Repost from Interfaith Insight, Grand Rapids Press, April 21
This past week, two events explored the topic of spirituality and social justice. The first, at the Dominican Center at Marywood, featured Sikh, Jewish and Christian perspectives, and the second, at Aquinas College, highlighted Muslim, Christian, and Hindu perspectives.
It was beautiful to hear the various articulations of what justice means to each worldview and tradition. I think it was perhaps even more beautiful to imagine the coalitions possible when we use our distinct traditions and shared values to work toward a common good.
On the first night, Rishi Makkar, a member of the local Sikh community, shared how his tradition was founded as a response to social injustices of its time. In northern India in the late 15th century, Sikhism was established as a religion that brought people together rather than separate them out based on gender, class or religion. Not only that, but the defining characteristics of Sikhs – such as their turbans, kirpans (small daggers) and karas (bracelets) and more – are meant to be a sort of spiritual armor. So anyone can pick out a Sikh and trust them to protect us – no matter our identity or oppression.
The next night, Fred Stella looked to his religion of Hinduism, and particularly someone who exemplifies his tradition’s call for justice – Mahatma Gandhi. He reminded us that Gandhi viewed a personal wholeness, an inner coherence, to be essential to his outward activism and leadership. This inner change for outer change idea, as Fred reminds us, makes both transformations – personal and political – all the more meaningful.
Gandhi is also an example of how to be inspired by a different tradition while retaining your own beliefs. Much of Gandhi’s non-violence was informed by the teachings of Jesus he learned through the Gospels, and while that deeply informed his work, he was able to appreciate the lessons of Jesus while remaining a Hindu.
Ironically, Gandhi, a Hindu, ended up inspiring Martin Luther King Jr., a Christian, to more deeply consider the non-violent calling of Jesus. This exchange of ideas and values made Gandhi and King a better Hindu and better Christian, respectively.
Finally, it seems appropriate to end with a reflection from the Catholic perspective, since they were conveners and panelists at both events. Mary Clark-Kaiser, a follower of Catholic Social Teaching and a spiritual director to many students at Aquinas College, cited the importance of not just charity work, but systems change work. She referenced Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, as someone who lived out the value of doing more than service, but instead someone doing justice. Day would likely agree with Dom Helder Camara, a Brazilian Roman Catholic archbishop of the 20th century, who famously said, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”
As shown by this last quote, justice work is easily politicized and therefore often polarized. But as we experienced during these two events, there is still more upon which we agree– despite our religious and political differences – than there is upon which we disagree.
Unfortunately, it is easier for us to call out differences and divisions than it is to celebrate shared values and points of unity. However, through interfaith dialogues like these, by discovering the roots of our traditions and the directions they are headed, we can learn and be enriched by one another. Further, we can model a method of coming together, and a way of appreciating particularities along with commonalities, that can help us work together on issues of grave concern — not just for our own tribes, but for all humanity.
After all, it is not only our senses of spirituality and justice that are both deeply personal and deeply shared. It is also our lives, our communities, and our world.