Mary Lee Talbot | Staff Writer
“In our ideologically oriented world, every term has to be defined. When we say ‘common good,’ we don’t all have the same definition. We have to have room for individual freedom as well as social commitment to cooperation,” the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy said.
We were sitting on the back porch of the Amphitheater after morning worship Monday. Chautauqua Opera personnel were warming up around us as we talked about the work of the Interfaith Alliance and the common good — a topic of interest at Chautauqua this summer.
“Sectarian values, per se, should not be legislated at any level of government,” Gaddy said. “What needs to be legislated are the core and common values that characterize democracy. These would include justice, providing for the public welfare, compassion, the dignity of personhood, individual rights to belief in worship and health care. Democracy can be helpful in assuring core values for everyone without government intruding into the house of worship.
“Because one sectarian group has been able to get legislators or the president biased toward them, we are in conflict over sectarian values. That spawns division between religions, but the closeness of particular political parties and certain religious groups is divisive as well. Pursuit of the common good allows you to hold dear your personal values but means you are willing for the common good to allow people to be different without condemning them religiously or denying their rights politically.”
Gaddy started working with the Interfaith Alliance in 1997. He said one of the great frustrations in the work is that it takes a long time to accomplish. As an example, the recent hate crimes bill took 15 years to pass.
“We want to act civilly to counter extremism, “ he said. “The religious and political right was saturating congregations with scorecards on politicians so the people could judge who was the most Christian. We started writing to houses of worship and pointing out how these scorecards were misleading, that they were not a way to make decisions and that their tax status might be affected. The religious right is pulling away from using them.
“Another concern is rising Islamophobia. In response to the politicization of the debate about Islam, we started the ‘Faith Shared Initiative.’ We asked communities in their worship on June 26 to include readings from the Torah, Koran and Gospel and, if possible, to get a representative from each tradition to do the readings. About 70 congregations, mostly Christian, participated. I was at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. We began worship with a call to prayer from a rabbi on one balcony, an imam offering a call to prayer from another balcony and the Dean of the Cathedral offering a call to prayer. We talked about the possibilities of cooperation without violating the basic beliefs of each tradition. I get satisfaction from this kind of event.”
I asked what the Interfaith Alliance was planning for the future.
“We will be increasing our work on bullying, particularly cyberbullying,” Gaddy said. “Religion-based hatred is showing up and growing on the Internet. I attended the first conference on bullying that the Department of Education had, and I will be at the next one. We are going to work with government and educators on how to address this issue.
“The electoral campaign every four years provides a teachable moment. We help congregations understand what role they ought to have, what is legal to do, what is illegal and what is legal but questionable from a moral perspective. We also have a brochure for candidates on how to respect congregations.”
He concluded, “In the next campaign, anti-Islamic rhetoric is going to be a wedge issue. With two Mormon candidates, we are also seeing anti-Mormon rhetoric. I am currently in a debate with a television station in Memphis, Tenn., that ran an item as news that made fun of Mormons. I tried to point out that they would not do that to Jews or Christians. In the final analysis, they are not running to be a religious leader. Candidates are running to be a civil leader, and our constitution says there will be no religious test for candidates.”