Thursday, December 13, 2012

My Journey as a Quaker Interfaith Peacemaker

This Sunday, Dec 16  I gave a talk on "Quakers and the Interfaith Movement"  sponsored by the Interfaith Study Group, at the Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center. When I arrived, I realized that my printer had run out of paper and I didn't have the last ten pages of my talk. So I "winged out." I let people ask me questions about Quakerism and they were so eager that every time I answered a question, half a dozen hands flew up, wanting to know more. It was a teacher's dream!

I was also pleased that Jill was able to share her reflections about Quakerism and about an interfaith program to help homeless families called "Family Promise." I was so happy that Jill and I are working together as a team.... thereby fulfilling our wedding vow that "the Prince of Peace has brought us together for a purpose greater than either of us can imagine..."

Here's a draft of what I intended to say:

I want to thank Betsy Perry for inviting me to speak at this occasion, and I want to thank the Pasadena synagogue for hosting this event. I admire very much Rabbi Grater’s deep commitment to peace and justice work and I know several members of this congregation are active supporters of my wife’s concern, affordable housing, and have gone to City Council meetings to raise this issue. Betsy and I met at All Saints this spring during the series on nonviolent activism, “A Force More Powerful,” led by Rev James Lawson. Betsy is delightful person and has come to my home to take part in discussion groups relating to peacemaking and the bible. I love the work that All Saints is doing, like hosting the MPAC conference—I hope it went well.  If I were not a Quaker, I’d probably be attending All Saints. In fact, when the IRS began hassling All Saints because of George Regas’ controversial sermon on “Who would Jesus vote for,” I became a solidarity member of All Saints.  I am delighted to be able to share with you something about the Quaker approach to interfaith peacemaking.

I’d like to begin by sharing how I became an interfaith Quaker twenty five years ago (not coincidentally, my email address is “ What I mean by an interfaith Quaker is simply a Quaker who is open to the wisdom and religious practices of other religions, but is nonetheless deeply rooted in Quakerism.

I first became a Quaker in Princeton, NJ, my home town, in 1984. I was drawn to Quakerism because I love the Quaker practice of silent, open worship. I also love the Quaker commitment to peace and justice. And I love the Quaker belief that each of us can have direct inward access to God, or Truth, through the Inward Light. This is the Light described as the Logos in the Gospel of John: “the true Light that enlightens everyone was coming into the world.” Quakers believe that the Inward Light is present in everyone, and indeed, in every living creature, since the Gospel of John also says: “Through him (the Light of Christ, the Logos) all things were made, and without him was not made anything that was made.” In other words, the Logos created and is present in every person and in everything—including every religion—to some measure.

I found this Universalist approach very appealing since I have been deeply interested in other faiths ever since having a profound experience of Christ in 1971. I became a seeker and learned much from people of other faiths—Hindus, Buddhists, Bahais—as well as Christian denominations like the Congregationalists and Presbyterians. Soon after attending Princeton Friends Meeting in 1983, I met Quakers who were involved in a magazine called “Fellowship in Prayer,” now called “Sacred Journey.” This magazine was founded in 1949 (the date of my birth) by a missionary named Carl Evans who believed that war would end if people of different faiths prayed together for peace.

Evans was ahead of his time, a pioneer in interfaith peacemaking. Thanks to my Quaker friends Ed Miller and Herymon Mauer, I became editor of “Fellowship in Prayer” magazine and had the opportunity to meet and interview spiritual leaders and teachers from various traditions—Jewish, Sufi, Buddhist, Native American, etc. This was the beginning of my interfaith journey as a Quaker.

Herrymon Maurer, my first Quaker mentor, became interested in Taoism when he went to China to teach in the early 1940s, just before World War II broke out. Herrymon wrote an imaginative biography of Lao Lzu and translated the Tao Teh Ching with a commentary based on quotations from the Bible, the Quaker anti-slavery activist John Woolman, and Martin Buber’s Hassidic tales. Herrymon saw the Tao as a profoundly prophetic work—one that called for social as well as personal transformation. I owe Herrymon a huge debt of gratitude for helping me see the links between Quakerism and Taoism, as well as the universality of the Way.

My other Quaker teachers during this period were Joe and Teresina Havens. Joe was a psychologist and Teresina earned a doctorate in religion from Yale in the 1930s. Her specialty was Buddhism. The Havens were an amazing couple and modeled for me what it meant to be a genuine Quaker. They lived simply and devoted their lives to spirituality and social activism. When they retired, they started a retreat center near Amherst where I often went for spiritual renewal. Teresina believed that Nichiren, a thirteen-century Buddhist monk, had many affinities with Quakers since he strongly opposed war. She was right. Followers of Nichiren formed the Sokka Gakkai branch of Buddhism and became ardent advocates for peace.

In 1986, while I was editor of “Fellowship in Prayer,” I became intrigued by a Korean Zen Buddhist teacher named Soen Sa Nim. I went to live and study in his Zen center in Providence, RI, for nine months. The Quakers of Princeton Meeting were very supportive. When I had the opportunity to lead a group of Tibetan monks on a concert tour in New Jersey, Princeton Meeting warmly welcomed them. My first published article in a Quaker journal described the incredible multi-tonal chanting of these tantric monks and was called “Listening to the Light.” I have subsequently published an article about my experience studying tantric Buddhism with the Dalai Lama.

In 1988 I spent a year at Pendle Hill, a Quaker Center for Study and Contemplation, where I met and courted my wife Kathleen Ross, a Methodist minister. A year later, we were married at Claremont Friends Meeting and began a twenty-year ministry together which I sometimes called a Methodist-Quaker alliance. Kathleen deepened my understanding of liberal Christianity which is very open to dialogue and working with people of diverse faiths. During this time, I saw myself as a Methodist Quaker.

My commitment to interfaith peacemaking began in earnest on 9/11. At that time, like many people, I felt enormous fear and anxiety about where our country and world was headed—so I decided to undergo self-purification through fasting and prayer. To reach out to my Muslim neighbors, I decided to fast during the month of Ramadan and went to visit local mosques. When my Muslim neighbors heard I was fasting and reading the Quran during Ramadan, they were incredibly appreciative—some even invited me to their homes. My heart opened up to them and I became hooked on interfaith peacemaking. I started regularly attending interfaith events and soon found myself on the board of various interfaith organizations—the South Coast Interfaith Council, Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace, and the Parliament of the World’s Religions.

I also became a kind of Quaker ambassador to the interfaith community. I wrote a pamphlet called “Islam from a Quaker Perspective” which was published by Wider Quaker Fellowship and circulated around the world. There was even an edition published in German! I began giving talks and workshops about Islam and interfaith peacemaking at various Quaker gatherings. Finally, I was given a letter of support by my Yearly Meeting, affirming that I have a calling to do interfaith ministry.

In 2011, I published a book called “Quakers and the Interfaith Movement,” which was intended as a handbook for Quakers interested in becoming involved in this work. It contains chapters on the Interfaith Movement and Compassionate Listening as well as various theological perspectives by leading Quaker scholars. It describes what Quaker institutions, such as Friends Committee on Legislation and the American Friends Service Committee, are doing to promote interfaith dialogue peacemaking. It has a chapter on Quakers and Muslims, and Quakers and Jews and Israel/Palestine—the most challenging issue for the interfaith movement.

I’d like to share with you with you some of the highlights of my book. But first, a little background about Quaker theology.

One of my favorite quotes is by William Penn, who was a Universalist Christian. Unlike the Catholics, who at that time believed that only Catholics would go to heaven, and unlike the Calvinists, who believed that only Calvinists would go to heaven, William Penn thought that people of good will and good action—whether they were Christian, or Muslim, or Jewish—belonged to “one religion” and were kindred spirits:

“The humble, meek, merciful, just, pious and devout souls everywhere are of one religion and when death has taken off the mask, they will know one another, though the diverse liveries they wore here make them strangers.”

Pacific Yearly Meeting—the branch of Quakers to which I belong—agrees with Penn and affirms that the Inward Light is universal, though not easy to put into words:

“The Inward Light is a universal light given to all men [and women], religious consciousness being basically the same wherever it is found. Our difficulties come when we try to express it. We cannot express; we can only experience God. Therefore, we must always remember tolerance, humility, and tenderness with others whose ways and views may differ from ours.”

My friend and colleague Sallie King, a professor of philosophy and religion at James Madison Univeristy,  makes it clear that just because all people are illuminated by the Inward Light, not all people and religions are alike. We must honor differences as well as commonalities. As Sallie points out:

“This is not to say that all religions are one. The religions are indeed different. While Friends avoid creeds, our Testimonies—Truth, Nonviolence, Equality, Simplicity—are clear and not to be compromised, as is our practice of submitting to the guidance of the Spirit. These give us the guidance we need in our relating to other religions.”

This in a nutshell is the theological basis for Quaker peacemaking. What about its practical application?

As I note in my book, “one of the most Quakerly methods for encouraging interfaith dialogue and understanding is to listen deeply to those of other faiths, without judgmentalism” (p. 24). My teacher and friend Gene Hoffman pioneered in this approach and I had the privilege of editing a book of her writings. I also had the opportunity to go to Israel/Palestine with the Compassionate Listening Project, which was inspired by Gene’s approach and led by brilliant Palestinian and Jewish women. As we visited refugee camps, kibbutzim, and various organizations in Israel/Palestine, we learned how to listen to people who had strongly opposing perspectives. It was a life-transforming experience. I received training in compassionate listening and have shared it in many venues, including at the Parliament of the World’s Religion in Melbourne, Australia,

Closer to home, I have facilitated interfaith cafes that use a compassionate listening approach. Kay Lindahl, founder of the Sacred Listening Center, developed the interfaith café model which has been widely used in many places, including here in Pasadena. In September of this year, I helped organize an interfaith café at Orange Grove Meeting, sponsored by the Parliament of the World’s Religion. Around 30 people showed up. We met in small groups and shared our spiritual experiences by responding to open-ended questions like:  “What does your religion say about peace? How does your religion help you to deal with conflict nonviolently in your family, workplace, and community? How does your religion affect how you take a stand on issues relating to social justice and peace? What do you think is the biggest misperception people have about your reli­gion? How have your views about religion changed over the years, and if so, how and why?”

            These questions have no right or wrong answers and open up dialogue based on experience, not dogma. The beauty of the interfaith café approach is that it creates a safe space where people can talk about their faith and hear about our faiths in a f/Friendly way. This model has become very popular in the Long Beach area, thanks to the South Coast Interfaith Council. I hope that we can have more interfaith cafes here in Pasadena, perhaps right here in this synagogue! Please let me know if you’re interested.

            My book also describes what Quaker organizations are doing to promote interfaith peace and understanding nationally and globally. For example, the Friends Committee for National Legislation, a Quaker lobby started in 1943, called on Friends to become more engaged with the Muslim community and its efforts to promote peace and justice. When conservatives tried to prevent a creation of an Islamic Center in lower Manhattan, FCNL circulated a petition that garnered 8,000 signatures and presented it to Faisal Rauf and his wife Daisy Khan of the Cordoba Center.

            I recently went to Washington, DC, to take part in a Quaker lobby day. 325 Quakers from across the USA gathered in DC to call on our elected officials to reduce the military budget by a trillion dollars over the next decade. We were encouraged to set up meetings with our elected officials in their home offices. I have organized an interfaith delegation to meet with Adam Schiff’s aide here in Pasadena last week. If you’d like to be part of an interfaith delegation to meet with our new Pasadena representative Judy Chu and argue for cuts in the Pentagon budget, please let me know. I’d love your support!

            I serve on the Christian and Interfaith Relations Committee of Friends General Conference, a national Quaker organization. Christian and Interfaith Relations Committee of Friends General Conference, or CIRC, was started so that Friends could have a presence at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in 1893. CIRC sends Quaker representatives to the World and National Council of Churches. I do a lot of interfaith work on behalf of CIRC. They sponsored my trip to the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne, Australia.

            Among other things, CIRC wrote a response to an historic statement issues by Muslim scholars to Christian scholars called “A Common Word.” This unprecedented Muslim outreach to the Christian community began in October 13, 2007, when 138 Muslim scholars sent out a letter (entitled “A Common Word Between Us and You”) to leaders of the Christian faith, calling for peace and understanding. (Since then, there have been more Muslim signatories, bringing the total to over 300.) These noteworthy signatories represent a broad range of nationalities and theological perspectives. According to its author, Prince Ghazi bin Muhammud of Jordan, this letter represents a “normative Ijma [consensus] by the Ummah’s [Muslim community’s] scholars,” that must be taken seriously by Muslims everywhere.

Just to be clear, this exchange was meant to be the beginning of a theological conversation that will eventually include Jewish scholars. You can read about this exchange in a book entitled A Common Word: Muslims and Christians on Loving God and Neighbor (Eerdman: Grand Rapids, MI, 2010). It is fascinating to see how finely trained theological minds explore the intricacies and complexities of such a seemingly simple statement as: “Love God and love your neighbor.” What is meant by “love”? What is meant by “God”? Or “neighbor”? Do Muslims and Christians mean the same thing by these words?

             CIRC’s response to “A Common Word” called on Christians and Muslims to dialogue together to explore ways to promote peace. I’d love to broaden this discussion to include ALL the religious leaders in Pasadena. How might we cooperate to put into practice the commandment to “love thy neighbor?”

            I currently serve on the board of the local chapter of the Parliament of the World’s Religion and I encourage you to become involved. Last spring at the Sokka Gakkai Center in Santa Monica, the Parliament sponsored a gathering in which teachers from various religious traditions gave instruction on prayer and meditation. This program was called “Seeds of Peace” and we plan to have a similar event in the spring of 2013. I feel we are continuing the work of the Christian missionary Carl Evans, who believed that if people of different faiths prayed for peace, we could end war.

I recently went to Claremont Lincoln University to attend an event sponsored by the Parliament of the World’s Religion called “Educating Religious Leaders for a Multi-Religious World.” As you probably know, Claremont School of Theology has been transformed into the first interfaith seminary in the nation, thanks to a 50 million dollar grant from the Lincoln family. It is now called the Lincoln Claremont University and its mission is to train young people to become Christian pastors, Jewish rabbis and Muslim imams in one institution rather than in several. Claremont Lincoln isn’t interesting in promoting a one-size-fits-all religion. Rather it is committed to nurturing religious leaders who are clear about their own faith and comfortable working and studying together in a multi-religious, pluralistic community. I was pleased to learn that the Provost of the Claremont Lincoln University, a brilliant and prolific theologian by the name of Phil Clayton, currently attends the Claremont Meeting and considers himself a Quaker. I was also pleased that one of the leading professors of Claremont Lincoln University, a Muslim scholar named Najeeba Syed-Miller, studied at Guiford, a Quaker college in North Carolina, with my friend Max Carter, the director of the Quaker studies program. When I told Najeeba I detected Quaker elements in one of her talks, she smiled and told me about her Quaker educational background. I love the fact that people of different faiths are learning from each other how to become better peace makers.

Here in Pasadena, Professor Glen Stassen, an Evangelical Baptist, has been an integral part of a movement called “Just Peacemaking.” He argues that the debate between pacifism and “just war” cannot be resolved, and isn’t particularly helpful. He believes that all Christians, and indeed all people of faith, should do all they can to prevent war.  He was involved in the recent publication of a book entitled “Interfaith Just Peacemaking,” edited by Susan Thisthethwaite. As a Quaker, I am thrilled that people of diverse faiths agree that “war is not the answer.” Did I mention that Glen Stassen went to a Quaker school and has on the door of his office an FCNL sticker that reads “War is not the answer.” Isn’t it marvelous when peace makers work together and learn from each other?

I’d like to close by discussing the final two chapters of my book: one relating the Quakers and Islam, the other relating to Quakers and Israel/Palestine.

The chapter on Islam contains not only my pamphlet but also excepts from the translation of the Quran by Michael Sells, a Quaker professor of Arabic studies who used to teach at Haverford and now teaches at the University of Chicago. I highly recommend his book

The chapter on Israel/Palestine deals with the thorny issue of how we can create a just peace in this troubled region nonviolently. It contains an essay by a Quaker of Jewish background who went to Israel/Palestine with the Compassionate Listening project. It also has an essay by Guiford College professor Max Carter, Najeeba Syed-Miller’s teacher, who frequently takes students from Guilford to Ramallah, where a Quaker school was established over a hundred years ago. This school has trained many leaders in the Palestinian community who have acquired many Quaker values while still preserving their identity as Muslims. This chapter also describes the work that the AFSC is doing to encourage young Palestinian leaders to work for justice nonviolently.

Interfaith work in the Middle East can be very difficult, and it isn’t always easy here at home. My Jewish friend Ruth Broyde Sharone has written a lively memoir about her interfaith reconciliation work called “Minefields and Miracles: Why God and Allah Need to Talk.” She recounts many inspiring stories of interfaith cooperation, and also of painful misunderstandings.

We may not agree on theology, and we all have very different religious practices, but we can agree that we are called to “love our neighbors.” This is the heart and the essence of the Torah, the Gospel, and the Quran—and most other faiths have a similar teachings.

 The three major Christian organizations—the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID), the World Council of Churches (WCC) an ,the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA)—met during a period of five years to discuss how Christians could witness to their faith in a multi-religious world. I highly recommend downloading and reading this historic document, which was published in 2011, since it is the first time that Catholics, mainstream Protestants and Evangelicals have agreed on guidelines for interfaith dialogue and cooperation within the context of Christian witness. Among other things, this document encourages Christians to engage in respectful interreligious dialogue, to build relationships of trust with those of other faiths, to reject violence, to speak truthfully about other faiths, to refrain from all forms of material “allurements” to gain converts, to work for freedom of freedom, and to cooperate with people of other faiths for the common good.

I think we can all agree it’s important to cooperate with people of other faiths for the common good. That’s why I want to lift up a relatively new interfaith service organization that has come to the San Gabriel area. It’s called Family Promise and it’s part of a nation-wide network that has helped thousands of homeless families to become housed. My wife Jill does recruitment for this interfaith organization, and I’d like to invite her to say a few words about it. See

            My wife and I met last spring at a Peace Parade here in Pasadena, and we were married last fall after a whirlwind courtship. I proposed to Jil after only three weeks. I guess it’s what my Jewish Friends call beshert, meeting your soul mate: we just knew God had brought us together.

Jill and I come from very different backgrounds. She is an Evangelical Chistian and I am a liberal Quaker, but we agree on deeply held values—like peace and justice, helping the poor, and loving our neighbors. And we have discovered you don’t need to agree with someone’s theology to love them and work with them and have a wonderful relationship.

When we got married, we invited people of diverse faiths to be part of our wedding party. Muslims, Jews, Evangelicals, liberals, conservatives people of color, the affluent, the homeless, and even a stranger from China who happened to be in town and wanted to see an American wedding—all came to our wedding and were welcome.

“Love God and love your neighbor as yourself” is a commandment we need to take seriously and embrace wholeheartedly. It’s part of our DNA as well as our religious heritage. What the interfaith movement calls us to do is to love ALL our neighbors, no matter what their race, religion or ethnic background. It isn’t always easy, but it’s worth it!





  1. Thanks, Anthony, for sharing your journey into interfaith peacemaking. It's a journey I have made too. I'm a retired Presbyterian pastor (PCUSA). In May of 2011 my presbytery, New Castle, covering Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland, commissioned me as an Interfaith Peacemaker. I write an interfaith peacemaking blog, I subscribed to your blog, and look forward to future posts.

  2. Regarding your mention of Jill's involvement in Family Promise, she might be interested to know that there is a fairly new interfaith Family Promise team in Wilmington, Delaware. Two synagogues and several churches staff the program, which is located in one place, thanks to the generous hosting by the Peninsula-McCabe United Methodist Church. We have found that we learn a lot about each other's religious traditions as we work together as interfaith teams as we see to the needs of homeless families transitioning to a brighter future.