Observing World Interfaith Harmony Week

The Thursday before the Superbowl brought the world to Minnesota, 130 leaders representing many of the world’s faiths met in Bloomington to generate a state-wide multi-faith network as they marked World Interfaith Harmony Week. The event, held at a site of violence against Muslims but also a site of interfaith solidarity, provided instruction, inspiration and initiation for participants in search of hope and connection.
The meeting began with an acknowledgment of the Dakota people “on whose land we meet,” and was held at Dar Al Farooq Center, a facility that was bombed last summer. Acknowledging the violence that had been done on that space, the leaders listed to how one Christian Pastor organized to stop violence when it came to her hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia.
Rev. Brittany Caine-Conley shared a story that began with a hard truth: Peace and harmony come from conflict and discomfort, and are only possible when we confront destructive ideologies. In response to an announced KKK rally in their city, the Pastor (known to friends as “Smash”) said that faith leaders “knew we had to use our bodies to confront the evil words of white supremacists.” Faith leaders and other groups, including area anarchists and anti-fascist activists, held trainings in de-escalating violence and led hundreds of people into the park where the KKK intended to hold its rally. Despite their attempt to hold the space, a police squad escorted the KKK members into the park, ensured their safety during the performance of rituals and chants, and escorted them back out. After the KKK had safely returned to its cars, police  sent tear gas into the park. Caine-Conley recalled the feeling of having to “breathe through my stole” to avoid inhaling the gas.
Pastor of Congregate Charlottesville, Brittany Caine-Conley shared with the gathered leaders her own experience organizing against violence during a series of white supremacist rallies in her city.
Still recovering from the upset of this experience, she and her coalition had to begin immediately strategizing their response to the now-infamous “Unite the Right” rally whose militarized white supremacists, tiki torches, and terrorist violence put Charlottesville in the news last August. The group “needed our faith to be embodied in the streets where the people were walking,” she said, so they invited in the Deep Abiding Love Project to conduct militant nonviolent direct action training.
As the United the Right rally began the gathered white supremacists terrorized some University of Virginia students, the gathered group of counter-protesters formed lines to disrupt walking traffic. Their lines were broken, but re-formed. They tried to be present and get in the way of impending violence during the event. They protected some people, absorbed some painful blows, “and we watched a woman die,” mourned Caine-Conley, referring to Heather Heyer, who died when run over by a car driven by one rally attendee now charged with murder.
Reflecting the fruits of the resistance her mixed-faith group of counter-protesters provided, Caine-Conley described the event as both a failure and a sobering success. Sharing lessons with the gathered Minnesotans, she said “we hurt one another, but we were resilient. Peace doesn’t feel peaceful, but love does always win.”
Gail Anderson spoke about Generating a State-wide Multi-faith Network.
Gail Anderson then spoke on her experience organizing a response to the bombing at the Dar Al Farooq Center that same summer, and shared how valuable it was to already have developed so many interfaith relationships. “If we were going to build something to increase interfaith cooperation, what would it be?” she asked. She named the need for a network to combine efforts to address homelessness, poverty, school violence, and other evils.
The network birthed that morning is going to be a multi-faith, collaborative network of faith-based and interfaith leaders and organizations that assists member groups in doing their work more effectively, serves as a catalyst for increased collaboration, and increases all members’ social impact.
Following Anderson’s presentation, members gathered at tables sponsored by groups like United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning, Jewish Community Action, Healing Minnesota’s Stories, and a dozen other organizations to share interests and nominate people for a steering group and working group to organize the network’s next steps.
Ending with a quote from American Indian author Serman Alexie, Anderson recited to the gathered networkers “I am one more citizen marching against hatred. Alone, we are defenseless. Collected, we are sacred.”