Different races, religions to meet at Dinner Dialogues

Last year’s Dinner Dialogues gave people of different faiths a chance to get to know each other. This year, organizers hope for even more diversity.
Last year’s Dinner Dialogues gave people of different faiths a chance to get to know each other. This year, organizers hope for even more diversity. Courtesy photo

“Have you ever been discriminated against because of your race, religion or beliefs?”

“Is it important that all persons experience human dignity? How is human dignity important to how you relate to persons of different races, ethnicities or color?”

Those are just some of the questions that Wichitans of different religions, races and cultures answered while gathered around a meal at last year’s Beyond Tolerance Dinner Dialogues.

This year, the founders of Beyond Tolerance hope for more young people and more ethnicities to be represented around the dinner table.

“The whole reason for the dinner dialogue is that people get to know each other at a greater depth and see the beauty in each other,” said the Rev. Sam Muyskens, a retired United Methodist minister.

When nine members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., were gunned down in 2015, Wichitans of different races gathered together for a prayer vigil.

At the vigil, Bishop Wade Moore, senior pastor of Christian Faith Centre, said the racial divide could be ended “on our watch.”

The next day, Muyskens and Moore gathered with other pastors and Rabbi Michael Davis at Congregation Emanu-El, a Jewish synagogue.

Moore told the clergy he had heard African-Americans saying others merely tolerate them rather than needing them.

“We can move beyond tolerance if we just listen to each other,” he said.

The Beyond Tolerance movement developed to include pulpit exchanges between pastors, citywide rallies, dinner dialogues and more. This year’s Dinner Dialogues will take place on Feb. 28.

Global Faith in Action, a nonprofit founded by Muyskens, had held some dinner dialogues previously. Beyond Tolerance continued the concept but held the dialogues in people’s homes. The first one was held last year.

People who attended included Protestants from a variety of denominations, Catholics, Muslims, atheists, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews and Baha’is. They also came from a variety of races.

Too often, people interact only with others similar to them, Davis said.

“That’s how you have islands of people who are different,” Davis said. “We’re trying to build bridges between the islands.”

The dinners are vegetarian. When signing up, participants are asked to list their race, age and religion, so home assignments can be as diverse as possible.

The meal starts with introductions, then each participant answers a scripted question. When a question is answered, everyone else listens without interrupting, questioning or commenting.

At the end of the dinner, people have time to simply talk. They also are encouraged to take “action steps,” such as arranging to visit each other’s places of worship or to meet again.

Last year, people ate together who had never visited in a home with someone of another culture or religion, Moore said.

“What came out of it was a better understanding of people’s history, of where they come from, some things they’ve been through,” Moore said. “And that gives people a better understanding of that person and they move beyond just tolerating that individual to really understanding them and knowing why they live the way they live.”

To register for a Dinner Dialogue, visit www.beyondtolerancewichita.org. Registration closes on Friday.

Katherine Burgess: 316-268-6400, @KathsBurgess