Lake Lecture: Building a Diverse Democracy: Exploring the Theologies and Practice of Interfaith Cooperation

On March 30, I was fortunate enough to attend Dr. Eboo Patel’s lecture “Building a Diverse Democracy: Exploring the Theologies and Practices of Interfaith Cooperation”, sponsored by the Lake Institute on Faith & Giving at the IU Lilly School of Philanthropy.

I found Dr. Patel’s books (Acts of Faith, Sacred Ground and Interfaith Leadership: a Primer) to be thought-provoking calls to action for interfaith leaders and “social entrepreneurs.”

In the lecture, Dr. Patel talked about a couple of his inspirations: Ruth Messinger and Muhammad Yunus.

Ruth, a woman of Jewish faith, ended up in Western Oklahoma in the 1960s and became the director of child welfare programs there. She found children’s services problematic, as they consisted of children being thrown either into jail or into a questionable orphanage. Ruth knocked on doors and explained her mission to help vulnerable children, outlining her challenges and goals. She attended numerous religious gatherings of other faiths, garnering overwhelming support and found loving foster families to provide homes to troubled youth. Ruth’s focus was on inspiring people, regardless of their religious belief,  into action. Dr. Patel’s story brought home to me how making bridges can lead towards interfaith understanding and cooperation.

Dr. Patel’s other inspiration, Dr. Yunus, ran social programs in local Bangladeshi villages and discovered corrupt middlemen standing in the way of poor villagers, particularly women, in being able to support their families. He went on to found the Grameen Bank to provide direct microloans to eliminate these middlemen. Dr. Yunus was not dissuaded by naysayers but actually implemented a solution. One man. Making a difference.

As Dr. Patel spoke with humor, it was obvious how, even after so many years, these singular individuals still inspire him. I’m sure that I was not the only person in the audience that reflected on the amazing individuals in my own life that have and continue to inspire me.

The main theme that Dr. Patel talked about throughout his lecture was that one person can make a difference. He mentioned Gandhi and King and others that stood up against injustice. Again and again, Patel emphasized that it takes but one individual, committed and passionate about injustice, to create positive change.

Patel was also emphatic that a person’s religion does not necessarily matter– the right actions are not limited to a single faith. Regardless of a person’s political, religious, or other personal beliefs, he or she can stand up for justice and cooperate successfully with people with other beliefs.

This lecture made me think of what could happen in our own country. If Muslims are required to register, will people of other faiths stand up in solidarity and protest this injustice by declaring themselves also to be Muslim? Would the 300+ million stand up for the 3 million? What about the hungry? The homeless? The uneducated? What positive changes could each and every one of us create if we were inspired?

I sat in that darkened auditorium listening to this charismatic speaker touching the audience with his passionate resolve and felt a renewal of my own determination that I would continue in my own, perhaps small, way to build a diverse democracy.

Thank you, Dr. Patel, and the Lake Institute for continuing to build bridges across faiths.

By: Niru Hayden

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