As I've said before, the Kansas City area historically has done better than most cities when it comes to interfaith relations. No one region of the country, obviously, is doing enough, but over the last 20 or 30 years, lots of different efforts in KC have produced good results in this important area.
And now there's a new effort. The Jewish Community Relations Bureau/American Jewish Committee recently announced the appointment of Rabbi Alan L. Cohen (pictured here) as director of Interreligious Affairs for the Bureau's new Enhanced Interfaith Project.
When I spoke with Alan about all this the other day, he clearly was anxious to get moving on one of his first projects, which is the creation of an interfaith clergy council.
The council, he said, "will help the clergy come together and focus on issues and concerns and needs that are part of our common heritage."
In some ways, interfaith dialogue in this area (and no doubt nationally) has been stunted because it often has failed (for many reasons) to include representatives of faith traditions that would describe themselves as fundamentalist or conservative.
In some cases, those representatives don't see any value in such connections unless it provides them an opportunity to try to convert people to their faith. And that's certainly not the purpose of interfaith dialogue, though sometimes conversion can happen as a result. But it's also true that sometimes people of faith who would describe themselves as moderates or liberals haven't reached out to people on the other end of the theological spectrum because they either don't know them or don't trust them.
Alan told me that in his years as a pulpit rabbi (he was for many years senior rabbi at Congregation Beth Shalom) he got to know people of many different religious traditions, including evangelicals and fundamentalists, and hopes to be able to draw them into the work of the council.
One of the goals of the council will be to provide educational opportunities for people in many congregations of different faiths and to find ways that clergy from various religions can speak in harmony (not necessarily unanimity) on issues that affect all of their congregants.
I've known Alan for some years and believe he's well suited to this new task. But it won't be easy, so I hope clergy from many faith traditions will at minimum give him a hearing.
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WHAT DO AMERICANS BELIEVE?
The latest Baylor Religion Survey came out Thursday. For details, click here. I'll deal with it in more depth later, after a weekend devoted to a wedding in our family. But I wanted you to have some access to it now. For a newspaper story about the survey, click here.
To read my latest Kansas City Star work, click here. (My column tomorrow will be about religious conversion -- and some people paying scholarly attention to the phenomenon.)