Saying “Interfaith” around here is kind of like running through a pack of hyenas wearing a dress made of bacon. No matter where you stand on the matter, it’s bound to get people very excited. I imagine that most people who are kind of “meh” about the whole thing just don’t comment. There’s a bit of sampling bias there, but I am very happy to continue the conversation as long as it stays polite. How we approach interfaith work is one of those big things that will shape Paganisms as our movement continues to grow. Our county Women of Faith group is how I do it and I’d like to spend some time talking about what we do and how it benefits everyone who is a part of the group.
Back in 2009, the imam at the nearby Islamic Center had an interfaith brunch for the local clergy. They were having some difficulty building their new worship space and he wanted to get together with other clergy persons to show that faith leaders in the community could hang out and be groovy. And, of course, by “having some difficulty,” I mean “several years of litigation plus hostile rednecks vandalizing the site, burning construction equipment, and making death threats.” I could only imagine what manner of kerfluffle might arise should the local Pagans try to build anything, so throughout this ballyhoo, I chose to march, speak, and eat baklava and beef weenies for freedom and justice. After all, freedom of religion is for everyone. At this clergy brunch, I met some wonderful ladies from various places of worship around town, including the Islamic center in which we stood. We chatted about things women chat about, husbands, children, food, and before the day was through, we had decided to make a regular thing of it. Thus was born the Women of Faith.
Our purpose is to be an example of how people of diverse faith paths can work together toward positive change in the community and to foster understanding between people of various faith paths. Charitable works are a part of this, but that’s not our whole story. We spent a goodly part of our first year learning the basics of each others’ religions and we continue learning from each other as we discuss how we handle things like death, marriage, mental health, and charity in the context of our respective religions. We talk about what we believe and how we practice, the two biggest questions when talking about religion. This serves to inform us so that we might be better equipped to defend the religious freedoms of our neighbors and to speak out against bigotry. More than once, one of the ladies from Women of Faith has heard someone speak ill of Pagans and was able to come back with an intelligent and informed response. Likewise, the Pagan ladies can do the same for any of the other faiths we regularly talk about. One of the cofounders is a very outspoken Methodist minister and it tickles me to death when she corrects someone’s misinformation on Paganisms, not only because she’s a Methodist, but also because she’s a hoot when she gets a rant on.
Our charitable works serve several purposes. Firstly, we want to help our local community and we tend to focus on works that benefit women and children. We’ve collected school supplies and clothing for the needy in our county, we’ve worked with a program that educates incarcerated pregnant women, and we’ve contributed time and resources to help out our local women’s shelter. My favorite is the annual Ramadan food drive. Lacking infrastructure, Pagans must rely on other organizations if we want to do some hands-on charitable works and it doesn’t always go very well. More than once, Pagans here have been turned away and not allowed to help simply because of a religious bias. Most of the charitable organizations around here are run by Protestant Evangelical Christians and, frankly, they don’t want us around. When Women of Faith chooses to do something in the community, it must be open to all of us to ensure that all of our members, even our token Athiest, are welcome and given an opportunity to help. Finally, when women from all different backgrounds get together to make positive changes, it shows others that friendship and compassion are possible in spite of our religious differences. Our actions speak for us.
Throughout our few years as an organization, we have discovered that while our approach to the divine is often very different, we are more alike than not. To quote one of our Muslim members:
We try to understand the differences among us, and it’s leading us to see, feel, appreciate, and value the sameness within us.
Over all, this has been a great experience for everyone involved. I have made friends I never thought I’d make, learned lots about the other women in my county, educated my eldest about other faith traditions, and had the opportunity to help people in need. I encourage anyone who wants to make the world a better place and a safer one for Pagans to reach out to the other people of faith in your neighborhood. After the Fox News kerfluffle, Another Pagan Podcast responded (Episode 63), promoting exactly the sort of thing I’m talking about here. Reasoned response and calm dialogue gets us closer to a world in which it is safe and normal to be Pagan than does reactivity and belligerence. We need to meet on common ground with our monotheist neighbors and engage in true dialogue, listening as much as we speak. We need to work with our neighbors toward peace and justice. An attitude that “Your holy book is dumb and let me tell you why” gets us exactly nowhere but more marginalized.
Though I am no longer Wiccan, I have always and still believe that all paths to the divine are sacred and that freedom of religion is for everyone. Apart from this, the most important thing to remember is to bring snacks. People are much more willing to listen to your ideas if there are snacks.
Interfaith Pagan Pumpkin Bread
2/3 c. room-temperature butter or shortening
16 oz. pumpkin puree (canned is fine)
2 2/3 c. sugar
2/3 c. water
4 free-range hippie eggs
1 tsp. each cinnamon, ground cloves
3 1/3 c. all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
2/3 c. raisins (optional)
2/3 c. nuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 350°F, grease two loaf pans. Cream sugar and butter or shortening in a large bowl. Add eggs, pumpkin, and water. Blend in dry ingredients and stir in raisins and/or nuts if so desired. Pour into pans and bake for 1hr 10min, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
You can also pour the batter into greased muffin tins and bake at the same temperature for about 30 min. Makes approx. 2 dozen.
Allow to cool slightly before removing from loaf pans or muffin tins. Share.