Nine religious leaders — priests, bishops, an imam and a rabbi — sat at the front of a lecture hall at the College of Southern Idaho. They all lead congregations in the Magic Valley. And each month, they gather in a different house of worship to talk about how their religions approach various spiritual ideas.
Earlier this week, they held a public forum at CSI to show people how they create dialogue with each other. This night's topic of discussion was "The Nature of God."
“The neat thing, I think, is that we have different beliefs about a lot of things and that’s the whole point,” said Brian Johns, a Bishop at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Twin Falls. "We can respect each other’s different beliefs and still be friends.”
They don’t always agree, but want to better understand how their counterparts approach certain topics like generosity or spirits.
The religious leaders shared their perspectives on the nature of God, which ranged from discussions on pronouns and gender to whether God is 'knowable.' Then, they asked each other questions to learn more about a certain idea or approach, and also took questions from the audience.
This was the second time since this interfaith group formed three years ago that the leaders invited residents to participate. They came together in early 2016 when a pastor approached the Islamic Center in Twin Falls about starting a dialogue group.
“He mentioned there’s a lot of people who don’t know about Islam in this region,” said Imad Eujal, the spokesperson of the Islamic Center.
Eujal said sharing information about Islam has had positive effects.
“We get more understanding from the community, and that has been shown in our new building, in our relationship with our neighbors and with the community in general,” he said.
For example, members of the LDS church helped paint the walls during a rebuild of the Islamic Center. And when the building was vandalized two years ago, these religious leaders denounced the act in a newspaper op-ed.
Eujal said inviting community members into the conversation gives the leaders a chance to talk to members of different religions.
Stephanie Buckley, for example, who is LDS, learned about this forum from Bishop Johns, and decided to bring her whole family along to CSI.
“I thought it was interesting hear about the Muslim faith and what their thoughts on God were because that was something different that I hadn’t learned before,” Buckley said.
Toward the end of the event, the leaders were posed a question: How are they able to remain civil when they hold such diverging viewpoints? Bishop Johns offered an answer.
“It takes a little more work and a little more of yourself to hangout with people who have different beliefs than you," he said. "But it’s a really powerful experience and it’s really blessed my life.”
The leaders said that extra work makes them feel more engaged with the community they serve.
Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen
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