Sawyer Knuteson on microcosms of the day
Over the last two decades, Indianapolis has seen an enrichment of culture and religious diversity. As a way to celebrate the multiple ways Hoosiers seek to explore their faith, The Desmund Tutu center, The Center for Faith and Vocation, and The Center for Interfaith Cooperation hosted a table discussion at the Indiana World War Memorial on Sunday, August 30th. To engage the community in a discussion of civic engagement through the lens of faith, the event had a series of eight tables with assigned topics.
When entering the room it was filled with raucous chatter, to a point, it was difficult to hear the person sitting to your right, but this chatter stemmed from excitement; excitement to exchange ideas and hear from different perspectives.
Carefully situated around the room were eight tables. Each one designed to stimulate a guided conversation on how faith plays a factor in the many different areas of civic engagement. To spur the conversation and ensure the exchange stayed on the topic each table was given two experts in the field. The topics included: Dying Well, RFRA and Marriage Equality, Hate Speech, Environmental Responsibility, Diversity in Religious Institutions, Community Violence & Racial Tensions, The Threat of Terrorism, Future of Indiana.
A timer was set enabling the guests to go to four of the eight tables, this guaranteed the conversation was moving and allowed for the participants to engage in the most possible topics. The topics of conversation were intended to challenge people and make them feel uncomfortable in some areas.
While sitting at the diversity in religion table it was quickly apparent that the people at the table were open to other beliefs and ideas; the ironic part is the leaders of the discussion challenged the predominately European American group to “…be reminded of our own diversity, we are all many aspects of society.” This seemed paradoxical when comparing the thoughts the table had at the beginning of the discussion. It was easy to say “on Sundays we have the most segregated hour in America,” but as the table found; it is difficult to talk about diversity in religion because so many congregations are homogeneous. One person at the table stated, “people feel it is a compromise to talk about diversity.” This, building on the idea that identity in many cases is established through religion.
Out of all the tables, this conversation got to the heart of why everyone had gathered. While the other tables examined how free speech can be challenged by faith or bolstered by faith, the table on diversity in religion was a microcosm of the day.
Events such as these table discussions encourage understanding and provoke conversations about the effects faith can have in our community. The opportunity for people of different faiths and backgrounds to come together for an in-depth conversation is something each community should strive for, however; the problem is when it comes to events such as these, only the people that are willing to hear opinions that are different from their own will come to the table. The real challenge is bringing people together from communities that are homogeneous and allowing them to talk, but most importantly listen. It is easy for civically minded, college-educated people to get together and have a dialogue about faith and diversity. This discussion and introduction of multiple ideas for solutions was the intent of the whole event. However, to truly engage the community and enrich the diversity of perspectives and solutions we must get people that are not as open-minded to have an open and safe dialogue. We must encourage conversations such as these not just in the center of the metropolis that is Indianapolis, but emboldens rural communities and congregations to step outside of their comfort zone and appreciate faith as a way to connect, not alienate.