In his recent blog Chas Clifton writes in response to several previous comments revolving around the idea of Interfaith, and Intrafaith when he asks the question “ What do Pagans Get From Interfaith Activities?” Those of us involved in Interfaith up to our...well lets just say I'm still looking for the plug to the swamp...tend to forget that not everyone is aware of what Interfaith involves or seeks to attain and I am delighted to have this opportunity to add a bit of elucidation.
Ecumenism is an interaction that takes place between members of one religious group no matter how fissured it might be. For instance right now on the “Pagans” Facebook page we are having an ecumenical discussion on the various merits (or lack thereof) of Pantheism vs. Panentheism. We are all Pagans of various ilks...er traditions. In the larger picture of religious discussion many would prefer to call this type of dialogue “Intrafaith vs. Interfaith. In this growing world of religious exchange the current popular theory is that Intrafaith is oh-so-much more difficult than Interfaith. My own experience tends to confirm this opinion; not to mention the question of whether it serves any useful purpose at all (provided the goal is not to convert). Well perhaps it answers to the pure joy of (intellectual) argument for its own sake.
A more pertinent question is “What DO Pagans get from Interfaith Activities?” (emphasis mine) The very most succinct answer that I can offer is legitimacy, respect, a place at the table. If this doesn't matter to you stop reading here...
If it does, there are three major paths to that goal: The first is the work that Chaz and others are doing in the academic arena. When we started out, Paganism was regarded as a sideshow of cultists and goddess worship at such distinguished conferences as the American Academy of Religions (this year with over 10,000 people in attendance). Now, due to the work of these intrepid academics Pagan studies has its own tract. This is Interfaith work at its most subtle and important; working with and among academics of the world's religions to earn that place at the table. Certainly the Covenant of the Goddess, a national organization of Witches, recognizes the value of this work and its place in Interfaith by supporting M. Macha NightMare as a national Interfaith representative to the AAR.
Still others are earning our silverware through their work with the Parliament of the World's Religions. People like Andras Corban-Arthen, Angie Buchanan, and Phyllis Curott, have been or are on the staff of that august body. In fact Pagans probably represent a far larger percentage of staff proportionately, than do any of the Abrahamic traditions. Working (and looking) as regular professionals doing the job of organizing one of the largest religious gatherings in the world. They are not proselytizing for our beliefs. They are simply walking their talk and making it clear in so doing that they are no different than any other professional with a set of specific religious beliefs.
Many are serving the dinner and washing the dishes at this table. I have done so for the last ten years (in many cases literally) and as a result of service was recruited for the board of the North American Interfaith Network, one of the oldest Interfaith organizations in the United States. Personal interaction is the third though hardly least path of which I spoke above. The interaction and work between and among professional clergy and other religious professionals who will form opinions and influence their own people in Intrafaith dialogue has made major inroads into bringing us into respectability and acceptance.
If you think that this does not make a difference consider a comment from one United Church of Christ minister when told that individuals from a local Interfaith organization in Las Vegas had threatened to leave if Witches (In this case a full professor at ULV) were allowed to join. He wrote to the organization and then followed up with a call that boiled down to: “if they want to quit let them. You will loose nothing and gain a group of sincere people who are always the first to arrive (to be available for set up), the last to leave (to assure that everything is clean). They are not interested in trying to convince you of how important they are. They are simply involved to serve and share.
When Lady Liberty League and others were fighting for the right of Pagan Vets to have the pentacle on their grave stones, we were shoulder to shoulder with Ministers, Priests, and other Professional clergy who wrote letters and in some cases occupied the offices of the of the Veteran's Administration. These religious leaders know who we are and respect us because of our long tradition of service. When Pagans are faced with violations of our civil rights, we are now supported, often by very well known and prestigious religious leaders. It pays to have friends.
In Her service and yours
R Watcher, National Interfaith Representative