Gareth Young highlights the importance of recognizing one's privilege when working towards interfaith cooperation
Those of us working to denounce religious bigotry, to speak up against disrespectful and inflammatory rhetoric, and to bring society together in love rather than allow us to be divided by fear and hate, find ourselves living in difficult, even dark times. From this perspective, the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto is a rallying call to equity and justice.
But just as Rev. Dr. Gerald T. Durley expressed in his post last month, I approached signing the Manifesto with mixed feelings. "Is this," I wondered, "just another 'group-think' palliative, on the one hand, a set of platitudes easily read and ignored, and on the other a call to action that makes us feel better without accomplishing anything? Can this document really make a difference?" After deep reflection I concluded I needed to sign the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto, not just to stand in solidarity with those speaking out against bigotry (though that is certainly important), but more deeply because it is an invitation to experience a personal transformation which can lead to deeper joy and meaning, and to creation of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King's Beloved Community.
Unlike Dr. Durley, I have never been "forcefully instructed" to move behind the white line on a bus or monitored to make sure I am drinking from the correct water fountain; unlike other African-American friends, I don't have relatives who were lynched for the "offense" of being black, nor have I experienced racial profiling or institutionalized racism; I cannot imagine being, like Judy Marx, the child of holocaust survivors; and I will never need to explain to my kids, as some Muslim friends are having to, why neighbors won't let their kids come over to play anymore. I come at the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto from a different direction.
I was born white, Christian, male, and straight to a comfortably middle-class family in one of the wealthiest nations in history; I was protected and cared for and educated well; I had opportunity and access and, on those occasions when I needed a second chance, I received it. In short, I was privileged. But like so many with privilege, I didn't know it. My education, my early business career, everything about my community and life was white and Christian and straight and comfortably middle class. Other cultural, racial, and religious experiences presented an occasional curiosity, but mostly they were both foreign to me and uninteresting, and in some unarticulated way inferior. I would never have understood myself as prejudiced or racist, but with the benefit of hindsight, I now see very clearly that I was.
My daughter recently told me I had given a great gift in showing her that as a mature adult I could change. These words are wise beyond her undergraduate years, but they necessarily miss that to the extent I gave her a gift, it was only possible because of the far greater gifts I have received from Jan Swanson, from Imams Plemon El-Amin and Furqan Mohammad, from Rev. Dr. Gerald Durley, from Rabbi Brad Levenberg, and from many others of diverse faith, race, sexual orientation, and socio-economic backgrounds who live deep integrated interfaith lives into which they have invited me. My daughter's words also cannot comprehend the extent to which my current happiness, community, and business success are possible only as a direct result of the compassion, love, and wisdom of the incredible community of interfaith friends who have made themselves deeply vulnerable and shared their pain and suffering, their humanity, and their love and compassion with me.
If change is possible for me, it is possible for anyone. If it is possible for the person I was, not just to realize their prejudice, but to develop a deep and visceral sense of the pain and suffering this causes, and to recognize how much better his own life and those of others will be if he changes, then I believe it is possible for anyone to experience this same kind of transformation.
The Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto, then, is important as a platform for those of us who would stand up against the wrongs of prejudice and intolerance. It is also important as an expression of a life oriented around creating safe spaces and time and inviting all those living in privilege, fear, or ignorance to come on in as we offer love and vulnerability and are willing to be truly known. I invite you to read the manifesto and consider living these truths.
Gareth Young is an author, podcast host, and speaker. He is active in the community and a successful businessman. His passion is challenging preconceptions and helping people transform and grow into authenticity, happiness, purpose and sense of fulfillment without sacrificing worldly and career success.
Gareth was born in the United Kingdom and, after obtaining a BA in mathematics at the University of Oxford, began his career with Deloitte Haskins and Sells, one of the major accounting firms. He came with the firm to Charlotte, NC as a young audit manager. Two years later he left public accounting and joined BellSouth Corporation, initially managing due diligence, but within a couple of years running mergers and acquisitions transactions domestically and internationally, which he did for almost fifteen years.
After beginning his spiritual journey and moving down a path that would lead to him being ordained a Zen Buddhist priest, Gareth left the corporate world and developed a successful independent consulting business, and this led him into working with Alpharesults to help small and mid-sized businesses take advantage of Georgia business income tax credits. A few years later Gareth also left formal Zen practice to co-found Red Clay Sangha, an Atlanta Buddhist community. He is the serving president of Second Helpings Atlanta and is a board member of the Clarkston Community Health Center, Compassionate Atlanta, and the Faith Alliance of Metro Atlanta, as well as a member of the Board of Advisors of the Atlantic Institute. He is a regular observer of Ramadan, the Jewish High Holidays, and other faith and interfaith events, and is engaged in other social justice organizations and activities.