The UCC's minister for ecumenical and interfaith relations was among 24 Christian, Jewish and Muslim faith leaders who met Feb. 29 with members of the U.S. Congress, culminating a 12-day international journey exploring the role of religion in advancing peace and understanding in the world.
"We are not only diverse religiously, but represent the diversity that is present within each of these religions," said the Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson. "Our delegation of 12 from the United States included five Christian representatives from denominations across the Christian spectrum. We are Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, Evangelical, Baptist –– and the United Church of Christ itself reflects four denominational strands. This same diversity is present among our Jewish and Muslim counterparts."
Twelve U.S. religious leaders and a dozen from Indonesia traveled to Washington, D.C., after meetings in Jakarta, Amman, Jerusalem, Ramallah and Tel Aviv with senior government officials, NGOs and other leaders from the three Abrahamic faith traditions.
During their journey together, the group celebrated commonality –– in heritage, in desire for peace, and in understanding of God's love for all humanity.
"As we identified these places of commonality inherent in our religious traditions, we also identified the need for peace in the place that gave birth to the three Abrahamic religions," said Thompson.
The group also experienced challenges together, said Thompson, when some members of the delegation were denied entrance or the right to cross borders because they were considered "other."
"Those moments, though painful, were an affirmation that the goals and commitments of our delegation had deep relevance and meaning for the region," said Thompson. "It is time for us to move beyond the artificial separations caused by boundaries, borders and barriers that are based on hatred and stereotypes."
Reps. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) and Dan Burton (R-Ind.), co-chairs of the Indonesia Caucus, along with Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) hosted the gathering on Capitol Hill, during which participants shared experiences from the previous two weeks.
The delegation met with senior officials from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor; Office of International Religious Freedom; Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs; and the White House National Security Council.
In addition to Thompson, senior officials participating were: Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.); Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.); Dino Patti Djalal, Indonesian ambassador to the United States; Nasaruddin Umar, deputy minister of religious affairs, Republic of Indonesia; H. Slamet Effendy Yusuf, M. Si., Nahdlatul Ulama, chairman, Indonesia Delegation; Sayyid M. Syeed, National Director, Islamic Society of North America; Rabbi Sid Schwarz, Mission Director, Interfaith Mission for Peace and Understanding.
"Our goal is unity, not uniformity," said Thompson. "Our goal is peace that recognizes and embraces the gifts of difference that is pluralism. We learned this week that we can acquire new understanding from the experiences of others. Learning requires that we listen and hear what others are saying."