Faith-Based Convention Focuses on Racial, Religious Diversity

Rev. Grayland Hagler speaks during the Interfaith Public Action rally at Lafayette Square on July 31. (Tahil Sharma)
Rev. Grayland Hagler speaks during the Interfaith Public Action rally at Lafayette Square on July 31. (Tahil Sharma)

Faith-based leaders, activists, clergy and educators from across the country recently gathered in D.C. for the Reimagine Interfaith Cooperation Convention.

During the convention, which ran from July 29-Aug. 1, participants discussed racial diversity in interfaith spaces and challenges faced by individuals who identify with more than one religion.

“The vision of the conference was to addresses the elephants in the room that come with doing interfaith work locally and around the world,” said Tahil Sharma, spokesperson for the conference and an interfaith minister in residence for the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles.

Participants found out about the conference through social media, announcements by co-sponsors, newsletters, bulletins, and word of mouth.

On July 31, over 50 participants and organizers from the convention held a rally at Lafayette Square to call on elected officials to refrain from partisanship and support communities in need and to erase stigmas associated with religious and secular groups.

The rally began with an indigenous blessing performed by Hope Butler, a member of the Piscataway tribe and past president of the American Indian Society of Washington, D.C.

Rev. Grayland Hagler, senior pastor of Plymouth United Church of Christ and one of the rally’s speakers, facilitated a workshop on faith-based community organizing at the conference.

Hagler use his speech to extol the value of diversity and getting to know different people.

“People are afraid of things they don’t know,” he said. “They think somehow it’s going to hurt them.”

The speakers at the rally spoke on issues dealing with immigration policy, gun violence, religious discrimination, White privilege and the environment.

“Every issue is of its own value and importance for its impact on our world,” Sharma said. “If it could be summed up together, it would be that each issue recalls the dignity and justice we must strive to achieve for one another. Bigotry, climate change and separation of families affect us all in negative ways and it becomes our individual and collective responsibility to support each other through these tough times.

“So many things can be done to improve diversity at such gatherings, but probably the most important thing is to be mindful of your intentions in inviting such communities,” Sharma said. “If you’re trying to fulfill a checklist of folks that make your conference look diverse, you’ve taken away from creating intentional spaces for dialogue and improvement in interfaith work. If you plan on inviting folks so they have room at the table to speak, then you must be ready to get uncomfortable and real with what they’re about to tell you. Because in that discomfort of difficult conversations comes a transformation of understanding.”

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