Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: A Chorus of Faiths: A Program That Builds Interfaith Youth Leaders

Activity 3: Changing the Conversation

Activity time: 15 minutes

Materials for Activity

  • Newsprint, markers, and tape

Preparation for Activity

  • Read the story about Keith Ellison described in the activity.
  • Write on newsprint, and post, under the title "Change the Conversation:"
    • Articulate the difference between religious pluralism and extremism.
    • Have a deep and wide knowledge of your own Unitarian Universalist tradition.
    • Have several real-life stories ready of how religious pluralism overcame religious conflict.

Description of Activity

Participants learn how to transform religious conflict by retelling a story using the lens of religious pluralism.

Set up this story in your own words:

In 2009, the first Muslim was elected to Congress, Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota. When he announced that he planned to take his oath of office on a copy of the Quran, the holy book of his faith, he was verbally attacked. In particular, Virginia Representative Virgil Goode claimed that taking the oath of office on a Quran was a threat to American values.

Ask if the youth know or can guess what happened next. If they know part of the story, draw out the details. Then, finish the story in your own words:

Ellison contacted the Library of Congress and requested to use the Quran that was once part of Thomas Jefferson's personal library. As Ellison's spokesman, Rick Jauert articulated, "Keith is paying respect not only to the founding fathers' belief in religious freedom but the Constitution itself." He made his point, but did not allow the situation to devolve into an "Ellison vs. Goode" fight. He changed the conversation.

Share the strategies to "Change the Conversation" you have posted on newsprint. Then ask:

How did Keith Ellison's use of Jefferson's Quran change the conversation from religious conflict to religious pluralism?

Ask participants to role-play how they might change the conversation in these situations:

  • You are working on a service project with a youth group from a different faith. One of them notices a pentagram pendant worn by one of your friends. They ask you if Unitarian Universalists are devil worshippers.
  • You and a Jewish friend have been invited to join the planning committee for your school's baccalaureate ceremony. You discover that the ceremony has traditionally included Christian language and that the rest of your classmates have the expectation that this year will be no different.
  • There is a local controversy about a display of the Ten Commandments at the county courthouse. During a lunchroom discussion, one of your atheist classmates claims that not only is the display a violation of the Constitution, it promotes a religion that encourages its followers to be mindless sheep.