Adventists Join in Interfaith Relations with Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs and Mormons
How do you bring people of different faiths together?
David Leslie's 17-year stint as executive director of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon is coming to an end this spring. Leslie is returning to his home state of Texas in June to head the Rothko Chapel in Houston. We didn't want to miss an opportunity to pick his brain before he leaves, so we asked Leslie to reflect on his years as a leader in interfaith work in Oregon.
Leslie's responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.
What's one major thing you've learned in your 17 and a half years as director of EMO?
So often in ecumenical/inter-religious movements we're striving to find what we have in common. Sometimes what we really have to focus on is how to deal with our differences. Very rarely do we have unanimity.
And how do you deal with those differences?
1) People want to be heard. Rather than shutting someone down you don't agree with, set some behavioral rules that guide the conversation. Provide a place for people to express their thoughts.
2) So often what we try to do is convince them of the rightness of our opinion. That's not very productive. The basic principal is to affirm the right that you both have to hold the position you have. There's a starting point for a conversation. When people know you're not here to convert them, that opens up opportunities to talk.
What accomplishment are you most proud of during your time as EMO director?
Sometimes in our society we don't want to deal with the hard issues. I'm very proud of EMO for areas where we don't have unanimity, like marriage equality, issues related to the middle east, sometimes even taxes. We've never been afraid to explore the issue. We grow through the issues that hard harder and we come to respect each other.
The other thing in my time here is our interfaith relations. It was a couple of weeks ago we had Interfaith Advocacy Day at the Capitol. We started that in 1999 and we had four or five endorsers. This year it was more than 20. To see Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Seventh Day Adventists, Sikhs, Mormons, the list goes on, working on common issues was a moment of good pride. The interfaith movement in this state has really grown, and I just happened to be here at a time when there was interest.