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Interfaith - Why Bother?

Updated: Apr 19

By Jay Moore

[Reflection presented at Grand River Unitarian Congregation at a special service about Interfaith Dialogue]

This is a very special day for me. I am a fortunate person and I am grateful to have the opportunity to plant some spiritual seeds in a garden where my spirit grows, right here in this congregation for almost thirty years. I am grateful for this, my home garden. But I am doubly fortunate because I have another spiritual garden. For the past few years, I have been putting roots down in the interfaith garden here in Waterloo Region with Interfaith Grand River. In this garden, a great diversity of human plants are rooting and getting the water and sunshine they need to grow. We come together from a wide range of different places, we help and support each other to flourish and we take our healthy, spiritual message back to our communities to help them flourish, too. 


I am going to base the structure of my talk today on a series of questions. And, like a good teacher, I will tell you what I’m going to tell you, then I’ll tell you and then I’ll tell you what I just told you. So, here’s what I’m going to tell you: these are the questions I’m going to try to answer today: 

1.    What is Interfaith?

2.    What is it not?

3.    What are the goals? (Why bother?)

4.    What are the barriers?

5.    What are we doing locally?

6.    What are some things we’re planning to do?

7.    Why are you doing this, Jay?

8.    Why preach this message to Unitarians?

9.    How can you support Interfaith action in Waterloo Region?


What is interfaith?

“Inter” means between.     

“Faith” means many things but, in this case, it refers to the defined groups that signify their differences, their separateness, because of their beliefs or religious traditions. We might say different religions, different congregations, different cultural histories or different philosophies.

If “inter” means between then I will apply it here as also meaning “the space between.” So interfaith brings us to think about what lies in the space between the many differing faiths and about the space we all inhabit together. 


What is it not?

Interfaith is not about reinforcing the differences that exist among us. It’s about accepting and appreciating them. 

Interfaith is not about standing aloof from one another politely. Some people use different terms describing various relationships. Take the terms “multifaith” or “religious representation” or “religious pluralism.” Sometimes, these are meant to indicate that a society may tolerate and even respect other religions but there may not be active reaching out across the divide, real interaction, getting to know and understand each other. Interfaith action calls us to reach out, connect and get closer.


Interfaith is very closely allied with social justice because it is the common ground among most religions. It’s very easy for folks from different traditions to arrive quickly at an agreement that we should do something to improve the lives of our neighbours. That’s a “no-brainer.” Sometimes, that can readily become the singular focus among different groups. But Interfaith is not simply social action. What makes Interfaith different from the many secular social agencies in town? We have an active, secular Multicultural Centre in Kitchener with good people serving the needs of many folks of diverse cultures. How is Interfaith Grand River different from the Multicultural Centre? Interfaith means that our religious beliefs are part of our motivation to act. Our desire to be of service to our neighbours is part of our spiritual calling. And, generally speaking, whether we are believers or non-believers, consideration of our inner lives is a major factor in how we come together and address issues. In my opinion, interfaith work is not simply secular because to build relationships that affirm the worth and dignity of all people is sacred.   


Why does it matter?

Everyone hearing these words today can think of examples in history, from ancient to recent, where religion has been a major factor in the divisions among us. Some of the most destructive actions taken on this planet by humans have been justified with religious language and religious loyalty. It is not the religion itself that is to blame for the violence and destruction. The perpetrators of harm have used selected holy scripture to justify their actions. Religious doctrines have been used to justify violent action. Aggressive leaders have tried to sanctify their war-like actions, absolving themselves of condemnation and selling the righteousness of their militaristic and hostile plots with religious white wash.


Very nasty stuff.


Religion itself is not the problem but it has been a great tool in the reinforcement of insular divisions that have been woven into the fabric of what has made us human for as long as there have been humans. We wouldn’t have survived without the primacy of the tribe. A tribe is an extended family, a larger group, there to support and protect our family units. We have biologically-based attachments to our primary family, bonds that provide life and those attachments are extended to our clan, our tribe. For most of our history, defence of these bonds has been a matter of life and death but this has included separating ourselves from “the other” and making an enemy of “the other.” Today, prejudice is the result. Unless we take into account these primitive, biological and mythological forces, some which are very destructive and divisive, that are like hidden programs running in the background, we may never resolve some of the barriers to creating a healthier world. For those of us who would like to see change in the world, it’s clear that will take a very long time. I won’t be around to see that but I recall the axiom, “Blessed are they who plant trees under whose shade they will never sit.” 


In the meantime, we have hope and hope is the soil we till. Lailah Gifty Akita said, “Hope is a fertile soil where flowers [may] blossom.” I added the word “may” because there are no guarantees. But, while we do this work of interfaith and we look around, once in a while, we can see a little blossom of change and this is good. It encourages us to keep hoping.      


What are the goals?

We at Interfaith Grand River are focussed now on three main areas of our work:

1.    Relationship building

2.    Education

3.    Visibility  


And each of these areas have specific goals. I won’t list them all here but here are a few highlights:

•         to promote dialogue

•         to encourage networking

•         to publicly challenge expressions of religious and secular intolerance in the community

•         to make public statements about actions we support that address the needs in our community

•         to  strengthen our lines of communication with as many congregations of faith traditions as possible


What are the barriers? 

It doesn’t take too much imagination to speculate about what the barriers might be. The first that jumps out for most people is prejudice. I referred to it earlier as a barrier. I just have to say the word and most of you can fill in the blanks in an instant. Prejudice between and among people about ethnic, cultural, national, political issues, and so on, is a constant that all of us who want to see progressive change in any area of society must confront continually.


Then, like many organizations that have lofty goals and need a lot of sweat-equity to achieve them, we find some interested, sincere people can adopt what I will call “passivity.” But there are some good reasons for that passivity. It isn’t about laziness or being too busy. Most people are good people and want to see change but we have been raised with the instruction, “Don’t talk about religion and politics! Why, that’s how you make enemies! You’ll just make a lot of trouble!” So, that one’s about fear. 


It’s also about a lack of skill. We don’t learn how to engage someone in serious matters constructively who is very different from ourselves. No one has shown us how. We just don’t have the experience. So, that one’s about a lack of skill. 


What is reasonable to expect?

Recently, I read a very inspiring book. It’s called, “We Need To Build: Field Notes for a Diverse Democracy.” It’s really a handbook with lots of suggestions to reach some of the goals we’re talking about here. The author, Eboo Patel, is an American Muslim who created the organization called “Interfaith America” which is now nationwide in the U.S. He was on President Obama’s Inaugural Faith Council. He says, “We believe ‘Interfaith America’ should replace our current understanding of America as a Judeo-Christian nation.” Wow! That’s huge! And it becomes massive when I think about what America is dealing with right now with the “religious right” and White Christian nationalism. Many of the people who stormed the Capitol in Washington on January 6th 2021 have no doubt that their beloved nation must be preserved as a “Judeo-Christian nation” and they are prepared to defend that principle, some with violence. Replacing the concept of a Judeo-Christian America with an Interfaith America is a very, very tall order. Perhaps we here in little ol’ Waterloo Region can bring that goal down just a tad and consider what we can reasonably do here in town. Here are three things we expect:

1.    We expect to build more relationships. The more, the merrier.

2.    We expect to educate to develop greater understanding among more people. 

3.    We expect to be more visible so we can promote the work of Interfaith Grand River.    


What are we doing locally? 

The Interfaith Breakfast will take place in May this year at Bingeman’s on May 15th. It’s a big event where you can get a feel for all the interested parties in Waterloo Region who appreciate and promote interfaith action. 


The Multicultural Festival will be taking place in June on the 22nd and 23rd and Interfaith Grand River has a table at the annual event in Victoria Park. 


We have monthly meetings for the members who represent their congregations or agencies where we share our thoughts, feelings and opinions through discussion and dialogue.


We have, a number of times, written letters to political and institutional leaders and to the media expressing our concerns about critical situations in the community.


We are getting up to speed in the use of social media. We have a working website, a monthly newsletter, our own Youtube channel with “Believe It Or Not,” a series of interviews and many short video clips that you can go and see anytime.


We also attend community social action meetings and events to represent IGR and add our voice to others in the community.


We also are planning to do a number of new things in the coming term that I hope you will hear more about soon.


And here’s a crazy idea that really appeals to me. Eboo Patel says in his book, “We Need to Build,” “.... a pot-luck supper is about the best symbol there is for a diverse democracy” and he goes on to make a reference to the Stone Soup Story and all the good consequences of people coming together to nourish each other.  Remember the Stone Soup Story? I’ve got it in the back of my mind now to see us organize some Interfaith Pot-luck Suppers eventually. Would you like to come to an interfaith, intercultural pot-luck dinner? 


Why are you doing this, Jay?

I am someone with a very checkered past when it comes to religion. I have wrestled with it. I have jumped on bandwagons with it. I have rejected it. I have been ecstatic about it. I have been angry about it. I have wondered about it. I have been sad about it. I have been all this and more when it comes to religion. When I thought of all religions, all the many foreign beliefs and customs as well as the familiar dogmas and doctrines of my own experience, it was very easy for me to say, “They’re all just plain nuts!” But, somewhere in the last decade, just as I was raising my head and looking around a little further and a little wider, I got a chance to be with other people who were honestly seeking connection with something larger than themselves, even if that something was simply an idea. I found out that these very different people were more like me than I had ever imagined. I found fellow pilgrims making their progress in their own ways. And all this came in a package called Interfaith. In many conventional religions, I am rejected outright because I am a non-believer in whatever doctrines or dogmas deemed to be the ultimate truths in some prescribed arena. But, with my interfaith friends, I am accepted for who I am and there are none of the usual conditions that must be met. Interfaith Grand River is a fertile garden where even the most unconventional little flower like me can flourish. ( You didn’t know I was a little flower, did you?) 


So, why do I do this? To answer this, I’ll describe my “big picture perspective” that I want to be a part of.  I’ll take a page from Margaret Mead who said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” So, Interfaith Grand River is a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens who want to change the world. I want to be a part of this. And to paraphrase many who have gone before me, I want to change the world, even a little bit, one mind at a time; one heart at a time.  


Why preach this message to Unitarians?

As I was writing this portion of my talk referring to Unitarians, I conjured up the spirit of Norm Robertson in my mind. Norm was a former minister who left Christianity and joined up with us here at Grand River Unitarian. He was a warm, loving man who actively reached out and touched the hearts of many of us. He passed away recently and we had his celebration of life here just over a week ago. So, Norm helped me write this part of the sermon and he’s helping me now as I deliver it.


So, why preach this message to Unitarians? Well, I’ll tell you why. I believe interfaith action is tailor-made for Unitarians. First, We advertise that we are a creedless church and that says to me that we cannot judge other creeds against our own because we don’t have any! This translates to not only being welcoming here within these walls but also to being non-judgemental of other people of all religions and cultures outside of this building.  


Second, Unitarians like to repeat that well worn quote, possibly said by a very early Unitarian, Francis David, - maybe - possibly in the 1500s - maybe (we’re not sure) -  because it represents us in that, oh, so, progressive, warm and fuzzy way: “We need not think alike to love alike.” I’m being a little deprecating here but, really, I love this quote. It has interfaith written all over it! I have this experience every time I sit in a roomful of folks at an Interfaith Grand River meeting. It is a powerful experience. It is Unitarian, it is Humanist and it is a spiritual experience for me.


Third, what are the words we read aloud every Sunday that are posted right there on the wall: “Love is the doctrine of this church…….” It is a beautiful sentiment but I believe it’s important to demonstrate this claim, to see the effects of this Love downstream. Is it only meant for those we’re close to, the people we are bonded with? Is it only meant for others in this flock here at Grand River Unitarian? I don’t think so.


Are you getting the theme here yet? I asked Ben Chery, a Christian, to read that very beautiful scripture from the Christian Bible about Love earlier in the service. The Christian Bible also contains the message to love your enemies like we heard earlier in the quote from the Qur’an. And a number of religions have some version of the message to “Love your neighbour.” Are you getting the picture? I believe Love is the antidote to so many of the harmful forces, conditions and situations humanity finds itself in and Interfaith action is one way that Love can be employed.   


How can you support interfaith action in Waterloo?  

The first thing you can do is go to the website,, read lots of information and sign up for our monthly newsletter.


You may like to attend a Members’ Meeting as a guest. Get in touch with me and I can bring you in as my guest.


You may like to represent Grand River Unitarian Congregation along with me at the IGR table. We can double our representation! Get in touch with me.


We are trying to increase our influence in the community so if you are aware of situations in schools, hospitals, government, social agencies or even other religious congregations that could benefit from the support and advice from an interfaith perspective, please contact us. 


So what have I just told you? I’ve said that interfaith is concerned with the space between the various faith groups we encounter and strengthening the relationships that lie in that space. And that interfaith action is the getting to know and accept our neighbour. It is not about standing aloof. Interfaith action calls us to reach out, connect and get closer. I said that we have three main areas of our work now: relationship building, education and visibility. I could add advocacy to this list as well. It has remained a foundational “raison d’etre” since the beginning if IGR in 2001.


I said that prejudice is a constant, whether conscious or unconscious, and we must confront it continually. Another is passivity among the citizenry, the lack of responsive, responsible action that is based in fear, fear of the unknown and based in a lack of skill in communicating and problem-solving with people of different cultures.


I talked about the good reasons the message of interfaith action is a great fit with being a Unitarian and I tied it together with the universal message of Love. I’m interested in using Love as a verb here today. It is action and interfaith action is one of the many ways we can be loving. 


The last thing I will say is this: to love takes courage. To offer love through interfaith action takes courage to reach out to others you aren’t familiar with, to take risks by expressing opinions that may not be popular and to stand in solidarity with those with whom you may not agree. Remember, “We need not think alike to love alike.”  


Loving is Good - good for yourself, good for others and good for humanity. Do it.


May it be so.

Jay Moore 17 March 2024 


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