March 23rd, 2010 guarantees to be an interesting day at Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, Maryland. The Church is hosting a half-day interfaith conference from 1pm to 6 pm entitled “Managing Fear Through Faith”. The aim of the conference is to gather policymakers, religious leaders, and people of faith to determine how religious communities can work together and utilize interfaith dialogue as a means to counteract the negative emotional responses to acts of terrorism and fear inducing events.
Since the events of 9/11, the U.S. government and the media have done an amazing job of instilling fear in the hearts and minds of the public. Joshua Stanton said it best in a recent article entitled “Faith Over Fear: Scare Tactics Can’t Fight Terror” for The Huffington Post, “As the U.S. government adapted to the challenge of terrorism, it made a consistent error: fighting terror by terrifying people.”
It is true that the government needs to protect its citizens from the physical threat of terrorism. However, the emotional and psychological impacts have been largely ignored. This is where religious communities can make a difference by “[working] together to strengthen America's social fabric, build resilience, and encourage constructive responses to future national crises".
In his article, Stanton makes some interesting suggestions on how religious leaders can “reframe future events by changing the rhetoric we use to describe terrorism.”
First, he recommends that the word “Islam” be disassociated from “terrorism”. He reiterates that “Muslims are not terrorists, lunatics are - and they nominally come from many of our religious traditions, too.”
Second, he suggests that religious leaders refrain tying terrorism and America’s response to God. “America needs to protect itself. May God bless America. But using religious or divine language to frame our counterterrorism policies, particularly at a time of war, holds the potential to create inter-religious strife as never before.”
Last, Stanton recommends that religious leaders take a preemptive position in providing the public with the tools to understand and heal from tragic events before they happen. “For me as a future rabbi, Jeremiah 30:17 comes to mind: "'I will restore you to health, and your wounds I will heal,' declares the Lord." Terrorism is scary. But it is only one of many challenges that we may face as individuals and communities.”
Scheduled to address the conference is an array of religious leaders, government officials, scholars, and activists. Below is the agenda for the conference.
1:00 - 1:10: Welcome and Introductions
David Gray, Pastor, Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church
1:10 - 1:40: Impact of Fear on Public Thinking
Priscilla Lewis and Sue Veres Royal, Co-Directors, U.S. in the World Initiative
1:40 - 1:50: Remarks
Joshua Dubois, Director, White House Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (invited)
1:50 - 2:00: Remarks
Margo Schlanger, Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties
U.S. Department of Homeland Security (invited)
2:00 - 2:30: Impact of Fear on Culture
Peter Stearns, Provost and Professor of History, George Mason University
2:30 - 3:15: The Impact of Fear on Democracy, Citizenship and Leadership
Stephen Heintz, President, Rockefeller Brothers Fund
Daisy Khan, Executive Director, American Society for Muslim Advancement
3:30 - 4:20: Importance of Interfaith Dialogue in the Response to Fear Inducing Events
Clark Lobenstine, InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington
Chloe Breyer, Interfaith Center of New York
Arthur Waskow, The Shalom Center
Sayyid Syeed, Islamic Society of North America
4:30 - 5:30: Participants Visioning a Community Response Infrastructure and reporting back
5:30 - 5:50: Discussion of Commissioned Papers on How Faith Helps People Respond to Fear
Joshua Stanton, Founder, Journal of InterReligious Dialogue
Tyler Zoanni, Harvard University
5:50 - 6:00: Wrap up
The event is being co-sponsored by the New American Foundation, the U.S. In The World Initiative, a local mosque, church and synagogue. The public is welcome to attend the conference free of change. For more information, please visit the official website for the conference.