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Eboo Patel: Build Bridges of Understanding

James Shim and Cambria Wheeler, January 22, 2014
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On January 9, Pacific Union College hosted Dr. Eboo Patel for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Remembrance installment of the Colloquy Speakers Series. Patel, founder and executive director of the Chicago-based Interfaith Youth Core, is an interfaith scholar and member of President Barack Obama’s Advisory Council of the White House Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Patel’s presentation focused on the civil rights movement led by Dr. King in the 1950s and 1960s and the interfaith influences on Dr. King’s philosophy of non-violence. Patel illustrated how Dr. King “expands his idea of a beloved community” by interacting with leaders of different religions, including Gandhi and Thich Nhat Hanh. Patel painted a vivid story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and how non-violent protest over the 382-day boycott ultimately led the campaign to success in ending segregation on city buses.

Just as King interacted with those around him in interfaith dialogue, Patel encouraged students to engage in deep interfaith discussions, even though disagreement is unavoidable. “Bring it all,” said Patel in describing how much of one’s beliefs should be shared with others.

Patel, a practicing Muslim, spent time acknowledging the important contributions Adventists can make when building a “world in common,” especially noting the values of stewardship and diversity. Patel also gave the gathered audience a challenge: in a time of global religious conflict, to see faith as a “bridge of reconciliation, not a bomb of destruction.” Patel called on the students to be leaders. “Bridges don’t fall from the sky—people build them,” he added.

Just as Martin Luther King, Jr. took the opportunity to find inspiration in other faith communities, Patel argued for finding things in common with others by asking four questions: “How can I find something I admire, something in common?” “How can I articulate my tradition?” “How am I enriched and inspired?” and “What can we do together?” Asking these questions does not mean diminishing our personal religious tradition, Patel asserted. Dr. King had “interfaith wings, but deep Baptist roots.”

In conclusion, Patel extended an invitation: “You bring your Adventist advantage, I will bring the mercies of my Muslim tradition, and together we will build a world in common.”