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Beyond Religious Tolerance: The Challenges of Interfaith Cooperation Begin with Us

Statement of Conscience

We live in a global village that brings people of diverse economic, cultural, and religious backgrounds into close and interdependent contact. The resulting challenges are immense. They defy traditional efforts to ensure socio-economic fairness. While we hear the plea for a more just society in the teachings of many faiths, intolerance towards people of other faiths inhibits cooperative efforts.

The commitment of Unitarian Universalism to religious tolerance dates back to the first guarantee of religious freedom in Europe, issued in 1568 by the Transylvanian King John Sigismund, a Unitarian. Today, we accept others' rights to their own religious beliefs. However, our acceptance does not extend to tolerance of actions flowing from those beliefs that violate individual human rights and dignity. Acceptance thrives only where mutual respect exists, understanding is encouraged, and dialogue is nurtured among people of different faiths and philosophical traditions.

Contemporary Unitarian Universalism is a pluralistic faith, drawing its strength from its openness to many different sources. While religious interdependence is an integral characteristic of our living tradition, we are not immune to religious intolerance. There is still hard work to be done within our ranks to ensure that Unitarian Universalists with different theological and philosophical beliefs feel equally at home in our congregations. We need to grow beyond the stereotypes, symbols, and semantic barriers that divide Unitarian Universalists from one another.

We try to advance our Unitarian Universalist principles through our social justice agenda. We try to bring about mutual understanding, appreciation, and respect among people of faith--all people of faith. Recognizing shared values may help us avoid either accepting the intolerable or unquestioningly embracing interfaith cooperation. We want to foster cooperation among people of faith as a way of discovering shared values. These shared values may become a workable base on which to build a better world.

Interfaith cooperation sets a high standard of thought, feeling, and action for each individual and for each community that by its nature goes beyond the boundaries of self. It invites us to reach beyond ourselves into the world to confront fear, ignorance, and hatred wherever we find them. It also invites us to reach deep within ourselves to assess our own prejudices. This work begins with living our principles, thereby modeling what is possible in the broader community.

Therefore we are called to:

Educate Ourselves. Let us commit ourselves to increasing our own and our children's understanding and appreciation of other faith traditions. Let us search for deeper meanings and shared values that underlie our common humanity. Let us come to know who we are in a world of many different beliefs. Let us use our long-standing commitment to liberal education to overcome fear, ignorance, and hatred.

Honor Our Internal Religious Pluralism. Within our congregations, let us come to understand that the identity of our evolving faith is rooted in the free expression of our varied religious beliefs and deepest yearnings. Let us celebrate our differences as contributing to our creativity and to the unique fabric of our Unitarian Universalist heritage.

Converse with Other Faith Communities. Let us find the courage to explore through dialogue the values and goals we share with others. Let us listen to others carefully, avoid premature judgments, and speak only for ourselves. Let us speak out about who we are and be sure we are heard. Let us build from our conversations a network for collective action. Let us become involved as individuals, as congregations, and as a faith community in cooperative interfaith activities.

Participate in Interfaith Service Projects. Let us recognize and encourage those among us who reach out beyond themselves to take part, as Unitarian Universalists, in cooperative interfaith service projects and who embody our principles in their involvement.

Work for Social Justice. Social justice work, in addition to its intrinsic merit, can bring faith communities together and provide opportunities for personal transformation. Through the discovery of mutual interests, let us help build personal and institutional alliances that open channels of communication for further cooperative work.

Celebrate Diversity. Let us go beyond tolerance to build mutual understanding with respect, appreciation, and love for people whose religious traditions, symbols, and beliefs may differ from our own.

The Unitarian Universalist Association dedicates itself to the challenges of interfaith cooperation and calls upon its member congregations and individual Unitarian Universalists, within the dictates of conscience, to accept these challenges. May our commitment to building a better world begin with ourselves as we work with others to make the world awaited a world attained.

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Wednesday, August 24, 2011.

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