Promoting peace

A weekend festival of faiths, the third local interfaith event in the past three weeks, began with representatives from 20 different beliefs highlighting how they interpret the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

It concluded three-and-a-half hours later with participants joining hands on Saturday and singing, letting their spiritual light shine.

The inaugural Interfaith Wintertime Gathering at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbus encouraged diverse participation — from Hinduism to humanism and Sufism to Sikhism.

“I was amazed to hear so many people quoting from their own scripture what sounded like the same thing, saying that they stand and live by the Golden Rule,” said Amit Sahu, representing the Hindu Society of Southern Indiana. “It was like hearing my own scripture.”

The Rev. Anita Naanes of Seymour, a member of the Interfaith Forum of Columbus and a follower of a blend of faiths, organized the event that triggered enthusiasm from participants.

“What a multi-faceted experience,” said Indianapolis’ the Rev. David Sassman of the Wiccan and Pagan Educational Network.

Naanes first discussed the idea last summer with the interfaith forum. She said she was further inspired after attending the 2015 Parliament of World Religions in October at Salt Lake City, Utah. Part of the theme of that event was “Working Together For a World of Compassion, Peace, Justice and Sustainability.”

She also acknowledged that recent national and international violence and killings linked to the Islamic State group also partly triggered the current timing of the meeting to help practitioners of various faiths understand one another better.

Although the local weekend celebration carried the tag of wintertime, warmth marked much of the mixing.

After attendees closed the gathering standing hand in hand and singing an old children’s gospel song, “This Little Light of Mine,” people began talking of such an event being held annually to promote peaceful respect and diversity among those of different faiths.

The light reference also fit since each speaker lit a candle on a circular display symbolizing unity at the front of the room.

“Look around at these people,” Naanes said afterward. “They’re talking (with each other) and almost no one has left.”

Indeed, 15 minutes after the program ended, people lingered to eat snacks and visit with each other. Some of them staffed informational booths with pamphlets and books about their practices and beliefs.

The mixing and mingling was reminiscent of the atmosphere at a recent, local Christian-Muslim dialogue that attracted the about the same size crowd — and won praise for its feelings of respect it generated between the faiths.

David Harpenau of Columbus, a member of St. Bartholomew Catholic Church, is among those who launched a local Christian-Muslim dialogue group after Islamic graffiti defaced three Columbus Christian churches in 2014. He saw Saturday’s five-minute presentations as enlightening and significant.

“This is the third such recent event where I’ve seen people joining together in an interfaith manner, and I see that as wonderful,” Harpenau said. “It makes me hopeful for the future.”

Bloomington speaker Marcia Ankrom, a member of the Religious Society of Friends, also known as the Quakers, mentioned how her Christian denomination emphasizes honoring others’ beliefs. Then, after she finished her presentation, she explained why that is important today in a world of religious upheaval.

“With all the negativity and the violence and the (religious) wars,” Ankrom said, “we need to learn to be sharing and caring about each other.”

The golden rule and religious respect

A sampling of perspectives from speaker presentations at the inaugural Interfaith Wintertime Gathering, held Saturday:

  • The Rev. David Sassman, Wiccan: “Harming anybody is harming the divine and yourself.”
  • Marcia Ankrom, Quaker: “We treat others with respect for their beliefs and allow them to freely be who they are.”
  • Sikh Jyoti Mehta, Sikh: “Many Sikhs throughout history have sacrificed their own life so that people of other religions may have the freedom to worship in the manner of their choice.”
  • Jeannine Johnson, Native American: “This (event) has confirmed to me that we all ultimately come from the same creator.”

Three recent interfaith gatherings

Saturday’s event marked the third interfaith get-together in Columbus in fewer than three weeks. Here is a recap.

  • Jan. 20: Christian-Muslim dialogue at the Columbus Area Visitors Center — Overview of the local Christian-Muslim group that began meeting in January 2015 and gathered regularly until summer to improve understanding between the two after Islamic graffiti was found spray-painted on three Christian churches the prior year. About 125 people attended.
  • Jan. 31: Islamic State presentation at First Baptist Church — David Carlson, Franklin College theology and religion professor, provided an overview of “What Every American Needs to Know About ISIS” and the difference between radical Islam and what Carlson calls normative Islam. The church organized the gathering as it considers sponsoring a Muslim refugee family from Syria. About 150 people attended.
  • Saturday: Various religions’ view of the golden rule at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbus — Representatives of 20 faiths shared snippets of their religious history while outlining how their beliefs outline general acceptance and treatment of others. Organized by the Rev. Anita Naanes, a member of Interfaith Forum of Columbus. About 120 people attended.

Pull Quote

“We need to learn to be sharing and caring about each other.”

— Marcia Ankrom, Bloomington, a member of the Religious Society of Friends, also known as the Quakers

Author photo
Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.