If you only catch the glint of one facet of a diamond, says the Rev. Mike Mulberry, you won’t see the beauty of the whole diamond.
If you rigidly hold onto one point of view when it comes to religion, you’ll miss out on the richness that comes with listening to the insights people of other faiths, he said.
“Harmony is different notes playing together,” said Mulberry, pastor of First Congregational Church UCC in Billings. “There’s an understanding that comes out of that.”
Mulberry and Rabbi Uri Barnea, both members of the recently formed Billings chapter of the Montana Interfaith Network, hope that the group will continue to expand into a diverse group of people. Everyone is richer for such gatherings, Barnea said.
“What distinguishes us is we’re willing to engage with people who don’t see eye to eye with us,” he said. “Dialogue is extremely important because when you engage others, you realize there are other voices, people with opinions that can be just as valid as yours.”
The group formed in late summer. There are also chapters in Great Falls, Helena and Missoula and different groups choose their own local priorities, Mulberry said.
Monthly meetings at First Congregational bring eight to 10 people and there’s room for more at the table. For instance, Mulberry is hoping to interest people involved in Native spirituality in joining the group.
Among other things, the Billings organization looks for ways to join other organizations in events that support people who don’t always have voices of their own. As part of that, it will co-sponsor with Billings Sanctuary Rising a Dream Sabbath prayer service Sunday at 5 p.m. at St. Patrick Co-Cathedral.
The event is in support of Dreamers, young immigrants brought to the United States as youngsters and now threatened with the prospect of being deported to home countries they’ve never known.
For Mulberry, another reason for the Montana Interfaith Network is to make sure that more than one message gets out to the public. During last year’s presidential election and continuing after that, the media often let one voice represent the religious community, he said.
“It felt like for the 24-hour news cycle there was only one main voice and it was evangelical and fundamental Christianity,” Mulberry said. “And that voice was really skewing any dialogue that was happening both nationally and locally.”
As part of the group, he’s enjoyed dialoguing with the other members, including Barnea, whom he calls “a fantastic theologian, and I learn from him every meeting we have.”
For his part, Barnea said he gleans many insights in studying the New Testament of the Bible and the Koran.
So few Christians understand Jewish scripture, Mulberry added. When Jesus tells his disciples the only sign he’ll give is the sign of Jonah, he’s trying to get across a point about loving people even when you don’t agree with them.
“That story is all about the parable of a prophet who is told to go to a mortal enemy of the Jewish people and save them,” he said. “Can we do that? God is far broader and wider than people think. Maybe they need to investigate if their mercy is more shallow than God’s.”
The goal of the Billings chapter, Barnea said, is to create unity of people without exclusivity. It's to bring a wide range of faiths together in one place.
“Some say ‘we unite all people, but it must be our way,’” he said. “That’s not really promoting pluralism or inclusivity.”
People must extend charity toward one another, he added.
“Embracing, hospitality, respect and dignity are better than tolerance,” Barnea said. “But if we can just reach tolerance to begin with, we’ll be better off. I understand there are many opinions and ways to say it.”