Everything we do is tied to what we believe about the world and our place in it. Our beliefs are a part of who we are and inform how we treat others. So, it is not irrelevant to discuss faith and perspectives of the world. In sharing a variety of faith perspectives, we hope to open our hearts a little wider. Each month a different person will present their unique perspective. That means that we all may disagree with some things written in this column. When that happens, know that your voice and your perspective is just as important as that writer’s perspective. Each faith tradition has variety within it. So you may read something from someone in your own faith tradition that is telling a different story than you know. We are open and eager for conversation. Let us know that you’d like to be a part of our Community Conversations (Interfaith Cafés) and we’ll make sure you are invited to these quarterly gatherings with people of various perspectives.

The Santa Monica Area Interfaith Council is made up of people who identify with a variety of faith traditions. We gather at least once a month for education, inspiration, fellowship and action. We learn about the world from each other. We discover that some of our long -held understandings of “other” religions are untrue. The Council also represents a variety of ethnicities and cultures and ages and abilities. We discover that long-held understandings of how life works isn’t true for all people. We hope that through this column, you might also make some new discoveries. We believe that widening our own perspectives strengthens our work to help create a more equitable community.

Our Mission Statement

“The mission of the Santa Monica Area Interfaith Council is to create a collaborative environment among people of all faiths in this region, through education, community activities, and interfaith dialogue, that will foster peace and justice for everyone regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, religious affiliation or belief, or other communities, and result in a better and safer life for all.

By carrying out its mission, the Council strives to:

• Promote the eradication of violence and prejudices of all kinds;

• Be an advocate for human rights;

• Exhibit resilience, selflessness, resourcefulness, and creativity at all times, especially at times when difficult circumstances may arise;

• Uphold the dignity of the human race;

• Acknowledge the oneness of humankind;

• Promote ‘truthfulness,’ ‘integrity,’ and ‘love and respect for all’ as basic standards of individual conduct;

• Support children, youth, and adults in achieving their spiritual, social, intellectual, and material capacity; and in viewing themselves as protagonists in the positive development of society.

As we honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. this month, it is important that we as an Interfaith Council recognize the harm that religion has caused by not only strengthening white supremacy, but by actively working against civil rights. The harm of white Christianity in particular was on display on January 6, 2021. As Robert P. Jones (author of White Too Long) wrote of these events:

“These awful events had one value: They put on plain display the unholy amalgamation of white supremacy and American Christianity that lives among us today.” He continues: “If at any point in American history, white Christians had said a collective “no” to slavery, segregation, and overt discrimination, we could have ended these practices nearly overnight. We clearly and repeatedly failed these tests.”

Religion is important. Religion is relevant. It is being used to further strengthen white supremacy, not only in the 1800’s, but right now, today. Today, religion and hate are being skillfully used to organize against equity. At a time when religious minorities, people of color, people with disabilities, people in the LGBTQIA+ community and women are being demeaned and objectified and killed, people of faith and anyone who believes in justice cannot sit by and continue to be a part of the problem. We are called to challenge the status quo and to dismantle the oppressive structures that support and embolden hate and create new supportive community-led systems of care and compassion. When we comfortably sit on the sidelines, when we don’t get involved because it is “too controversial” we are not living our core values. By “being nice” and “staying out of it” we are allowing some people to live their lives in fear. We are telling black and brown and queer children that their family doesn’t matter. If we aren’t a part of eradicating hate and replacing it with love, we are allowing people with disabilities to be bullied and excluded. We are taking black parents away from their children. We are encouraging parents to kick their LGBTQIA+ teen out to the streets. Let’s not do this! Sitting on the sidelines is not really sitting on the sidelines. It is actively choosing to allow people’s lives to be destroyed.

We give thanks for the safe, courageous spaces in Santa Monica where people are supported, educated and empowered. My hope is that you find such a place, that you know you are loved, and that you answer your call to do whatever it is you can do to help others find such a place. All people deserve to be loved and treated with respect. It is up to all of us to make it happen. Listening and working with people who you don’t yet understand is a first step. That’s what we hope this column will do. We hope it provides a heart opening opportunity and a glimpse of understanding.

The Mission of the Santa Monica Area Interfaith Council calls us to work together to find new loving ways to live. We know that many of you are doing that too. Together we will help create a more equitable world.

Rev. Janet Gollery McKeithen, President, Santa Monica Area Interfaith Council, Minister, The Church in Ocean Park