Our Whole Society conference brings old and new friends together

I knew that I knew her from somewhere. The woman at the end of my row in a workshop at the “Our Whole Society: Religion and Citizenship at Canada’s 150th” in Ottawa was eerily familiar, but I couldn’t quite place her.

I caught a glimpse at her name tag and did a quick google. I discovered we shared one Facebook friend, and that was an old elementary school friend of mine, who was later my university roommate.

I realized with a jolt of surprise that this woman was the mother of my old friend. It had been at least 28 years since I had seen her, and now here we were at a conference dedicated to thinking about the role of religion in our country.

After I introduced myself, we exclaimed and embraced, and I thought how interesting it was to be at a faith-based-and-centered conference with my friend’s mother, who I had always known as the “Mormon Mother.” They were the family who didn’t drink tea and were very mysterious and somewhat exotic, with a host of other rules and practices that back then I did not understand, or even try to, quite honestly.  Back then,  I just knew that my friend came from a very religious family, and that we were different. I never, ever would have thought I would someday find myself at the same conference with her family.

But all of the faiths present at this conference, and there are several, share concerns about the topics being addressed at the conference, which include religious freedom, solidarity in diversity, reconciliation, and immigration and refugees. We are here together.

My friend’s mother (and father too as it turns out!), were in the same room with me as we listened together to Andrew Bennett, Canada’s first and only ambassador for religious freedom, now a senior fellow with the think tank Cardus. He said that we must be on guard in Canada against an elitist totalitarianism that rejects religion as a thing of value in our country. And that means the religion of my friend’s family and my religion too. If a citizen doesn’t enjoy the fundamental freedom to believe, said Bennett, we can’t build a truly diverse society. And that means the beliefs of my friend’s family and my beliefs too. When people can’t express their private beliefs in the public square, said Bennett, their citizenship is compromised and this represents a loss to our common life. And that means the expression of faith by my friend’s family and mine too. 

“Differences with sharp edges can exist,” said Bennett. And a true pluralism embraces differences. And that rings even more true for me today, after my friend’s mom and I shared our warm embrace.

Karen Stiller is a senior editor of Faith Today magazine. You can subscribe today!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *