Open to listening, listening to open


The following letter appeared in the Sunday, May 31, 2020, edition of the Pioneer Press, co-authored by Randi Ilyse Roth, Bishop Jon Anderson, Rabbi Aaron S. Weininger, Rabbi Jill E. Crimmings, and Imam Asad Zaman.

A priest, an imam, and a rabbi sign into a Zoom call … In years past, that might have been the beginning of a joke, but now it’s a promising reality. For the past several weeks, at the request of Commissioner John Harrington of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul has hosted Zoom conversations with the commissioner and leaders of many diverse religious denominations. Participants shared ideas, examples and concerns about how to serve and lead during this pandemic.

Recently our conversations turned to how we should prepare to re-open our doors and on what timeline. Our views differ, as do our religious perspectives and lived experiences. One minister in a community hard-hit by coronavirus at a meatpacking facility implored us to move with utmost caution. An African American minister shared sobering statistics about how communities of color are being disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Some wondered why the Mall of America could open but churches could not.

Our discussions revealed many differences. In some cases, urban concerns are different from rural concerns. Different faith traditions present different viewpoints regarding prayer and ritual practices. How might we handle communion? Seder? Eid? We expressed collective concern about the youth in our congregations and brainstormed about drive-in and outdoor worship services. The thing we all agreed on is this: Our choices matter. We know that how faith communities behave in the coming weeks will have significant impact on the 2 million to 3 million Minnesotans who belong to a church, synagogue, mosque or other place of worship.

We believe that listening is critical right now and leads us to better decision-making. We commend Commissioner Harrington for repeatedly bringing faith leaders together to discuss and debate as he seeks to understand all of our needs and perspectives and ensures that they are heard and represented in the recommendations offered to the Governor.

None of us has walked this path before. As ELCA Bishop Ann Svennungsen said, “We cannot go back. The question is, ‘How do we go forward?’”

So how do we build a new statewide approach in these troubled times? Let’s start with the values that our various faith traditions share: safeguarding lives, caring for our neighbors, and providing for those in need. Careful balancing of our religious and public safety needs asks much of us. We are fortunate to live in a state where the balancing is informed by all of our voices, in which we’re all at the table, and in which listening, as Commissioner Harrington has demonstrated, is careful and authentic.

— Randi Ilyse Roth, Jon Anderson, Aaron S. Weininger, Jill E. Crimmings and Asad Zaman

Roth is executive director of Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul. Anderson is bishop of the Southwestern Minnesota Synod ELCA. Weininger, Adath Jeshuran Congregation rabbi, and Crimmings, Bet Shalom Congregation rabbi, are co-chairs of the Minnesota Rabbinical Association. Imam Zaman is executive director of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota.