Is religion a source of unity or division in our society?

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Naomi Greenspan is a Program Associate for the Commission on Interreligious Affairs. She holds a degree from St. Louis Washington University.

This is the question asked by former Senator John Danforth (R-MO), also an ordained Episcopal priest, in his essay “Faith and Politics: Are Christians Reconcilers or Dividers?” (from FaithStreams, an online resource on faith-related subjects through Faith & Values Media).

Comparing Christian teachings to today’s political reality, Danforth argues that we cannot define “the Christian political agenda” by any one set of policies. Rather, Christians must take their overarching religious values and apply those principles to their political views. Today’s environment, which sets a tone of you’re either on “my side” or “against God,” divides the community into the “good” and the “bad,” “us” versus “them.” This black and white way of thinking turns the country away from the Christian value of reconciliation and assumes that one’s own perception of the truth is greater than that of God’s truth.

Danforth raises a question for us as Jews about what it means to advocate for “the Jewish political agenda.” Is there one set of policies or one way to vote to express Jewish values? What does our tradition teach us about reconciliation and is it important for us to create an atmosphere of respect for opinions different from our own? These questions are especially important to ask as we discuss issues within the Jewish community such as the war in Iraq, Israel, and gay rights, among others.

The decision of whether religion will be a source of unity or division in our society is up to each of us. More than just a matter of interreligious unity, it is also a question of intrareligious acceptance. As Christians and Jews we each face this challenge, but by drawing on our own as well as one another’s support and teachings we can find a way to engage in these discussions openly and honestly.


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