Just picture it: Two Baptist ministers, a rabbi, an evangelical preacher, a Mormon leader and a Presbyterian preacher — all sermonizing together, all with a resounding and united “amen.”
It was a sight to behold as eight religious leaders from across the nation took the stage at the recent “One Nation Under God” event in Phoenix as part of Constitution week — each sharing their views and ideas for promoting religious freedom.
I have to admit that when I first heard about the gathering, I had a foggy recollection of a story my father once told me. He told about a cruel prank some boys in his neighborhood had pulled. They tied three cats’ tails together, threw them in a burlap bag and let them have at it.
As awful as that horrific prank is to imagine, I guess I figured the outcome of a putting such powerful preachers behind the same pulpit may be similar, with a little howling, a lot of jockeying for position and some flying fur. Yet, what occurred was masterful and moving — enough to make even the most skeptical of “Doubting Thomases” stand up and say, “Hallelujah.”
With the wide range of ideologies and doctrinal differences — not to mention the three or four different colors of skin represented among the speakers — it certainly had all the makings of an oil-and-water combination. Yet, somehow, they not only created a harmonious blend and discussion, they managed to inspire the audience, fire them up and to create common ground for moving forward.
So, what was the catalyst for such success?
I think it came down to three important ingredients. First, in spite of the diametrical differences, there was one overarching theme these leaders all agreed upon.
The event organizer and founder of American Academy for Constitutional Education, Shane Krauser, put it this way: “The objective was to bring people of different religious backgrounds together, not to talk about ideology, but to explore the common good in religious freedom.”
He continued, “Our religious freedom is under attack. If we have no religious freedom or ability to worship as we see fit, then we have no freedom at all.”
So, there was that, and, in turn, each of the presenters spoke to that theme: Rev. C.L. Bryant, a well-known Baptist minister, radio host and television host from Louisiana; Rev. Samuel “Sammy” Rodriguez, from California, who has been called one of America’s leading Christian voices and named by CNN as “the leader of the Hispanic Evangelical movement;” Rabbi Micah Caplan of the Valley’s Congregation Or Chadash; Pastor Chad Hovind, author of “Godonomics”; Elder David LeSueur of the Quorum of the Seventy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Rev. John Guns, a Baptist minister from Jacksonville, Fla.; and Pastor Ralph Robertson, Religious Liberties Leader of the Seventh-Day Adventist Conference of Arizona.
The second element that caused the event to gel in such a powerful way was how the presenters demonstrated a “practice-what-you-preach” approach. In their remarks and in the way they interacted with one another there was a spirit of inclusiveness, respect and kindness.
Some may call it “tolerance,” and, yet, it was more than that — they showed an attitude of not just being “OK” with what the others were doing, they demonstrated true understanding and support.
Third, the speakers provided concrete suggestions, “how tos” and actionable ideas for rallying around the cause of religious freedom.
I know I was among those to “get” some of what the organizers promised, when they said the audiencewould be be “inspired and encouraged to take action, both personally and in your community, in the fight to uphold the biblical values of faith, family and freedom.”
As Sammy Rodriquez put it: “Silence is not an option. When religious liberty is threatened, we must stand up. We must lift our voices. We must defend everyone — Christians, Muslims, Jews” and those with no belief in God, he said.
Simply put, it seems to go back to the adage to “love thy neighbor” and to take a stand for freedom for all in this “One Nation Under God.”
• Cecily Markland has more than 20 years experience as an editor, writer, project manager and journalist. A Mesa resident, she is the managing editor for The Beehive newspaper, serving Arizona’s LDS community, and a regular contributor to the East Valley Tribune.