Faithful Translators

How do you explain racism to white Christians? How do you explain anti-Semitism to black Christians? How do you explain Islamophobia to Hindus and anti-Sikh violence to Buddhists?   

What emerged in the course of our session at the annual Interfaith Youth Core Alumni Convening was the importance of religious and cultural translators; persons in our communities who convey ideas about their group to people of another in a language that is intelligible to both. In many respects, this appears to be the role that we both play in our respective communities – and one that may be critical for communities of faith that are seeking to collaborate in meaningful and enduring ways.  

One of us is an African American pastor at a high-steepled Presbyterian Church, which historically served primarily white people in Chicago. The other is a rabbi in a synagogue that once housed a Muslim community and is now working to open its doors to a multicultural church. Both of us sit at the crossroads of activism and faith – of pluralism and evangelism (or the Jewish equivalent thereof).  

We each find ourselves able to connect with people of an unusually wide array of backgrounds – and somewhat lonely in the experiences that we have as translators. Our roles, by definition, involve helping people who have not connected readily in the past to do so with greater facility. To us, it means going to trouble spots and areas of complexity, not issues that readily resolve themselves. It is grueling, holy work – a calling to live on the edge of community life in service of its center.   

One of the surprising aspects of the pandemic, and the political polarization that, preceded it has been the emergence of widening gaps between different cultural and spiritual communities. It once seemed that progressive Jews and progressive Muslims shared most values, with some differences in how they prayed and what they ate. They worked hard, were active in civic life, and wanted rising generations to strive for a better life through education. Yet in moments of profound pain, differences became evident.  

The Muslim community that resided within a synagogue experienced the mass shooting of faithful worshippers in New Zealand differently than the Jewish community that housed them did of the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Muslim community members gave voice to the belief that those killed during prayer were martyrs who would go straight to heaven. Jewish community members expressed profound anger and fear – coupled with the sense of loss that those who were gunned down were lost to the world forever.   

Similarly, many members of historically black churches, and black Christians more broadly, have relied upon their congregations to provide both a spiritual sanctuary from injustice and a prophetic stride against it. And such, the twin pandemics of COVID and racism have challenged those congregations to not only survive but actively confront these vital issues of the day. By contrast members of majority-white churches have found this institutional mix of activism and spiritual worship difficult to maintain. Though all Christians, the aforementioned communities and traditions have real differences in approach to public life. Their sense of urgency varies. How then is it possible to harness the resources and interests of these diverse communities to make social change without tiptoeing past their differences?    

Indeed, the religious difference has sprung up through the cracks of social fissure – and made evident that our traditions are different and conceive of sacred community and human purpose in fundamentally different ways. In many respects, these differences always resided beneath the surface but became more evident amid unprecedented stresses and renewed challenges.  

All the more reason to translate the significance of our responses. All the more reason to listen and learn. All the more reason to live at the intersection, all the while knowing who we are and why we stand where we do.  

In rabbinic tradition, it is said that a single word can change everything. All the more so a single deed. All the more so multiple deeds. All the more so recurrent deeds – amplified through the community.   

All the more so, we need more translators to help us understand what exists before our eyes, yet remains elusive to our understanding.  


If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today

more from IFYC

Ramadan, the holiest month of the Islamic calendar commemorating Muhammad’s reception of the Qur’an, begins on Monday.
"Ramadan can be an opportunity for Muslims in interfaith relationships to introduce their partners to the core beliefs and teachings of Islam, as well as to the ways different Muslim cultures share what is a deeply communal experience."
This year, Ramadan will begin on Monday or Tuesday (April 12 or 13), depending on when Muslims around the world sight the new moon that signals the beginning of the lunar month.
"In the Qur’an, God – Exalted Be He – proclaims that we should ask the people endowed with knowledge…All the experts are saying the same thing: please get vaccinated and do it now."
"Among the topics educators must address to reduce bullying and to ensure representation in the classroom are religion and religious identity."
Whether I am based in Los Angeles, Washington DC, or Kansas City, I remain committed to building bridges of mutual respect and understanding among people of different backgrounds.
Biden said the partnership between the seminary and a community health center is one of many that are happening between religious and medical organizations across the nation.
"All the more so, we need more translators to help us understand what exists before our eyes, yet remains elusive to our understanding."
'Montero' is the anthem of a Black gay man roaring back from years of self-hate caused by anti-LGBTQ+ theologies. As a queer child of the Black church, it’s an anthem that resonates with me.
The rise of the "nones" — people who say they have no religion — is to some extent the result of a shift in how Americans understand religious identity.
Faith-based agencies like LIRS, which often contract with the federal government to settle migrants, were decimated by the Trump administration's border policies and then by COVID-19 restrictions.
About 550,000 chairs sit empty around the tables of American homes today — each one a reminder of the unbearable loss we have incurred.
But this year, as in 2020, crowds are banned from gathering in Italy and at the Vatican. Francis delivered his noon Easter address on world affairs from inside the basilica, using the occasion to appeal anew that vaccines reach the poorest countries.
This story is available to readers in both English and Spanish. Spanish title: Nuestro Chat Familiar Cubano: Un Microcosmos de Nuestra República Democrática
Some evangelicals have even linked coronavirus vaccinations to the “mark of the beast” – a symbol of submission to the Antichrist found in biblical prophecies, Revelation 13:18.
"I started Holy Week, lamenting that I didn’t have a story of Jesus that I felt comfortable sharing with my six-year-old son and his six-year-old mind, heart and spirit. So I wrote one."
For centuries, this prayer was worded in a way to imply an anti-Semitic meaning, referring to the Jews as “perfidis,” meaning “treacherous” or “unfaithful.”
Higher Ed Leader Raja G. Bhattar writes and performs a beautiful poem that was inspired recently, after attending my first all Desi/South Asian meditation retreat.
Yet while Gen-Y and Gen-Z evangelicals are exhibiting greater concern for various pressing issues, there are threads within our social fabric that require more of their attention: and religious diversity is among them.
"In my mind, COVID represents Mitzrayim, the narrow place, our place of enslavement, the place of trauma and pain. As more of us are vaccinated and we move toward freedom, we find ourselves at the edge of the sea thinking about our past, our pain..."
"A lot of people are really excited," said Sheikh Adam Jamal, assistant imam. "There's people, seniors, who probably have been doing taraweeh (at a mosque) every year since they were young... They've missed it for a year—that was just devastating."

The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.