After a year in which religion played a polarizing role in U.S. politics, many religious leaders are eager to demonstrate that faith can be a uniter, not just a divider. The buzzwords today in pulpits and seminaries are crossover, convergence, common cause and shared values.
Last week in Washington, representatives of more than 40 U.S. denominations took part in the Convocation on Hunger at the National Cathedral, where they sang a Tanzanian hymn while the choir director shook a gourd full of seeds and children laid breads from around the world on the altar.
It may have been mistaken for a hippie ceremony were it not for the sight of clergy from the Southern Baptist Convention, Assemblies of God and other evangelical churches praying alongside Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox, mainline Protestants and Jews.
The show of solidarity was partly a reaction against "the recent manipulation of religion in ways that are divisive and partisan," said David Beckmann, a Lutheran minister and president of Bread for the World, a nonprofit group that helped organize the service.
Because religion has been dragged into political life in some ways, this is the religious leadership of the nation saying, 'No, let us show you what religion in the public square should really be about,' " he said.
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The National Association of Evangelicals is promoting dialogue with Muslims, concern for the environment and efforts to combat poverty. "On issues like poverty, the cold war among religious groups is over," said the Rev. Richard Cizik, its vice president for public policy.