Inter-faith conference bridges religious and non-religious gap

A Mormon, an Atheist, a Jew and an Evangelical walked into the UVU Library and had a civil dialogue.

Intersecting Convictions was an interreligious conference held Friday, March 1 in the Lakeview room of the UVU Library. The conference shed light on the belief similarities and differences shared by the dynamic panel itself.

“If we pursue truth together we can pursue justice now,” said Chris Stedman, humanist chaplain at Harvard University.

Panelists approached each other’s faith with civility, transparency and understanding the bilingual nature of belief, which created clarity from contrast allowing for an atmosphere that was both interesting and devoid of argument.

stock_Looking at the core beliefs opened a Jewish/Mormon dialogue that covered serious topics such as LDS genealogy and the practice of baptisms for the dead of Jewish Holocaust victims.

Josh Stanton, associate director, Center for Global Judaism at Hebrew College, focused on the polythetic traditions of Judaism and opened the door for conversation between different belief patterns.

“If we have the bravery to engage in conversation, a lot is possible,” Stanton said.

LDS author and self-described Mormon feminist Joanna Brooks talked about her experience in an interfaith marriage and the strength that comes from being knowledgeable about others’ beliefs.

“We can learn a lot from other faith traditions and beliefs,” Brooks said. “It helps us better understand ourselves.”

After reading a verse in the Bible, Deut. 10:19, which talks about Jewish tradition of taking care of “the stranger in your midst,” Brooks pointed out that every culture, belief or group was at one time new, persecuted and friendless. Brooks also compared that teaching with the New Testament teaching of “love your neighbor.” She left the audience with the message, “Who is the stranger in your midst? And who is your neighbor?”

Evangelical preacher John Morehead chose to engage instead of debate in his conversation with Atheist Chris Stedman.

Stedman, author of “Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious,” was able to meet Morehead more than halfway as they discussed controversial issues, such as the treatment of the LGBT community by Evangelical groups, youth culture and Atheism.

“I really liked hearing the perspective of the Atheist member of the panel, it was a lot broader perspective,” said a student in attendance. “Usually people here in Utah are afraid to come forward … Brave guy.”

Stedman serves as a chaplain to Humanist, Atheist, Agnostic and non-religious Harvard students. Stedman has learned how to meet the needs of the people with whom he works, regardless of their stance, bridging the gap between the religious and non-religious. Stedman quoted the famous Atheist Carl Sagan, “For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.”

After each panel member talked about their belief pattern as it related to that of their counterparts, there was a panel discussion where audience members were able to ask specific questions and reflect on belief issues.

The audience witnessed a type of emotional marathon among the participants, which opened up varied religious viewpoints. Some had relevant questions while others commented on what belief intersection they had been crossing at a point on their own unique journey.

While the interfaith dialogue was not always comfortable for all parties, understanding was expanded and alliances explored.

“The idea of human potential we contain within ourselves gives us the capacity to be great,” Stedman said at the close of the conference.

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