Whenever we see a news story that involves the interaction between different religious groups, it is difficult not to assume the worst. Tales of religiously motivated hate, violence, and discrimination dominate headlines, and present a bleak verdict on the possibility of religious pluralism. Yet these stories do not paint the whole picture. For every reported instance of religious intolerance, there are countless more untold stories of different religious groups working together, solving issues in their communities and uniting around just causes.
Religious communities have a tremendous potential to do good when they come together. When groups focus on their similarities rather than differences, they have so much to offer in terms of making the world a better place. The environment is a perfect starting point from which to foster this type of interreligious dialogue. Nearly all of the world’s religious traditions recognize the intimate connection between all forms of life, and the role of humans as caretakers of the earth.
Acknowledging this shared reverence for nature among different religions is a great pathway to seeing the beauty in other traditions. I was raised a Christian, yet cannot help but feel inspired when I hear the Quran talk about the divine sending rain down to “give life thereby to the earth after its lifelessness,” or the Guru Granth Sahib commenting that “Air is the Guru, water is the Father, and earth is the Great Mother of all.” Indeed, during my time at IPC I have often seen people request copies of prayers they heard during meetings, even when those prayers were from a faith tradition other than their own.
There is no reason why religious voices should not be among the loudest in the room when it comes to environmental advocacy. In addition to tangible material funds, religious groups bring with them incredible spiritual, moral, and social assets. When multiple religious groups leverage their combined resources, the possibility for positive change is enormous.
We are fortunate to live in an area of the country that is blessed with religious diversity. According to the Public Religion Research Institute, two of the top ten most religiously diverse counties in America are in Maryland. Imagine the impact that could be had if all religious groups in the area spoke with one voice on environmental conservation.
Throughout my time with IPC, I have witnessed first-hand the inspirational power of religions working together. A large part of my role as head of our new green team mentorship program has been providing people opportunities to learn from each other. Our mentors often work with green teams from other religious traditions, and seeing these relationships grow has been one of the most rewarding parts of my job. When I leave IPC next month, I will do so with a renewed optimism in the power of interfaith work, and a surging hope that religious communities in the area will continue to do all they can to faithfully preserve the waters of the Chesapeake Bay.
The divine does not belong to one group of people, and nor does the earth. And much like the divine, the earth will be here long after all of us are gone. It is up to us to honor Creation by ensuring that what we leave behind is safe and sustainable. Let us join together, as people of all faiths, to make this so.
Thank you all,
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