Interfaith worship services have doubled in the decade since
the 9/11 attacks, according to a new study released Sept. 7, even as more than
seven in 10 U.S. congregations do not associate with other faiths.
The survey by an interfaith group of researchers found that
about 14 percent of U.S. congregations surveyed in 2010 engaged in a joint religious
celebration with another faith tradition, up from 6.8 percent in 2000.
Interfaith community service grew nearly threefold, with
20.4 percent of congregations reporting participation in 2010, up from 7.7 percent
in 2000, according to the Cooperative Congregations Studies Partnership.
After the 9/11 attacks, “Islam and Islamics’ presence in the
United States (became) visible in a way that you couldn’t ignore,” said David A.
Roozen, one of the report’s authors and the director of the Hartford Institute
for Religion Research at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut.
National Muslim groups tried to build bridges to other
faiths, who in turn “reached out in new ways to be neighborly,” he said. Reform
Jewish congregations led the way, with two-thirds participating in interfaith worship
and three-quarters involved in interfaith community service.
The largest percentage of interfaith-worshipping
congregations (20.6 percent) was in the Northeast, which is home to a
disproportionate percentage of more liberal mainline Protestant churches. About
17 percent of interfaith-worshipping congregations are in a big city or older
suburb, where greater diversity makes interfaith activity more likely.
The study implies that the more liberal a congregation, the
greater likelihood for interfaith activity. Approximately half of Unitarian Universalist
congregations held interfaith worship services, and three in four participated
in interfaith community service.
By contrast, among more conservative Southern Baptist
churches, only 10 percent participated in interfaith community service, and 5
percent in interfaith worship.
The study shows most of the 11,077 congregations surveyed
reported no interfaith activity, a finding that troubled C. Welton Gaddy,
president of Washington-based Interfaith Alliance.
“The reality in our nation now is we have a major problem
with Islamophobia, and that fear is being fed by people in large enough numbers
that we need probably 10 times as many people involved in interfaith discussions
and actions,” Gaddy said.
Even so, the fact that interfaith services and community
projects have grown so much is something to celebrate, said Rabbi Marc
Schneier, founder and president of the New York-based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding.
“I’m not saying we are where we’d like to be, but the good
news is the process has begun,” Schneier said. “Outreach to the Muslim
community from a Jewish perspective is now becoming en vogue. … Ten years
ago, if I would have proposed anything like that, people would have thought I was