Let us seek common values

By Father Thomas Baima | Contributor
Sunday, June 25, 2017

Annual Muslim/Catholic Interfaith Program and Iftar

The Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago sponsored the Annual Muslim/Catholic Interfaith Program and Iftar event during Ramadan and invites Chicago's Catholic community to celebrate their mutual friendship and to promote interreligious dialogue on June 12, 2017.
Sharon Stein visits with Asmah Ahmed after breaking their fast as the Islamic Foundation North in Libertyville hosted the Annual Muslim/Catholic Interfaith Program and Iftar on June 12. The Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago sponsors this event during Ramadan and invites Chicago's Catholic community to celebrate their mutual friendship and to promote interreligious dialogue. Photo: Karen Callaway / Chicago Catholic
Auxiliary Bishop George Rassas chooses some food after the group breaks their fast. Photo: Karen Callaway / Chicago Catholic
Right, Melanie Barrett, chair of the moral theology department at the University of St. Mary of the Lake and one of the evening's keynote speakers, enjoys some food. Photo: Karen Callaway / Chicago Catholic

On June 10, there were protests in major U.S. cities against Muslims claiming that they are seeking the imposition of Sharia law in this country. These were met with counter-protests calling for religious tolerance and inclusion. There was a lot of name-calling, none of which is helpful.

As a Catholic priest who has spent the past 37 years working in the area of inter-group relations and as a theologian who has studied religious freedom, I have some insights which may be helpful as Christians try to sort out this tension in our nation. Listening to the political pundits who fill the media will not show us a way forward. Instead, we need to know a little bit about history and listen a bit more deeply to the protesters on both sides.

Early in my time working as an interreligious officer for the Archdiocese of Chicago, I was approached by a group of Muslim educators. They were concerned about how to transmit their religious faith and cultural values to their children. At the core of their concern was that the U.S. public education system was promoting, either subtly or overtly, a worldview that did not support their religious values.

They came to the archdiocese for advice because they knew that Catholics faced the same struggles 100 years ago. Indeed, they were right. They knew our history better than we do, since we overcame it.

You may have noticed that some words in the first and third paragraphs are in italics. This is not for emphasis, but to make a historical point. Go back and read this paragraph again making the following substitutions: For Muslim and Sharia law substitute Catholic and Vatican control.

With those substitutions, the preceding paragraphs describe our story a century ago. They describe the political climate that Cardinal George Mundelein fought against. They describe why we have a robust Catholic education system and why the Muslim educators came to the Archdiocese of Chicago for advice.

They also reflect a reemergence of nativist political philosophy. The nativist approach is to tell people what to be afraid of and whom to blame for this fear. It has been responsible for anti-immigrant sentiment at various times in our nation’s history, including the present moment.

Obviously, I think it is the wrong reaction, but the nativist is motivated by a question that deserves a better answer than has been given to date in the media. There is a core of truth that Muslims share with Catholics in that they are concerned about how to integrate, as Pope Paul VI called us to do in his first encyclical, "Ecclesiam Suam," to find "common ideals in the spheres of religious liberty, human brotherhood, education, culture, social welfare, and civic order" "Ecclesiam Suam," no. 108. How do we support this call when our religion is different?

The nativist makes the mistake of thinking that we must be fully alike in order to have ideals that are compatible. Unlike the nativist, I argue that there is a kind of pluralism that allows such a mixed society as ours to flourish culturally. No one believes that this task is easy.

In fact, it is a challenge as old as our nation. The framers of the Declaration of Independence had their own religious differences that were just as serious as the ones we face today. But, and this is part of the genius of America, Thomas Jefferson recognized that there were "laws of nature and nature’s God" to which everyone was bound.

Each religion has a reason in its own worldview for recognizing these laws. That reason provides the religion’s own believers with the motive for embracing what John Inazu has called "confident pluralism." Our confidence in our own faith allows us to find common ground with others, not because we agree with their religion, but because both of our religions lead us to similar values that can support American culture and even help it to flourish.

At this time in our nation’s history, let us seek anew these common values and resist the impulse to render those who are different from us a cause of fear.


Baima is vicar for ecumenical and interreligious affairs for the Archdiocese of Chicago and vice rector for academic affairs of the University of St. Mary of the Lake.


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