By Steve Hitz
Steve Hitz is a founding partner of Launching Leaders Worldwide. LLWW and the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation have engaged participants in 29 countries on 6 continents thru a faith-based personal leadership curriculum which empowers participants everywhere.
When we at Launching Leaders Worldwide began our partnership with Brian Grim and Religious Freedom & Business Foundation in 2016, we gathered in Manchester, England, at the Catholic Chaplaincy with Father Tim Byron and team to conduct an interfaith leadership seminar. The breadth of this experience cannot be overstated. The group was made up of several young adults from various faiths. They facilitated the curriculum themselves, discussing and applying the leadership principles being taught to their own beliefs and faith traditions, while learning from others and their faith and beliefs.
The leadership principles woven within the fabric of faith erased any perceived boundaries as the young adults united in an exchange of ideas and beliefs. One of the Christian participants, Hinna Parvez Malúch, had fled to England from Pakistan where she had suffered persecution because of her beliefs. So when Father Tim suggested concluding the course with a service project – painting a mosque that had been graffitied and defaced by religious bigots – it wasn’t an easy thing to do for Hinna who had herself been severely affected by the religious intolerance of Pakistani Muslims.
Hinna trusted that only good could come from an outreach such as this, though she was terrified. In the end, the entire experience was more than a leadership course wherein personal faith could be applied, it was the formation of a group who learned to appreciate others’ faith journeys without judgement and with gratitude, knowing that we can all co-exist in a joyful and peaceful way.
It is not too much to suggest that humanity operates from within the woeful limits to our human knowledge. In a world with every “fact” at our fingertips, we still live much of our lives in ignorance. In his quest for understanding, Seventeenth-century scientist and theologian Blaise Pascal surmised:
“This is what I see and what troubles me. I look on all sides, and I see only darkness everywhere. Nature presents to me nothing which is not a matter of doubt and concern. If I saw nothing there that revealed a Divinity, I would come to a negative conclusion; if I saw everywhere the signs of a Creator, I would remain peacefully in faith. But seeing too much to deny and too little to be sure, I am in a state to be pitied….”
In everyone’s search to discover their truth, the ability to have liberating and open discussions without conflict that creates human suffering in the process is by all practicality, religious freedom. Can there be anything so valuable to a person’s quest for happiness? Perhaps we are all to be “pitied,” not knowing all the answers to life’s important questions. But that is the foundation of faith—a yearning toward something more, especially given our limited understanding.
Dr. Paul Brand, author of Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, gave his life to making a better world for those afflicted with leprosy. He had a leprosy hospital in Vellore, India, to which he would invite guest speakers from time to time. He recalled a “strange-looking” Frenchman Abbe Pierre, arriving with his simple monk’s habit and a blanket over his shoulder and carrying a carpet bag with everything he possessed. He told his story of being assigned as a Catholic friar to work among beggars in Paris after World War II. Abbe tried to interest the community in the beggar’s plight—to no avail.
He decided that if he could instill the act of service and personal purpose in the beggars, they might have a chance. He organized them into a business collecting bottles and rags from big hotels and businesses. An organization called Emmaus was founded which branched into many countries. The beggars had found purpose in personal responsibility and service. His challenge then was to continue to find service opportunities for the participants so the spiritual impact of their mission would not be lost.
Dr. Brand invited Abbe Pierre to share his story with the students at Vellore, who were typically light-hearted and sometimes ornery, and did not suffer a guest speaker who was boring. They allowed three minutes before stomping their feet until the speaker sat down. It sounds rude, but that was their custom.
Abbe Pierre spoke French, which was not understood by the students. He spoke deliberately and gave a detailed account of his mission and purpose. Dr. Brand was afraid that the students would not suffer such an oration and that this humble man might be shouted off the stage. Dr. Brand was translating as fast as he could. “You don’t need language to express love, only to express hate. The language of love is what you do,” said Pierre. The students looked at Pierre. With piercing eyes, the students were mesmerized by his message. Three minutes passed and turned to twenty. Pierre sat down, and immediately the students burst into a boisterous standing ovation. Dr. Brand was mystified and asked the students how they understood? Their reply – “We did not need a language. We felt the presence of God and the presence of love.”
This is the language that crossed interfaith lines for Hinna as she painted a mosque. This is the language that permitted four very different faith traditions in Manchester to work together, sharing openly how the leadership principles applied to their own faith, and emerged with a love and understanding for each other. This is the language that allows civil debate. This is the language looks upon another’s seeking without pity, but rather, celebration. This is the fabric of faith that is the foundation of religious freedom—which when implemented, bridges gaps of misunderstanding and allows pure dialogue to rise above the cancel culture of judgement and coercion.
Weave into this discussion Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”
Now we have the foundations of a dialogue that can change the world for the better. I look forward to building upon these concepts in the coming months as we strive to create meaningful purpose in each of our lives and an atmosphere in the world that allows us all to breathe a little more freely.