Why this interfaith conference was more than kumbaya

This week, diplomats and religious leaders from Christianity, Judaism and Islam met in Keller to discuss religious tolerance. The world needs more of this.

The two-day event, called the Global Faith Forum, was created by the Multi-Faith Neighbors Network, an interfaith organization co-founded by Pastor Keller Bob Roberts and Imam Mohamed Magid, along with Rabbi David Saperstein.

The lecture included remarks from Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, who escaped a January hostage crisis at his Colleyville synagogue. Sunday evening’s keynote address was delivered by Mohammad Al-Issa, secretary general of the Muslim World League. A roundtable on Monday included US Ambassador for International Religious Freedom Rashad Hussain as well as two of his predecessors in that office, which monitors religiously motivated abuse, harassment and discrimination around the world. The promoters said it was the first time that three of these ambassadors had shared a stage.

Participants discussed ways to promote interfaith dialogue, protect religious freedom, and work together on projects like hunger and human trafficking.

Three things made this gathering stand out to us.

First, the Christian participants were largely evangelicals. Roberts, an evangelical pastor from Northwood Church, which hosted the event, acknowledged the rarity of this, saying his tribe does not widely support interfaith causes. Roberts said his church had lost hundreds of members in its outreach to the Muslim community.

Second, attendees did not check their religious beliefs at the door.

“We cannot set the lowest common denominator as our goal. Real differences exist between us about truth, God, the nature of reality,” said Walter Kim, president of the National Association of Evangelicals.

Roberts was even more blunt: “I’m an exclusivist,” he said, meaning he rejects the idea that all religions lead to God. “But I also believe in what Jesus said, to be a peacemaker.”

Third, this event was the result of popular conviviality. Roberts and Magid founded Multi-Faith Neighbors Network on their own friendship. That’s what can happen when ordinary people take the initiative to make the world a better place.

It would be easy to oversell this event. Participants came from across the country. Al-Issa discussed the Makkah Declaration, a document promoting moderate Islam that has been signed by 1,200 prominent Muslim leaders in 139 countries. Former Ambassador Sam Brownback, who served in the Trump administration, called the meeting “extraordinary.”

But there were only about 200 people present. They are the peacemakers of their different faiths and, unfortunately, they do not speak on behalf of all their co-religionists.

But the more religious leaders normalize these conversations, the more believers will join in. It is a goal worth pursuing.

In a marketing video, Saperstein noted that there has never been a time in human history when religious practitioners have shared so much geographic overlap. This is increasingly true in Texas. Although non-Christian religions still make up a small fraction of believers, Dallas County is more religiously diverse than most counties nationwide, according to the Public Religion Research Institute’s 2020 Census of America’s Religion. On a Religious Diversity Index of 0.2 to 0.9, Dallas County scored 0.781, well above the national average of 0.625.

Cytron-Walker offered perhaps the best reason to salute the event.

“We’re all in this together,” he said.