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Interfaith Day of Prayer and Reflection

Jeff Hamilton

President, The Interfaith Alliance of Oklahoma City

First Christian Church, Oklahoma City

I came to Oklahoma some fifty years ago. I came by way of Dallas, Texas (where I was born) and Kansas City, Missouri (where I was reared.) When I came to the campus of Phillips University in Enid, Oklahoma to begin my college venture, I found things I had not experienced before: waving wheat fields, dust storms that would leave residue in your teeth and fervent street preachers! 

But overall,  the  world I knew then---the world of the fiftys---seemed fairly certain and uncomplicated. From a religious perspective, the major concern was getting the various Protestant denominations identified so that debates over who was right on this or that point of doctrine could be conducted in the spirit of religious one-ups-manship. In short, religion in Oklahoma still bore the marks of the frontier struggles for denominational identity. 

Oklahoma and the world are very different now. We are predominately an urban culture with the majority of our citizens living in the metropolitan areas of Tulsa, Oklahoma City and Lawton. The religion of the frontier has waned. Then, too, our military establishments, such as Tinker, have brought a diversity of people with varied religious backgrounds to our state. Furthermore, over the past twenty years higher education has become a major export.  This past March 25, International Student Awareness Day was observed at the State Capitol. Over 9,000 international students are involved in the life of our state on an annual basis. They represent all sorts of religious traditions. 

In essence, Oklahoma is experiencing the growth of cultural and religious pluralism that characterizes our nation.  In her recent book, A New Religious America, Diana Eck examines how a country deeply influenced by Christianity has become the world's most religiously diverse nation. This present reality is in keeping with the concept of religious freedom envisioned by the Founders of our Nation.

Several responses can be made to this permanent reality. First, one can seek to deny the evidence of the changing culture of Oklahoma and retreat into mental and spiritual isolationism. Second, one can seek to assert that one religion is or or ought to be deemed as superior to others. This view sees other religions as essentially false; they need to be challenged and converted. 

A third response, which is  that of the Interfaith Alliance, follows the precept that "God never leaves himself without witnesses." Or to put it another way, no one religion has a corner on God; God transcends cultures and even religions. 

Furthermore, non theistic traditions, such as Buddhism,  bring a sensitivity to the values of compassion, kindness and human oneness that provide deep insight into the true purpose of all spiritual traditions. As the Dalai Lama has stated it so famously, "My religion is compassion". 

The Interfaith Alliance of Oklahoma believes that all religious traditions bring something of value to be shared at the common table of human understanding that can in turn produce a more humane and peaceful world. Over the last five years the Interfaith Alliance has sought to include a wide variety of religious and spiritual traditions on it board of directors and among its general membership. At the present time our board has representatives from the Christian tradition, the Jewish community, the community of Islam and the Buddhist tradition. Each representative has an equal voice and reflects the growing religious diversity in Oklahoma. There is still more work to be done to expand that diversity. 

The Interfaith Alliance of Oklahoma seeks to fulfill its mission to promote civil and respectful discourse by sponsoring public forums that promote understanding of differing
cultural and religious traditions, by  seeking  to examine the vital issue of the separation of church and state, working for civil discourse on public policy matters  and by participating in events such as this one we observe today. 

The Interfaith Alliance believes that a healthy Oklahoma depends on citizens in the varied spiritual and cultural communities working together to foster a spirit of mutual concern for the common good. If we can agree to that, then, the continuing changes in the religious and cultural landscape of Oklahoma will be a catalyst that may produce clean fresh winds of the spirit free from grit, spiritual dialog at the highest level. and a harvest of good will not unlike the storied wheat fields of old. 

Thank you.


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