The late Clark Loben­s­tine had a pi­o­neer­ing view of in­ter­faith is­sues. Can it sur­vive?

The Washington Post - - METRO - BY MIKE GOGGIN

What will be­come of the vi­sion of the late Rev. Clark Loben­s­tine?

For those of us who work on in­ter­faith is­sues in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal, the lanky Pres­by­te­rian minister was an in­no­va­tor.

When he ar­rived in 1979 as the first di­rec­tor of the In­ter­Faith Con­fer­ence of Metropoli­tan Wash­ing­ton — the um­brella group for the D.C. re­gion — the typ­i­cal Chris­tian at­ti­tude was to put mi­nor­ity faiths into a Chris­tian frame­work. Loben­s­tine was a pi­o­neer in say­ing to re­spect and ac­cept, not sim­ply “tol­er­ate,” other faiths.

This meant also re­ject­ing a com­mon in­ter­faith credo (then and now), that boils down to: All faiths are re­ally the same at their root. Loben­s­tine pressed for the need for real plu­ral­ism.

Which is why his death this fall was so strik­ing to those of us who work in the fields of in­ter­faith, mul­ti­faith, plu­ral­ism. In some ways, the con­cept of plu­ral­ism he helped shape has be­come main­stream, even in the dom­i­nant Amer­i­can faith of Chris­tian­ity. We hope that Loben­s­tine’s decades of work and long shadow will con­tinue to feed his vi­sion.

When Loben­s­tine ar­rived, IFC was a fledg­ling or­ga­ni­za­tion that was begin­ning to forge needed di­a­logue among the Abra­hamic faith tra­di­tions of Chris­tian­ity, Is­lam and Ju­daism. By the time Loben­s­tine re­tired in 2014, the canopy over the open tent of di­a­logue had ex­panded to cover 11 his­toric faith tra­di­tions in his 35 years of ser­vice, among them the Baha’i, Bud­dhist, Hindu, Jain, Lat­ter-day Saints, Sikh and Zoroas­trian faith com­mu­ni­ties.

While he was con­sid­ered the founder of the re­gion’s pri­mary in­ter­faith or­ga­ni­za­tion, Loben­s­tine was quick to re­mind peo­ple that the group be­gan six months be­fore he ar­rived. He was sim­ply its first paid di­rec­tor.

Given his ear­lier back­ground as a young so­cial worker in Louisville, Loben­s­tine be­lieved that in­ter­faith di­a­logue needed to be com­ple­mented by joint so­cial ac­tion. In its early days, var­i­ous com­mit­tees and work­ing groups un­der the um­brella of IFC gave birth to other lo­cal non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tions such as the Cap­i­tal Area Food Bank and the Coali­tion of Hous­ing and Home­less Or­ga­ni­za­tions.

To­day, IFC an­nu­ally up­dates and dig­i­tally pub­lishes an emer­gency ser­vices di­rec­tory (now in its 29th edi­tion) that pro­vides oth­ers in so­cial work a com­pre­hen­sive list­ing of re­sources for peo­ple in se­ri­ous need of as­sis­tance in Wash­ing­ton and its nearby sub­urbs.

Loben­s­tine stood out for re­ject­ing an ap­proach that’s called “syn­cretis­tic,” or a fu­sion-like blend­ing of faiths that can blur es­sen­tial dis­tinc­tions.

He was an or­dained minister within the Pres­by­te­rian Church (USA), and his strong Chris­tian con­vic­tions deeply in­flu­enced his ap­proach to in­ter­faith di­a­logue. He was also the son of a For­eign Ser­vice of­fi­cer, and a child­hood spent in Beirut ex­posed him to the cries of the Is­lamic call to prayer sev­eral times a day from the minaret of a nearby mosque. He knew that sim­ply pro­claim­ing that all peo­ple of faith are one would not make it so and that, in fact, only by nam­ing and pro­claim­ing the sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences among our faith tra­di­tions could we au­then­ti­cally come to the ta­ble of di­a­logue.

Loben­s­tine’s life’s work took on a new de­gree of ur­gency af­ter the ter­ror­ist at­tacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

He knew that mo­bi­liz­ing the Wash­ing­ton re­gion’s Mus­lim com­mu­nity to strongly re­ject the im­age of ter­ror­ism be­ing played out on our tele­vi­sion screens that day would be para­mount for the long-term heal­ing of our com­mu­nity from these wounds of sus­pi­cion. Giv­ing other peo­ple of faith the chance to meet and talk with Mus­lims who could ar­tic­u­late that Is­lam is a re­li­gion of peace was a role well-suited to him. Loben­s­tine knew many such men and women who could de­liver that mes­sage with sin­cer­ity — schol­ars like Sana Kir­mani of Tow­son Univer­sity and the late Su­lay­man Nyang of Howard Univer­sity (who died less than one month af­ter Loben­s­tine); com­mu­nity builders like Imam Jo­hari Ab­dul-Ma­lik at Dar Al-Hi­jrah mosque in Falls Church and Bahi­jah Ab­dus-Salaam from Masjid Muham­mad. Ask­ing for their help came eas­ily; he had been in re­la­tion­ships with many of them for a quar­ter-cen­tury.

Loben­s­tine him­self trav­eled to com­mu­ni­ties in the Dis­trict area to fa­cil­i­tate these di­a­logues and to sit in on mul­ti­faith pan­els when that was the de­sired ap­proach of the host con­gre­ga­tion.

Over his 35 years in in­ter­faith min­istry, Loben­s­tine men­tored count­less peo­ple who fol­lowed in his foot­steps in var­i­ous or­ga­ni­za­tions through­out North Amer­ica. He hired me as a pro­gram di­rec­tor for IFC’s youth outreach and later had the con­fi­dence to pro­mote me, in my mid-30s, to be his as­sis­tant di­rec­tor.

Re­li­gions for Peace USA in New York City tapped him to con­sult with in­ter­faith or­ga­ni­za­tions that were be­ing launched in Philadel­phia and Kansas City af­ter 9/11, shar­ing the di­a­logue model that he had built up in Wash­ing­ton. IFC’s own ro­bust in­tern­ship pro­gram un­der his lead­er­ship as­sures us that his name and legacy will be re­mem­bered by mil­len­ni­als, as well as his peers.

On the last full day of his life, Oct. 14, Loben­s­tine was present for the an­nual Unity Walk in Wash­ing­ton, a pro­gram he helped launch as a lo­cal re­sponse to 9/11.

The walk be­gins with words of wel­come from the sanc­tu­ary of Wash­ing­ton He­brew Con­gre­ga­tion and con­tin­ues down Mas­sachusetts Av­enue’s Em­bassy Row to the Is­lamic Cen­ter. Along the way, walk­ers can ven­ture into a Sikh gur­d­wara, Bud­dhist and Hindu sites, and sev­eral churches rep­re­sent­ing Ortho­dox, Protes­tant and Ro­man Catholic tra­di­tions, many of which spon­sor com­mu­nity ser­vice projects while wel­com­ing vis­i­tors.

The Unity Walk ex­presses the essence of what the Rev. Clark Loben­s­tine meant to the mul­ti­faith com­mu­nity of Wash­ing­ton. He was 73 years old when he died.

In a tran­sient city where po­lit­i­cal and faith lead­ers come and go, some­times de­part­ing with tar­nished rep­u­ta­tions, Loben­s­tine’s steady pres­ence and strong moral com­pass over four decades chal­lenged us to do more for those in need, while bring­ing many more di­verse voices into con­ver­sa­tion with the re­li­gious “other.” Great was his faith­ful­ness! Mike Goggin was as­sis­tant di­rec­tor of the In­ter­Faith Con­fer­ence of Metropoli­tan Wash­ing­ton for nine years and is now re­gional di­rec­tor of the Ig­na­tian Vol­un­teer Corps.

The Rev. Clark Loben­s­tine, an in­ter­faith leader in the Wash­ing­ton area, died in Oc­to­ber.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.