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Interfaith strategies considered in addressing racism and injustice

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Taylor Moore
Staff Writer

The University of La Verne’s Office of Religious and Spiritual Life hosted a “Strategies for Healing” panel to explore questions regarding interfaith strategies and how they can be used to fight against racial injustice on Monday via Zoom. 

The event was moderated by Zandra Wagoner, university chaplain and joined by three panelists before an audience of 28. 

“In my experience, I have seen students deeply involved with the strategies of interfaith and using those strategies to grow a confidence in navigating racial injustice,” Wagoner said. 

Wagoner said that it is important to understand that, as humans, we live very nuanced and complicated lives within our identities. The importance of interfaith work is not about finding the least common denominator and building relationships on that, but finding ways to fully be ourselves and bringing our full identity with us in those relationships with those differences. 

Wagoner presented a PowerPoint in which she described two categories of interfaith cooperation strategies. According to Wagoner, the Interfaith Youth Core defined interfaith cooperation as a way to achieve pluralism. It is a process in which people who orient themselves around religion differently come together in ways that respect different identities, build mutually inspiring relationships, and engage in common action around issues of a shared concern. 

The first were personal development strategies, where a person brings their full, whole, authentic self to relationships beyond differences and developments appreciative knowledge about other traditions or perspectives while recognizing intersectionality, privilege, inequalities, and histories of oppression. Wagoner described these types of strategies as the pre-work of life long work that we can do to help heal from racial injustice. 

The second were relational, bridge-building strategies, which entail more work than the first strategy. It involves one committing to active engagement with diversity, asking questions with curiosity along with the desire to understand, respecting others by acknowledging real differences, intentionally finding shared values, and seeking opportunities for common action around the common good. In other words, understanding that maintaining a relationship is more important than being right. 

“Interfaith work is implying restorative strategies,” Wagoner said. “If I notice that I have said something offensive, I can acknowledge it and try to fix it by saying, ‘Pardon my ignorance, can you tell me more?’” 

Cathy Irwin, professor of English and one of the panelists, talked about how she wrestled with two faiths she practices. She was raised Catholic, but was drawn to Buddhism in her 20s. She also talked about how asking an Asian American to be vulnerable by completely displaying their full identity is different to asking a white person to do the same. 

“The two main values from racial justice are fairness and equity,” Irwin said. “We must ask ourselves if those two values alone can take us where we have to be as a community and sustain us as a society. The shared values from interfaith strategies can really help with our justice work.” 

Christian Bracho, associate professor of teacher education and co-director of the Center for Educational Equity and Intercultural Research, was another panelist. Bracho talked about his upbringing as a Mexican Catholic.

“I was a queer kid in the church, wondering if there was a place for me and being asked if my parents were illegal because they were Mexican,” Bracho said. 

He talked about the ways in which brown and Black children are criminalized, which often leads to actual criminalization later on in their lives. 

He said that equality is not the only thing his institution is striving for, but also justice. 

He was a teacher during 9/11 and witnessed racism toward Islam and Iraq. He felt disempowered as a teacher, so he went to the Ahimsa Center at Cal Poly Pomona to learn about ways of nonviolence and brought that knowledge back to his classroom. Bracho described that as interfaith, coming together and dialoguing the racism that they have witnessed and wanting to make a change. 

“There has to be a vulnerability in wanting to engage in this work,” Bracho said. “It’s important to keep doing the work every day and recognizing that it’s not perfect.” 

Richard Rose, professor of religion and philosophy and a panelist, talked about how helpful sharing can be in the field of interfaith studies. For 25 years, he has taught world religions east courses at ULV and had students visit actual religious sites. There, the students met with a tour guide that explained their beliefs and they held them. 

“What I found in my work is a willingness to share with those involved in interfaith exchange processes, and that provides the means to success to a large degree,” Rose said. 

Rose said that there are two attitudes: the willingness to learn from others and the willingness to share with others, which creates an opportunity to exchange multiple ideas. 

Patricia Williams, a student in the master’s of business administration program, said discussions like the ones in this event are impactful. 

“I have been making efforts for self reflection on the important topics discussed here today,” Williams said. “It does help me have confidence to have the ‘small conversations’ in my personal life and work environment.” 

Wagoner said that, from all three panelists, she heard the desire to hold those intentions of wanting to use interfaith strategies to build toward racial justice, while not wanting to lose sight that racial injustice is a tough nut to crack.

“Respect in interfaith circles means actually seeing and acknowledging those real differences,” Wagoner said. “Let’s relish and really see those differences in worldviews before we collapse into thinking that we’re all the same.” 

Taylor Moore can be reached at taylor.moore@laverne.edu.

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