A quilter carefully chooses fabrics of different colors and patterns to piece together in a variety of shapes in order to create something whole and cohesive. Historically quilts have been as expressive as they were practical. The patchwork told stories, and the final products created protection and warmth. In a similar way, religious pluralism involves the coming together of people with varied cultural ideologies, theologies, and worldviews. According to Rabbi Diana Gerson, this coming together enhances, rather than diminishes, our own faith. At a recent Faith Forum she said, “Just as a small piece of fabric by itself may be dull or ordinary, when added to the tapestry of life with small pieces of fabric of many colors, it becomes a beautiful quilt, right before our eyes.”
This is an inspiring idea, but it is challenging in practice. The difficulty of true religious freedom was strikingly exemplified this year at the U.N.’’s Commission on the Status of Women. At several events, speakers talked about the need to reform religions so they match with mainstream social ideologies. In other words, religious groups can keep their faith identity in name but not in meaningful practice. This surreptitious homogenization has been a very real problem faced by many of our friends. Anne Kioko was at the U.N. in 2018 to speak for her people in Kenya where practices they find culturally and religiously indecorous were being promoted by aid organizations. True respect for religious pluralism means accepting other people’s boundaries. It can be uncomfortable, but like Rabbi Diana said, we are better together than we are apart.
Our tenet this month is “We are free to choose and willingly accept responsibility for our choices.” Religious tolerance is a subcategory of this tenet–if we are free to choose so is our neighbor. We can be strengthened by each other as we find common ground, and we can also be strengthened as we are kind and respectful in the face of difference.
We’d love to hear from you:
What does the patchwork look like in your community?
Where is there tension, and what choices can you make to help create harmony?