiage. So if we all united and get along. …” (Catholic)
Homosexuality is still a hot-button issue (particularly among Christians).
“The morals and ethics, that’s where a lot of the disagreement comes in. If you just look at some religions, saying you can do this and you can’t do that and other religions saying you can do this and you can’t do that. Gay marriage, there’s a big example right there.” (atheist)
“Is there any major religion that says gay marriage is OK?” (fundamentalist)
“Unitarian.” (Unitarian Universalist)
“I also think there’s a difference in what our faiths say about how we should interact with each other and how we actually do when it comes to those issues of gay marriage and abortion. I think that most faiths would say that we still ought to love people who are gay. As a lesbian, I have experienced extreme hatred from people who say they are Christian or say they are whatever. When I run into someone who says in one way or another I’m Christian, I have two reactions. My first reaction is the people that I have most in common with in terms of a personal connection with God are people who [call themselves Christians]. And on the other hand, they’re also the ones who have been most hateful. … So it’s the same people who label themselves Christian that I have two very different reactions to and I never know when I’m going to meet someone which reaction that is.” (Quaker)
“If you came to our church and you went to our pastor and said I’m a lesbian, he’d say welcome to our church. Now from a biblical standpoint, the behavior is not considered biblical in our church, however, God brought, called you, to that church for a reason and he’s … evangelize you a little bit, maybe change your mind, maybe not. But the thing is, he would show you how real Christians are supposed to behave.” (fundamentalist)
“I’m surprised by that, that he thinks he knows what a real Christian should act like.” (atheist)
“You know what, it matters to me [that a person is gay] from the standpoint — I don’t know how to put this. I don’t know if I would strongly say that you’re wrong and I want you to see that you need to be right, but from the standpoint that I think as we all stand before God, that I would want them to know the God that I stood before changed my life. Does that make sense? I don’t want to say that you’re wrong, because I know a lot of gay people and I don’t try to change them, but there’s a part of me that just — I guess I would want them to make sure they’re in love with God as they can be and if they’re OK with God, then that’s where they are. I guess that’s why I want them — if that changed them, then that’s what’s going to change them. It’s not my job to change you. … I think from my denomination, from what I believe when I read the Bible, yeah, I think a lot of people, including myself, need to change. I think God has some standards. And I don’t follow them either.” (Methodist)
“My minister is a gay woman, so it’s not an issue, no more than women’s rights or black’s rights.” (Unitarian Universalist)
“When I talk morals and ethics, I talk how should we conduct ourselves? We agree, we all have ways we believe we should behave. But by the same token, in morality and ethics, we agreed on how we should treat others usually. Yeah, there’s a difference in gay marriage and abortion and things like that, very volatile subjects like that. But we agree — just because somebody is gay or somebody has an abortion, we’re not supposed to mistreat them or call them names or things like that.” (fundamentalist)
On “extremists” and the media casting religion in a bad light.
“The biggest problem we have in Christianity is people who have the microphones and the cameras in front of them don’t speak for all of us. There’s a very small — people like Pat Robertson, people who make these crazy — ‘God told me that this is going to happen because there are too many gays in this country.’ People that make statements like that, they’re very destructive and they claim they’re Christian and I don’t know where their minds are, but they don’t speak for me. Pat Robertson doesn’t represent me and neither do a lot of those other people that have microphones in front of them.” (fundamentalist)
“I don’t think anyone is saying that they represent you, but what we’re saying is they still consider themselves Christian under that title.” (atheist)
“And, unfortunately, that’s the impression people get from Christianity, because those are the people in the spotlight. And they say if that’s what Christians are like, I don’t want anything to do with them.” (fundamentalist)
“I think it’s up to other people of the same faith to decry as much as possible.” (atheist)
“Christianity, in my mind, is a very accepting religion, so if you’re going to accept people, you’re going to accept people that are maybe wacko. Let them be who they are.” (United Church of Christ Protestant)
“But don’t let them speak for you. When they speak out and say those vitriolic things.” (agnostic)
“Perhaps they’re not being silent, but the media is going to show the wacko, not the person.” (atheist)
“…The media just cranks it up as much as they can because that’s news. The more they can crank it up, the more they can put Pat Robertson and Al Sharpton …” (fundamentalist)
People lacked knowledge about Islam.
“… I don’t know that much about Islams …” (Catholic)
“I work with a gentleman who’s Islam and he’s a great guy. We all get along very well, respect each other. There’s no tension or anything like that. We respect each other and talk and discuss and it works out well.” (evangelical)
“I think the true Islam, you know, Muslim, is not the radical Muslims that blew up the World Trade Center. Just like we have radical Christians and that’s not Christianity, so you can’t label people on what one or two people do. Because in general, the general population is not like that.” (Catholic)
“Right, there are extremes.” (evangelical)
A feeling that Christians aren’t accepting.
“In my faith and what I believe and what God’s word says is everyone is accepted. Everyone is to be loved and that’s how I believe. But that doesn’t mean they accept the behavior. So we embrace you as the individual since we’re talking to you, but we don’t have to embrace the behavior. So there’s a difference between the two.” (evangelical)
“And sometimes that’s expressed in a loving way and sometimes it’s not.” (Quaker)
“Right, I hear you, and I agree with you. It’s like we were talking about the extreme Islamists or whatever they may be. They’re out there and then all of a sudden, the whole world labels that religion as just the most horrible people there are. But when you look at Christianity, we see people, they’re out there saying this and called terrible names. That is not anything I would ever support.” (evangelical)
“And this idea of acceptance … [people say] ‘you could come to my church and we would accept you if you’re a gay man or woman,’ but see, I don’t want to be just accepted. To me, that’s tolerance. If I would go, all these Christian churches that I ride by, says ‘everybody welcome,’ my wife and I look at each other and we smirk because we know behind that facade, ‘everybody is welcome,’ it’s not true. We would not truly be welcomed. We would be loved and tolerated, but in the back of the mind, it’s like going to a car dealer. Their purpose is to sell you that automobile. Depending on the denomination, depending on the sect, they can’t get along with each other — there’s a history of not agreeing with each other, that from one — just talking about Christianity — from one sect to another, from one religion to another, that ‘We’re right and you’re wrong.’ ‘We’re the mother church and you’re a fallen-away church.’ I picked up a Jehovah Witness pamphlet the other day and they said there are 40,000 Christian denominations. I thought it was 2,000, 3,000. But even if it is just 2,000, 3,000, that through the course of Christian history, that’s people that couldn’t get along. That’s people that couldn’t accept each other. That’s people saying, ‘We have the Bible, but our version of the Bible is right, your version is wrong, how we interpret is right and yours is wrong.’ … Or what I’ve faced in my life span, as someone that was born in the Catholic-Christian tradition and was UCC and some other denominations, to where I’m at now with my faith. I just don’t want to be tolerated. I want to be embraced. Not because it’s your Christian or Islam or Judaism thing to do, because you’re also a child of God, so we love you but not your sin. That’s what I hear underneath, this kind of ‘We love you, but not your sin.’ I don’t think my gay woman pastor is a sinner. Our denomination was the first denomination to ordain a woman in 1963. So we’re over the women clergy thing. … When I was an altar boy, girls couldn’t be on the altar. And that struck me as an eighth-grader, my sister can’t be up here but I can? Why?” (Unitarian Universalist)
On the difference between religious and spiritual.
“In my mind someone who is religious, they follow traditions, they follow habits. Spiritual, they’re not so much into the ritual of it. That’s just my perception.” (agnostic)
“My perception is the religious belong to a church. The spiritual believe in God, but they want to follow what they believe and not any specific church.” (fundamentalist)
“I don’t think spiritual needs to be a belief even in God. I think spiritual can be a belief in humanity or wisdom or the universe.” (Jewish)
“I don’t think there’s a difference between the two.” (atheist)
“I’ll give a real-life example that illustrates this. … AA. [Alcoholics Anonymous] … I say it’s a spiritual-based program, but it’s not about religion. And that’s how that program has survived. Like, how can you get along and survive? That program has existed since 1935. If it was about religion, it would not have survived that long because it’s truly inclusive as people — and they talk about higher power. Those people can come in and not be excluded because geez, I’m a Catholic and I’m a Jehovah Witness.” (Unitarian Universalist)
“I have to take exception with that, because you are saying there’s a higher power and an atheist doesn’t feel acceptance there.” (atheist)
“… How they address that is you can — to the agnostic or atheist — the group can be your higher power. Something bigger than yourself. And I need to get clean and sober, I can’t do it on my own. So I come into this room, help me, something bigger than myself. For a religious person, for a spiritual person, it might be this Baptist background, Catholic background, whatever background. But that’s the higher power. You’re touching upon a spiritual truth. It doesn’t matter what we call it with our little feeble minds, it’s touching upon some truth that has worked for millions of people since 1935. Why? Because they have stayed away from proselytizing and making it about religion and people are getting clean and sober through that program.” (Unitarian Universalist)
“I think they can both exist in the same person, but religious for me has a connotation, more formal structure, rules. And spiritual for me has more of a connotation of mysticism, personal connection with God or — and when I say God, I don’t necessarily mean the one God, my — I believe people can hear God differently.” (Quaker)
“And my point of view is I think that religion can become a legalistic set of rules. Spirituality can be misunderstood, too, because some of the terms and the language that we use here can be one thing to another person. But for myself, it’s a relationship with God. That’s how I see it. I don’t go around saying I’m spiritual, I’m religious. It’s a relationship.” (evangelical)
“I think they both exist. The religion part is that I reconnect it back into a church, into a denomination, into a very structured worship group. But yet I would also say that I’m spiritual in the sense that the Holy Spirit I believe resides in me, so I’m kind of led by more of a spiritual side. Not that I don’t follow the church rules.” (Methodist)
On absolute truths.
“I have been hoping to say that I think that the concept of truth is one of the problems that comes in this debate. That when one group feels they have truth, that’s where we run into problems. Whatever that group is. And that there really cannot be a truth, that we all have to — in order to get to where I think we all want to be, we have to accept that there is not a truth.” (Jewish)
“I have to respectfully disagree with you. There has to be a truth, there has to be a moral reference point, of why any of us can say anything was good, or what’s bad. Even if we look up there at helping others. How do you know helping others is good? There has to be a moral reference point where you get that from, that just doesn’t come out because you’re a good person. I think it comes out because you’re a societal person.” (evangelical)
“If you live in society, it’s just better not to hit another person in the head with a rock. You have to coexist. So I think that you might lack a spirituality and still be a societal, loving, kind person.” (Jewish)
“But you have to get that kindness, you have to get that love from somewhere. It just doesn’t grow out of nothing.” (evangelical)
“I think I know what you’re saying and I don’t mean — oh, this is so difficult — I don’t mean that you don’t have a truth in your concept, but the trouble comes when I have the truth, and you have the truth, and they’re different.” (Jewish)
“And you know what? It turns out that those are the — they may not exactly be truths, they may be our own opinions and not the truth.” (evangelical)
“That’s what it should be, exactly.” (Jewish)
“… There has to be a reference point. If we don’t agree, what makes you think love is love or good is good or bad is bad.” (evangelical)
“There are people who have never heard of religion, who don’t kill and who don’t do bad things, so how can … ” (atheist)
“OK, so you’re saying those moral reference points come from religion.” (Jewish)
“No, not religion, it comes from the inspired word of God in the Bible … the Bible was written by people, but those people were inspired by God, by the Holy Spirit, so that’s where the truths came from. So that’s why we have them today. Sure, you said your program [AA] has been successful since 1935. What about everyone who’s lived for the past thousand years since Christ, that’s been successful, too. Maybe not to everyone’s liking, but it’s been successful.” (evangelical)
“ … Is there anybody here that doesn’t believe the way they believe is the right way? Because if you don’t think that, then maybe you need to change. Because all of us in here believe what we believe and how we interpret things is the correct way.” (fundamentalist)
“I believe it’s the right way for me, not necessarily for you.” (Unitarian Universalist)
“I’m not saying. Individually — I believe what I believe is the right way. Now that doesn’t mean I’m going to ram it down your throat. The way I read the Bible and the way I was raised and all the education, everything I’ve had, the way I believe, I believe what I believe is the correct way. And I believe many people think the same way I do. That doesn’t mean I get in these big arguments. But why would I believe what I believe if I didn’t think it was the right way? If I thought multiple ways … I believe what I believe is right and I think most people who are honest with themselves think what they think is the right way. There are some people out there that are into this, ‘What’s good for you is good for you,’ and stuff like that, but there are a lot of people like me. I believe what I believe is right. I wouldn’t believe it if I didn’t think I’m right. If I didn’t think I was right, I would be out there searching, trying to find out what was right.” (fundamentalist)
On separation of church and state.
“But the Constitution of this country does not believe in mixing religion and government.” (Jewish)
“It only says 16 words in the Constitution about religion.” (fundamentalist)
“… What may be the truth to you or you is not necessarily my truth and the Constitution does not recognize your truth as being more important than what my point of view is. And it’s going to respect all of us in spite of our differences and we all have the right to participate and the right to live our lives as we see fit, provided we don’t force our views on someone else or beat someone else up because they disagree with us.” (agnostic)
“To me that is a huge issue and I have felt that the political debate — and I know this doesn’t want to get into politics — has eroded the concept of the separation of church and state and has linked a certain belief system with the qualities of goodness and righteousness and put the others on the outside of that. And in a political vehicle. Am I making any sense? … And I have felt that that’s extremely dangerous. (Jewish)
“I think it’s very important to have a separation of church and state. I think having it the other way is going to lead to some sort of state-sponsored religion. And I think there’s a danger for religious groups that might not fit within that state-sponsored religion. The most righteous, which would be the majority, the vast majority of righteousness would overwhelm the smaller groups, and I think that’s just dangerous. It’s happened in the past. So separation, which is hard. Because you take a leader, a president, they don’t operate, or any leader, they don’t operate in a vacuum. So their backgrounds, their religion, their moral guide is going to influence them. They’re going to say no, I’m not doing it, I’m obeying the Constitution or whatever is their guide, but they’re influenced. But to throw that out and say, ‘OK, we elected a Buddhist and now we’re going to have a government’ — that’s just dangerous. … Electing a person who ran as a religious figure and saying I’m going to, if elected, I’m going to operate the next two, four, six years, whatever, on my religious beliefs … I think that if you throw out the separation of state and church, I think it certainly could.” (Jewish)
“Our founders of our country came here because they fled religious persecution, which was from certain Christian sects against other Christian. That’s what they came here and realized that it can’t be about my particular brand, because we’re right and they’re right, because that’s why we had to flee. Because they thought they were right and they happened to be in power. So they came way over here and took this country and committed genocide against the people here. But this is what our country was founded on. It’s not founded on — it’s not a Christian nation, it’s not founded on the Bible, it’s founded on our two documents. Because as soon as you say it’s a Christian nation, then you start excluding all the other groups. Now there’s Christians within, as other religions, and we all have our value systems that we bring to the table and that’s all good. But it’s not a Christian nation. It’s a nation based on religious tolerance and freedom, to live and to practice … Well, geez, 1960, look when John F. Kennedy as a Catholic. Look at the upcoming election. I know some Protestant fundamentalists in my family who are strict fundamentalists that think I’m involved in some kind of a cult, that brought up Governor Romney’s religion because he’s a Mormon. ‘I can’t vote for him because he’s a Mormon.’ That actually came out of their mouth. Like that should matter? That’s 2012 I just heard that. ’60, it was because he was Catholic, the country, because of the Christians, different Christian sects were at war with each other — so I think it’s a dangerous line that we walk.” (Unitarian Universalist)
“But the thing that I want to get back with religion, separation of church and state, is that first of all, I don’t believe that’s even true. I don’t believe that the way that it’s being interpreted is true. It’s that the state should not respect a certain religion. I think religion should have everything to do with how our country is governed, not respecting a certain religion. So we shouldn’t say we respect Islamists or Christianity, but religion should have an impact on what’s done in our country.” (evangelical)
“But it’s to establish that religion is there is what you’re saying.” (United Church of Christ Protestant)
“It shouldn’t respect anyone in this room in particular.” (evangelical)
“But how can you say it should be part of it when they all disagree?” (atheist)
On whether this is a Christian nation.
“Absolutely it’s a Christian nation.” (evangelical)
“We have a strong Christian influence in this nation. If you look at all the countries in the world and go to nations where there is a Christian or strong Christian influence and then look how they treat women and look how they treat gays, compared to countries where there’s not a strong Christian influence, and you’d be surprised.” (fundamentalist)
“I’m not saying Christian influence is a bad thing. I’m saying religious supremacy, intolerance and bigotry and persecution which follows that and the history of that is a bad thing. And by a point of reference, three of our first six presidents in this country were Unitarians. Three of the first six. They were the free thinkers. They left Europe because they wanted to practice their faith as free thinkers. They weren’t Christian, they were Unitarians.” (Unitarian Universalist)
“[Hearing that this is a Christian nation sounds] slightly oppressive. There was a study that was just recently released, saying that people in America don’t trust atheists. We cannot be elected to office. And there’s lots of religion in the state right now.” (atheist)
“Look at Barack Obama in the last election. When people accused him of being Muslim, he didn’t say, ‘And so what if I was?’ ” (Quaker)
“Right, he had to come out and defend his Christianity.” (atheist)
“I think it’s a nation that was based on Christian values in my mind.” (United Church of Christ Protestant)
“I think the phrase ‘a good Christian’ or ‘he’s a good Christian,’ I think has come to mean a good person. Just as you say that we are a Christian nation and that’s synonymous with having these healthy values. But when I hear that it frightens me and hurts me because not so much that I’m Jewish, which I am, but I feel excluded by that.” (Jewish)
“Me, too.” (Unitarian Universalist)
“Are Jewish, the basic understanding of Judaism in your mind, encompass many of the things that the Judeo-Christian crossovers. …” (United Church of Christ Protestant)
“Why are you offended then if I think it was based on Christian values because that’s who the people were at that time?” (United Church of Christ Protestant)
“Because I am not a Christian and that isn’t something I could be or would choose to be or ever have been and a whole group of people aren’t — and it excludes.” (Jewish)
“I think you’re taking 1776 and making it today. And that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying people who started this country, based on their religious values, which was Christianity.” (United Church of Christ Protestant)
“The founding fathers, while they may have come from a Judeo-Christian background, they set the machinery in government to make sure that one religion did not become supreme. The separation of — the three branches, the checks and balance system, a court, the Supreme Court that could strike down laws as unconstitutional. And that’s something I’m very grateful for. Because we have that separation of power in this country.” (agnostic)
“The government is the people and so it’s governed by the people, and if the majority of the people are Christian, that’s why it’s called a Christian nation because it’s the majority.” (Catholic)
“Our founding fathers realized that the tyranny of the majority was something that they had to defend against and they came up with a beautiful system of government that was never tried before, it’s only 200 some years old, to protect from the majority. Saying it’s a Christian nation or it’s a white nation or it’s a whatever kind — OK, women just got the right to vote when? And some of your denominations, women aren’t allowed to be clergy. So it’s a man’s world, it’s a man’s country.” (Unitarian Universalist)
“I think when you name something, you are excluding those who are not named. So when you call it a Christian nation, you’re excluding those who are not Christian.” (Quaker)
“What’s interesting for me is that part of that amendment says not establish religion, but not restrict the free exercise of. And I think as a Christian, I’ll be real honest, I think where I feel uncomfortable is there are a lot more Islams and people that don’t believe what I believe and it’s disorienting to me. … I’m just saying that I believe that right now, to me as a Christian, what can be disorienting is even something like this, people that don’t believe what I believe. And so I’m like OK, well, how do we work that — I thought that’s what this was supposed to be, like how do we work that out because there’s mosques popping up all over the place, there’s … It doesn’t scare me, but it’s just disorienting, I think. I don’t know what to do with that. And I’m not saying I’m threatened and like oh, they’re going to attack. I’m just saying it’s disorienting, it’s like, oh. And I think as a Christian, it’s almost a little bit of reverse, it seems like Christians are getting beat up all the time. And maybe that’s a misconception in me, but I feel like all of a sudden, why am I getting beaten up because I believe in Jesus? And the media is like, they’ll beat you over the head you’re a Jesus freak … But if an Islam says it, then we’re supposed to just be tolerant, but if a Christian says something, all of a sudden, it’s like, oh, you’re intolerant, you’re one of those. … So it’s real disorienting I think for me. And I’m not talking for anybody else. I’m just saying it’s disorienting because I do want to live in that world where no, we’re not going to establish a religion and yes, we want to not restrict any, so how do I live in that?” (Methodist)
What lay people think faith leaders take a stand on.
“Public prayer of various sorts.”
“Treatment of the poor.”
“The separation of church and state.”
“Evolution in the classroom.”
Knowing the community.
“I think the one thing that would help is if it was a little more getting to know the people in their community … like within driving distance of your church. … And I know it’s hard because they have so many other things to do and maybe that’s part of our job as people that — get to know my neighbors, who are they.” (Methodist)
“I go to a church in the suburbs and there are some things you do in the local community, but basically their belief is the action is the inner city, the action is down there in Akron.” (fundamentalist)
What would happen if we had no religious institutions? (Answered in small groups)
“As it is now, is how it would be without the religious institutions. … For a short time frame, the increase in crime, murder, lack of care and different things like that if those institutions were taken away. … We’d have a quiet community, quiet Sundays. Other institutions would have to fill in where the religious institutions had filled in before.” (Catholic, evangelical, atheist, United Church of Christ Protestant)
“Everyone would kind of be for themselves and eventually someone would rise to the top and probably control the area. You’re going to have that in any sort of cluster of people, someone is going to try to take control … Left to your devices, people naturally kind of like to commune together and someone’s going to follow and someone’s going to lead. So that will take over. And we do think there would be erosion of values, because there’s nothing, there’s no foundation. …We’ve taken out any sort of religion in schools and in its place they’re bringing in something that’s character-building, so they’re trying to build another foundation. So I think any society would try to do that.” (Jewish, Unitarian Universalist, Methodist, fundamentalist)
“I think we are societal. There’s always going to be people that are going to go a different direction and that’s why you need police force and what not. But basically we could coexist without a — I mean, there has to be a social fabric. There has to be sort of societal understanding and rules. But we would be able to function no differently than we are now without organized religion.” (Jewish)
“We would look to create community in some — and how would we look to create that community, what would it be based on? And I think that anybody, I’m not doing this well, that it would be perhaps be based on shared values rather than shared beliefs.” (Quaker, Jewish, agnostic)
On political leaders talking about religion.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea.” (fundamentalist)
“Bad idea.” (Jewish)
“Depends on what their religious views are.” (Methodist)
“I can see them talk about their values, not their particular religion.” (Unitarian Universalist)
“For me, they’re just trying to get a vote. They’re doing that, hoping to get something out of it. It’s a sales job.” (agnostic)
“I think it’s dangerous and I can’t find the right word, fearful, fear-mongering.” (Jewish)
“I think if they’re talking about their values and the way. If they’re talking about to impose their values on others, it’s bad.” (Quaker)
“I really think they should just keep religion out of the picture.” (atheist)
“I want to hear what their values are.” (evangelical)
“And I don’t want to know about their religion. I want to know about where they stand on their values or issues that I’m concerned about.” (Catholic)
Religious leaders observed the citizens, and were struck by these ideas. (Leaders are not identified by faith because it is likely that they would be identifiable.)
“One thing that did surprise me, besides the fact that everyone was very articulate and outspoken in a good way, when the — don’t remember her name, she was one of the Christians and she was saying about feeling disoriented. When she sees the Islams, as she called it, when she sees someone who is not in her religious community, she has the perception of it sort of disorienting her. … That just drives home for me how important it is to have conversations where you get to know your neighbor. Because when you get to know your neighbor, you aren’t disoriented … I can see how people with different perspectives find certain things disorienting … Just like the woman who said when she hears Christian nation, it frightens her, it’s disorienting to her. So I think getting to know what is disorienting to one another, that’s the most important starting point for real dialogue.”
“This group sort of had some broad agreement at the beginning. But as they had more time, then they started bargaining with each other on what was really important … As that developed, on belief or society belief, but that sense that now we sort of have this agreement, what does that mean, I have to bargain for my position now. I saw a lot of bargaining in that group.”
“I was not surprised at the beginning. It was kind of a Kumbaya, everybody coming together and loving one another. It was your question on gay marriage that shifted that almost immediately. … I expected more of the fundamentalist to talk about salvation and a way to heaven than I heard from them. And that never really came forward. … So that surprised me, that there wasn’t more salvation talk because that really divides, it’s been my experience that that’s a dividing point in this town that I’ve run up against a lot.”
“I was surprised that there was not a black person.”
What religious leaders see as core values in all faiths.
“God, family … compassion … forgiveness.”
“We’re all in the human family.”
“We are all part of a one.”
“We want to be accepted where we’re at. We want to have that acceptance, not just tolerance.”
“An orientation toward doing good and avoiding evil.”
What religious leaders said would happen if there were no religious institutions.
“The first thing we would do is invent religion.”
“In our imagination, religion is a human response to mystery. We seem to understand as humans that we live in the presence of mystery, so we will figure out a way of responding to it, very basic.”
Religious leaders say there are some things they can’t talk about.
“Essentially, we all pastor to the same church in a lot of ways. Doesn’t matter. Across the board. You have congregational people that are angry, they’re hurting, they hurt, they look at you sometimes as God’s representative and so they’re angry with God, and so they do things and we take it. We take it. And we’ve all had it and we’ve all not slept in it and it’s gone to our families. My children, my daughter once said, ‘Dad, I never asked to be a preacher’s kid.’ And it does, and we have fear then. Because somebody will say, well, gee, you never talk about this, you never talk about that. Well, because, but I also want to keep my job, too. Because I’ve got to get another kid through college, but I don’t want some things.”
“Sometimes … we have to pick and choose our battles, too. And that’s the reality of the call.”
“Homosexuality is one that — my church has cleared out about lesbians. And it wasn’t because the sermon was directed to any one person. It was just a sermon. And sometimes when you present sermons, they’ll just fall wherever they may. And it fell on a group of people that I didn’t know had some challenges. So they, in turn, felt as if I was picking on them. And they just walked out of the church because they didn’t want to change their lifestyle. I didn’t ask them to change it, I didn’t even know. So there are some things that they would just rather not hear.”
“The Jewish community is afraid … They’re afraid because they’re hearing, a message is coming in part from the political world right now, which is challenging to them, or threatening to them. They’re fearful because they sense in what is very often couched as an anti-Zionism concept, anti-Semitic concept. They’re very fearful because it tends to be, even in its most Orthodox form, a more liberal kind of expression of religiosity. And there are certainly differences between us on many of the issues. But they’re afraid that they’re now even more a minority than they were before. They’re afraid that the concept that this is going to become a Christian — or is — a Christian nation, that is going to be the voice that is loudest in the debates. So, yeah, what I’m finding is true, is in the 1960s the Jewish community was very focused on outreach and it was marching in Selma and it was marching in Montgomery and it was out there and it was very much a part of it. And now I’m sensing that it’s turning inward. That is circling the wagons a bit and that distresses me. I understand it, but it distresses me.”
Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or email@example.com.