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Controversial new 'religion that embraces all religions'
The Blaze ("Billy Hallowell," July 15, 2013)
If you’re a part of a specific denomination or religious sect, Living Interfaith Church of Lynnwood is probably unlike anything you’ve seen before. The house of worship, based in Lynnwood, Washington, is run by the Rev. Steven Greenebaum, 65, and, as per its name, the church offers an “interfaith” experience.
So, what, exactly, does that mean?
Rather than focusing solely upon Jesus, Muhammad or other central religious figures that are specific to certain faiths, the Living Interfaith Church focuses upon a more interconnected sentiment — one that brings together people of any and all theological views.
Not simply mixture of people who come together to worship and celebrate their own heritage and religious culture, the house of worship claims that its interfaith nature is an actual “faith” in its own regard.
Here’s how the church defines its theology (emphasis added):
Interfaith is a faith that embraces the teachings of all spiritual paths that lead us to seek a life of compassionate action. Interfaith, as a faith, does not seek to discover which religion or spiritual path is “right.” Rather, it recognizes that we are all brothers and sisters, and that at different times and different places we have encountered the sacred differently.
Interfaith celebrates our differing spiritual paths, recognizing it is our actions in this world that count; that we are called to engage the world, and to do so with compassion and with love.
In the past, “interfaith” has usually meant people of good will from differing spiritual paths getting together briefly for a project and then simply going home. That was worthwhile and hugely important. But today the world needs more. Interfaith, as a spiritual practice, can serve as a model for how we deal with each other.
Confused? Allow us to try and unpack the church’s goals. Recently, The New York Times attended the house of worship and spoke with Greenebaum about his motivations. According to the newspaper, Living Interfaith Church is in its third year of existence.
The faith leader, who wears clergy garb that has symbols of nearly one dozen religions on it, spent decades looking to find a “religion that embraces all religions.” When he didn’t find one, Greenebaum decided to create it.
During the service that the Times visited, there was a Koran, a Hebrew Bible, two volumes of the Humanist Manifesto and the “Black Elk Speaks” (a Sioux book), among other elements. The liturgy included sayings and invocations from various religions as well. It included a poem from Rumi, a Sufi mystic, an early-Christian greeting, an African American spiritual and a rabbinical song.
The Times continues, noting just how diverse these services generally are:
In other weeks, the service has drawn from Bahai, Shinto, Sikh, Hindu and Wiccan traditions, and from various humanist sources.
If the Living Interfaith Church could appear hippie-dippy, as if scented with sage and patchouli, that impression proved deceptive. Mr. Greenebaum’s goals were serious, and they exemplified a movement in American religion toward dissolving denominational lines.
Anyone who believes that his or her faith is the only way to God, well, this church probably isn’t for you.
Considering the house of worship’s views, one cannot help but wonder about Greenebaum’s own theological background. It turns out, he has been a faith leader for quite some time.
From 2007 until 2010, he served as associate minister at Interfaith Community Church in Seattle and he was the director of music at Evergreen Unitaian Universalist Fellowship in Marysville, Washington, for a decade. He also wrote a book in 2012 entitled, “The Interfaith Alternative.”
The reverend’s primary goal, it seems, is to knock down the barriers that often divide. Many times, people hunker down in their religions, believe that they have it right and are, thus, divided from others with whom they disagree. After the 9/11 attacks, Greenebaum realized that, in his view, it is essential for people of different theological views to pray together.
“My faith is Interfaith. My spiritual path is Judaism. My tribe is Humanity,” proclaims the faith leader on his church’s website.
While he grew up as a Reform Jew in Los Angeles, Greenebaum’s current interfaith religious views certainly seem to separate him from that upbringing. But he doesn’t claim to have left the faith. Rather than believing that God spoke only to Moses, he holds that the Almighty also addressed others and that faith views outside of his own are not insignificant.
Worshipping separately, he says, is only natural.
“Now, I’m not here to try to convince anyone that there is no such thing as right or wrong,” the preacher said during a recent sermon. “But I am here to say that there is no ‘them.’ And there is no ‘us’ who are somehow superior to them.”
Currently, 30 people worship at Living Interfaith Church. For more information about the experimental church, visit its website.