Overcoming challenges and obstacles in interfaith work


It is not every day that the Board gets to host not one, but two outstanding people. 

Rev Dr Diane Berke has an MA (sociology) from Pennsylvania University, an MA (psychology) from Yale and a PhD in therapeutic counselling and is an ordained interfaith minister, and Anne Lucas wrote a Holocaust-themed play Recovery that was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. 

These two accomplished women were in South Africa as guests of Berry Behr, Chairperson of Cape Town Interfaith Initiative to unpack the possibility of setting up an Interfaith Seminary in Cape Town. They were hosted by the Cape SAJBOD to engage over how to overcome the challenges and obstacles in interfaith work.  

Diane told the group that when her Conservative synagogue took her class to visit a church, she felt the same feeling of spirituality in the church as she did in the synagogue. She realised that all faiths share a common spirituality and belief in prayer even though the traditional trappings and rituals might differ. Building on this, she became involved in the field of inter-spirituality.

Most religions in the world operate at the ethnocentric level — only their group is right and only their faith possesses the truth. They project their fears onto others and then feel justified in attacking ‘the other’. The past hundred years has borne horrific witness to the sufferings and deaths this exclusive ethnocentrism causes.

This is why interfaith work is essential. By teaching a more world-centric view, we can recognise the humanity in others and limit the attraction to radical groups that can spread hatred, discrimination and death.

Li Boiskin of the Cape Board asked what it was that was driving young people away from organised religion — a problem common among all faiths. Diane explained that teenagers start to question and were switched off when their questions were not taken seriously and societal changes were not being recognised by conservative traditionalists.

Anne Lucas then addressed the group on the purpose of the play Recovery, which is to help families who are struggling with drug addicted children. 

The gathering hosted by the Cape Board, made up of Baha’i, Christians, Jews and Muslims included therapists and concerned people who, had Diane and Anne not had another appointment, might have kept asking questions until the building closed.

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