Harry Reid, interfaith hero:
For the first time in history, a Hindu clergyman delivered the opening prayer for the United States Senate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev, had invited Rajan Zed, the director of interfaith relations at a Hindu temple in Reno, to deliver the opening prayer to begin the session on July 12. It is common for chaplains and clergy from various faith traditions to be invited to say the opening prayer at the start of each Senate session. However, most of the time it is delivered by a Christian. It's a shame that the voices of intolerance and ignorance spoiled this special occasion. As soon as Zed began to speak, he was disrupted several times by Christian Right activists who objected to a Hindu prayer being offered on the Senate floor. Three people were handcuffed by police and charged with disrupting Congress, which is a misdemeanor. This saddens me, because I don't see how anyone could possibly object to the following words in Chaplain Zed's prayer: "Let us pray. We meditate on the transcendental glory of the Deity Supreme, who is inside the heart of the earth, inside the life of the sky, and inside the soul of heaven." These are beautiful words and certainly consistent with the Christian belief that God is omnipresent. In addition, Chaplain Zed ended his prayer by saying "peace, peace, peace be unto all." This was appropriate, because after the prayer the Senate was going to resume debate on President Bush's Iraq war policy. So I have to ask those who objected to Chaplain Zed's prayer: What's the problem? Why did you object to this? Did he say something that was so different from your Christian beliefs that you felt America was threatened and that it would bring down the wrath of the almighty? If so, I did not hear it. Chaplain Zed's prayer embodied what I so frequently refer to as the common moral beliefs and values that most faith traditions share. One of the protesters said that he was a "Christian and patriot." Now how can you claim to be a patriot when two of the founding principles of this country are religious tolerance and diversity? I am proud of Harry Reid for inviting Chaplain Zed to pray. He's my hero of the month and has done a lot to promote interfaith education as a solution for community and peace building by using this highly visible, symbolic and powerful venue to highlight America's religious diversity. Sen. Reid, who is a Mormon, said, "I think it speaks well of our country that someone representing the faith of about a billion people comes here and can speak, in communication with our Heavenly Father, regarding peace." Yes, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is not only a hero but also a champion of interfaith. He's a shining example of how we can use religion as a tool to build community and not divide it. You know there are these voices of fear and intolerance in this country that perpetuate what I call a state of enemy thinking, in which it's us against them, or Christian against Muslim, Muslim against Jew, black vs. white, gay vs. straight, rich vs. poor, etc. In other words, if he or she doesn't look like me, worship like me, or vote like I vote, then he or she is absolutely wrong and I am absolutely right. We should not let these voices of intolerance and fear prevent us from honoring the beliefs of others and accepting that there just might be another point of view with some validity. And you know what - when we peer beyond the labels that the voices of fear and intolerance use to divide us, we just might find a lot in common. I am not a Hindu, and I found Chaplain Zed's words comforting and consistent with my beliefs. Thank you, Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Rev. Jay Speights has an MA in public policy and is an interfaith minister and the main U.N. representative for The New Seminary in New York . You can learn more about his work at the United Nations at The New Seminary website or at harmoniousday.webexone.com. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. © copyright 2007 by Jay Speights.