Breaking down the walls of faith

Steven Harbaugh

A priest from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception lights alter candles before Saturday evening service. Part of the interfaith trip was to experience different religious ceremonies, such as a Jewish Shabbat and Catholic mass.

Credit: Steven Harbaugh

WASHINGTON — Once, while he was preaching in Tennessee at a black church, the Ku Klux Klan threatened to kill David Odell-Scott and his wife. He referred to it as a “religiously uncomfortable situation.”

From Friday through yesterday, Christians and Jews gathered for a discussion in Washington for the Holocaust Memorial Trip. The ultimate goal: to foster awareness among students of varying religions using the Holocaust as a basis for understanding. The event provides an example for what can happen when religion goes wrong, said David Odell-Scott, associate professor of comparative religion studies.

“Or when religion doesn’t respond,” added Doug Fidler, minister at Trinity Lutheran Ministries.

Fifty-five people from Kent State — students and religious scholars from Kent State Hillel, Trinity Lutheran Ministries, United Campus Ministries and the Newman Center — attended the interfaith discussion at the Gewirz Center, George Washington University’s Hillel, on Saturday morning.

They were to discuss religious tolerance, but Marci Hunter, sophomore business major, objected to the term — she preferred the term “religious acceptance.”

“But can too much tolerance be a bad thing?” asked Richard Steigmann-Gall, assistant professor of history and director of the Jewish Studies program.

Tolerance and acceptance is never enough, argued David Travis, a graduate student in library science. Instead, fostering collaborative efforts between religions is the key to promoting understanding and preventing instances such as racism toward the Muslim community, he said.

Forcing your religion

When Odell-Scott asked the group about cults, no one responded, and he added a perspective that raised a few eyebrows in the crowd.

“Jesus and the 12 apostles were a cult,” he said. “But are cults bad? The word ‘cult’ is a sociological term.

“What if someone says you need to spread the path of righteousness?”

Jaclynn Saboda, freshman art education major, wasn’t keen on the idea.

“I don’t think people should say, ‘My religion is superior to your religion,’” she said.

Others had a different opinion.

“From a Christian point of view, we’re supposed to go out and evangelize,” said Jennifer Caterinacci, freshman business marketing major. “Christians aren’t always preaching it on other people. If someone doesn’t listen, I will just pray for them on my own.”

Emily Minster, junior business management major, said she has almost all Christian friends; though, she is Jewish. But, she said, she never felt like a different religion was being forced on her — except once.

Minster’s previous roommate invited her to a meeting of The Dive. During the meeting, Minster said, someone at the meeting said if she didn’t believe in Jesus that she would go to hell — making her uncomfortable and turning her off from the group.

“I love learning,” Minster said. “I think it’s definitely possible to learn something without having it pushed on you.”

The next phase of the interfaith dialogue session involved passing out quotes related to the Holocaust and having the groups discuss them, and Steigmann-Gall dispelled a few myths — such as that Hitler had ties to Judaism and was really a self-hating Jew, and he was gay and couldn’t cope with his sexuality. Neither, he asserted, has any basis in fact.

Students shared their feelings on the Holocaust and why the Germans hated the Jews so much.

Understanding between Christians and Jews is important, Steigmann-Gall said, because sometimes people forget Jesus was also Jewish. Promoting understanding is also important to prevent denial that the Holocaust happened — something that is actually a punishable crime now in Germany.

Contact religion and culture reporter Steven Harbaugh at [email protected].