Bahai News - Dialogue Aimed At Preserving Religious Freedom

Dialogue Aimed At Preserving Religious Freedom

"They don't believe in Jesus?"

Depending on the context of the conversation, "they" might be Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Rastafarians.

When I speak about religion reporting in Christian churches, I'm often asked that question after describing the wonderful complexity of religious belief represented in Western Virginia.

Because Christianity is so dominant - perhaps in excess of 90 percent of the population in these parts - it's easy to forget that there are residents who are not Christians. And many Christians hereabouts just haven't had much contact with folks who don't believe the same things they do.

For that matter, it's easy to forget that there is pretty wide disagreement within Christianity about what its basic tenets should be.

Most Christians here are perfectly happy to "live and let live" in terms of the religious beliefs of their neighbors - the wedding of a Baptist and a Methodist is no longer usually considered a "mixed marriage."

But a surprising number of Christians find the non-Christian religions completely baffling. They don't know the difference between a Buddhist and a Baha'i, and sometimes don't even realize that there are differences.

Various perspectives

People in those minority faiths, however, don't forget that the misunderstandings and ignorance of their beliefs are common. And they realize that the best way to clear those up is by talking about what they believe.

For the third consecutive year, a small group will gather in Roanoke today to talk about their religious differences in an attempt to help each other better understand their neighbors.

At 3 p.m., in Ebenezer AME Church, 1565 Lafayette Blvd. N.W., an interfaith community dialogue will continue.

Speakers representing several religious traditions will take a few minutes to address an intriguing topic: "One, God, One Humanity - How does this faith principle contribute to the concept of freedom in America?"

The speakers will offer Islamic, Hindu, Jewish, Baha'i, Unitarian and Christian perspectives. Then all the participants will spend the next 30 or 40 minutes sharing their thoughts on the subject as well.

"This is not a debate," said organizer Khalil Shadeed, but a matter of sharing information. The goal is to share knowledge beyond the stereotypes of doctrine, he said.

Patriotic duty

Shadeed is a Henry County native who lives in Maryland. He also is a member of the 8-year-old Unity Interfaith Conference Group that helped organize this event and numerous others like it around the country.

Perhaps 50 people attended last year's dialogue in Roanoke, he said.

As an outsider, Shadeed sees Roanoke as a tolerant place with a willingness by its residents to learn about others' beliefs. Today's dialogue is one more way to help foster that, he said.

"We've set about to educate ourselves, as well as to share our traditions with others," he said.

And he sees it not only as the religiously correct thing to do, but as the patriotic thing to do.

"We love America," he said, and the people who participate in such dialogues are helping foster a climate that will ensure that our religious freedoms remain strong.

"We're doing what they tell us not to do, discussing religion and politics," Shadeed said with a laugh. "It seems to be working real well."

Cody Lowe can be reached at 981-3425 or

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