August 8, 2013 Tom Berlin

Engaging Religion

Yesterday I attended an event at the Department of State that Dr. Shaun Casey, a member of Floris UMC and Professor at Wesley Theological Seminary invited me and the other pastors to attend.  I have learned that if you are invited to an event in the Washington, DC area, you should always go, not just because the person is a friend and someone you respect, but because it will usually be interesting in ways that you did not imagine.  Shaun will be leading the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, the State Department’s portal for engagement with religious leaders and organizations around the world.  The hope is that they can reach out to faith-based communities to ensure that their voices are heard in the policy process and help equip foreign and civil service officers with skills necessary to engage faith-communities effectively and respectfully.

It seems wise to engage the religious community and treat religion as an important factor in the thinking and beliefs of cultures around the world.  One of the big mistakes we make is to act as though religion is too personal, complicated or problematic to be a platform for discussion or even taken seriously.  Most of the world is in some way religious, which is to say that most people believe in some form of what AA calls a “Higher Power” and their beliefs influence their actions.  But what a variety of beliefs people hold.  I am pleased that Shaun was chosen for this post, not only because he is smart, but because he has a generous spirit that seeks commonality amongst diverse views.  While he is a Christian, he is an ethicist by training and knowledgeable about other faith traditions.  He is curious about what he does not know, and what he might learn from those he meets, good traits for someone in his post.

Finally, I am pleased that this is the kind of person who chooses to be apart of the church that is also my community.  I am a Christian.  I know that everyone in the world does not hold or agree with my religious beliefs.  I greatly enjoy being in a church tradition that can hold its beliefs deeply while living in respect and community with others.  Sitting in the Benjamin Franklin room, listening to the Secretary of State announce this new initiative,  I thought about how grateful I am for the often amazing people who attend Floris UMC.  They work in complicated jobs in government agencies and the private sector where they have to use their minds all day long and are in some form of community with lots of people from all over the world who come from different cultures and religions.  They do this with respect and a curiosity that enables them to learn from others and solve complicated problems.  Even a cursory knowledge of history leads one to see that religion has often been the source of many of the world’s conflicts.  Fundamentalism in many religions remains a place of conflict, hostility, and hatred today.  But there is another force at work among people of faith who are able to honor religious traditions different from their own.   When we honor and respect what is most sacred in the lives of others, it may be possible to live with each other in a way that will promote peace that serves us all.


Tom Berlin

Rev. Tom Berlin is the Lead Pastor of Floris United Methodist Church. Tom was raised in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley and has lived in Virginia most of his life. He is a graduate of Virginia Tech and his Master of Divinity is from the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. He has co-authored three books and is the author of several small group studies. Tom and his wife Karen have four daughters.

Comment (1)

  1. Jeff Butcher


    A thoughtful blog that acknowledges that all religions are not the same but that for the most part the many and varied religions in the world profess there is a “Higher Power” and that that commonality should be used in the cause of peacebuilding. I’m for separation of church and state in that I think state sponsored religion can be very dangerous just as Jesus experienced when governmental power and religious power untied to crucify him but there are many situations for the good of the people that government leaders and religious leaders need to work together. This work is not easy but it so needs to be done. Dr. Casey’s appointment seems to me to be another means by which God is striving to be at work in the world for it to move in the direction God would have it to go.

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