Bahai News - Appreciating Religious Diversity Group Reaches Out For Understanding
Appreciating Religious Diversity Group Reaches Out For
CHATSWORTH - Where can a Bahai, a Lutheran, a Muslim, a Jew, a Hindu, a
Wiccan and a Catholic come together? One answer is the San Fernando Valley.
And they have the Valley Interfaith Council to thank for it.
"It's a godsend for the Valley," said the Rev. Ron Degges, pastor at The
Little White Chapel Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Burbank.
"It reaches all groups and it breaks down the barriers and the walls that
divide us. It's probably the broadest-based group of its kind in the
United States. There are ecumenical groups elsewhere but they're made up of
the major religions. We have members from all faiths and even some who have
nonfaith claims," he said.
Degges became aware of the Valley Interfaith Council when he attended a
meeting of the West Valley Clergy Association soon after he settled in
Chatsworth four years ago. The council sponsored the monthly clergy
meetings. Even though the council is small in numbers, Degges finds its
"I think many people have been drawing new lines that divide us. We're
suspicious of foreigners or people who we think are different," said
Degges, a new member of VIC's board of directors.
"Our fear and mistrust of those different from us is because we are
ignorant of the religious diversity in our community. We need to learn
how to appreciate other groups. And one way to do that is to join the
Valley Interfaith Council to learn about each other," he said.
One of the ways in which the council has engaged the public in learning
more about religious diversity is through interfaith panel discussions.
The discussions were among the first activities that the group, now 35
years old, promoted back in the 1960s.
Over the years, panelists have attempted to explain what their faith tells
them about a variety of traditional and not-so- traditional questions. The
topics have included how to live a moral life, whether angels and demons
are real, life after death, religion in public schools, whether miracles
still happen, spiritual healing and how faith can overcome hate and
"These meetings are very important. We're all children of God, and it's
important for us to work together as a community," said Rabbi Aaron Kriegel
of Temple Ner Maarav in Encino.
As moderator and vice president in charge of the committee that put
together the discussions during the past year, Kriegel admitted that he
liked to ask provocative questions.
"Other people are interested in the similarities between us. I'm interested
in the differences. We need to know about and understand the differences.
Yes, even one person can make a difference in interfaith relations. Be good
to your neighbor. Then we would have a peaceful world. It's like the lyric
to the song we sing at many VIC functions, "Let there be peace on Earth and
let it begin with me," said Kriegel.
Barry Smedberg, executive director of the nonprofit, Chatsworth- based
organization, said about 400 congregations in the Valley are members of the
council. Individuals may also be members. He believes that VIC is a safe
haven for outreach proposals by the ethnically diverse religious groups in
the Valley. While groups may be hesitant to start programs or community
events on their own, they can turn to VIC for advice and help.
"That's why we're needed in the Valley. VIC allows us the freedom to act on
outreach proposals. It's our faith that makes us tick. Generally speaking,
I think there is a lot of religious misunderstanding. We'll have a better
community in the future if we understand what makes that other person tick,"
said Smedberg, who has been with VIC since 1988.
Smedberg said that while educating people on differing beliefs is one aspect
of the council, VIC is not just all talk. The council had its genesis in
social action during the 1960s.
The faith-based social activists decided to form the Valley Interfaith
Commission, as the council was first known, in November 1964.
"We have programs for seniors, the homeless and children. We have the
Meals on Wheels program. These types of services for those in need also
help to bring the religious community together when they volunteer. We
really need more volunteers for these programs. It's a big job," said
"I think that (the) Valley Interfaith Council has made a difference in
the Valley. There would be much less contact between religious groups
and those in need. Each group would be on its own. I believe we can
unite together to share in each other's pain and celebrate each other's
victories. What we can do together is greater than what we can do apart,"
The next interfaith panel discussion will be on the topic "What My Faith
Tells Me About Marriage, Family and Same Sex Union." It will be at 7 p.m.
Feb. 27 at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 136 N. Sunset
Canyon Drive, Burbank. For more information on volunteering, making
tax-deductible donations or becoming a member of Valley Interfaith Council,
call (818) 718-6460.
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