Brian L. Steed is High Councilor, Platte City Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Senior Fellow, Narrative Strategies and Assistant Professor of Military History, US Army, Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth.
Brian L. Steed is High Councilor, Platte City Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Senior Fellow, Narrative Strategies and Assistant Professor of Military History, US Army, Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth. In this Q5, he explains the importance of religions working together for a better world. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and The Dialogue Institute, Kansas City, recently hosted an Iftar, a fast-breaking dinner.
Why did The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints recently host a Ramadan dinner for their church members and area Muslims?
The previous president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Thomas Monson, stated, “We have a responsibility to be active in the communities where we live, all Latter-day Saints, and to work cooperatively with other churches and organizations. My objective there is ... that we eliminate the weakness of one standing alone and substitute for it the strength of people working together.” It is in this spirit that the Platte City Stake of the Mormon church recently hosted an Iftar with members of the Kansas City Muslim community to help develop greater interfaith understanding. Iftar means to break the fast or breakfast. During Ramadan, the month when Muslims fast from first to last light, Iftar is eaten in the evening. This annual event has become something of a tradition with this being the fourth year.
Mormons, who fast for 24 hours once a month, came to the event to break their fast with Muslims and to have a dialogue of shared ideas and values.
What did the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints and Muslim speakers focus on in their opening speeches and what were the similarities between the two religions that were highlighted by the speakers?
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a pained history in the Kansas City area. More than 180 years ago the Missouri governor issued an extermination order against Mormons. The then present members of the Mormon church were forced to leave the state under threat of death. This early experience for church members, coming less than a decade after the official organization of the church, provides an opportunity for present-day Mormons to have empathy for persecuted or marginalized faith groups.
Preceding the Iftar meal, the attendees of the event met to discuss areas of possible dialogue. One speaker suggested several items of historic and religious similarities in addition to the fact that both groups fast. Both groups believe in submitting their will to the will of God. Both Muslims and Christians have common acceptance of the miraculous birth and exemplary life of Jesus Christ.
Both religions also accept that Jesus will return at the end of days. Mormons and Muslims also share a desire to share what they believe with others. Historically, both groups share a common foundation story with a belief in a prophet receiving revelation and instruction from an angel to reveal sacred texts. For the Mormons, this supernatural instruction happened in the 19th Century with Joseph Smith Jr., and for the Muslims the events happened in the 7th century with Mohammed. Mormons and Muslims also share an emphasis on modesty, valuing family, and caring for one’s body through scriptural dietary restrictions.
In all of these instances of commonality, there are also differences. One significant difference is that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints regularly testify of the divinity of Jesus Christ as the only begotten son who died to save us and was resurrected.
The point of the evening was not to emphasize the differences even if they are doctrinally important. The idea was to build bridges of respect and appreciation for the commonalities and opportunities to work together for the betterment of our community.
Do you think this was the first time for many of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints members to meet, speak to, and share a meal with a Muslim? And vice versa? Do you think most of the attendees learned something valuable from this cultural experience?
Based solely on anecdotal personal experience, I would say that for many people at the dinner, this may have been the first substantive conversation with a member of the other faith. The first chance for a Mormon to speak with a Muslim or vice versa about family, beliefs, and ideas of importance. A chance to realize that the things that we share are important and have real value. More important than the fictional connections to extremism or violence.
I have been in attendance at three of the events over the last four years and the comments made afterward and preceding the next event are always positive. Those who attended learned and made a connection. The comments were the same for this year.
Why do you think that when churches, mosques and synagogues reach out to other religions to begin a dialogue it’s a good step forward in solving some of the world’s problems?
People are different. They think differently and they process information differently. These differences are small. Maybe only a percentage point or two. The only way that we can understand each other is to come to understand just how small the differences are and then to also see the similarities we all have.
Faith-based communities have numerous ideas in common when it comes to creating a safe and beneficial environment for families and, especially children.
The commonalities extend beyond just physical safety to emotional, intellectual, and spiritual safety as well.
The opportunity to realize the importance of what we have in common can overcome those things on which we may disagree, reducing stress and concern and creating more open, creative, and abundant societies.
Most religions believe in helping the poor and needy.
Most faiths espouse tenets of peaceful cooperation within and without the faith community. Most religions want to raise children in a safe, nurturing, and supportive environment.
Most people of faith have transcendent ideas and goals that deemphasize a culture of materialism. All of these common beliefs can and should help people to form stronger communities irrespective of the specific differences in practice and doctrine.
Why do you think it’s important for people of all religions, and the non-religious to come together at events such as this?
Such interfaith and cross-cultural events should not be limited to specific groups – Mormons and Muslims, for example.
It is difficult, maybe even impossible to influence someone else without first knowing about, understanding, and having empathy for that person. We all seek to influence others every day whether in business, school, government, or social interactions.
A truly harmonious society requires empathy.
— Rimsie McConiga