Recently the Diplomatic Envoy had the opportunity to interview Reverend Robert Chase, a Fellow at the School of Diplomacy and International Relations Center for UN and Global Governance Studies. The interview focused on his work in fostering interfaith dialogues and his views on the role of religion in the United States 2020 presidential election.
Reverend Chase is a career professional in the clergy. He has spent most of his life working on social justice as an ordained minister for the United Church of Christ, and continues to do so. He is the founding director of Intersections International, a global initiative of the Collegiate Church of New York with the mandate to “bring people together across lines of difference.” As a member of the U.S.-Pakistan Interreligious Consortium (UPIC), an initiative of Intersections International, Reverend Chase spent years building relationships between the people of Pakistan and the United States. When he first started visiting Pakistan, Reverend Chase observed how religion was a cause of suspicion among Muslims, Christians, and Jews. “We had to convince them that we were not there to convert them and that we were there to hear their stories and find points of commonality.” Building that trust proved to be difficult work. After a decade of dialogues and building relationships, UPIC was finally invited to visit the conservative madrassa community in Pakistan in 2018.
The first step in building this relationship, Reverend Chase explained, was listening to people and letting them know that you want to hear their stories, which lays the groundwork for building trust. One experience Revered Chase recalled was when UPIC engaged with a group of mostly young Pakistani women. “The Pakistani women who are in our country are believed to be oppressed. These women were very engaged, inquisitive, and curious, which was very delightful to see, and they shattered the stereotypes that we had.”
The second step is being authentic in who you are. During one of his first trips to Pakistan, Reverend Chase was invited to speak to an assembly of elders at the University of Management and Technology. During their conversation, somebody said, “I’m glad that Christians and Muslims are meeting because we know that all the problems in the world are caused by Jews.” Reverend Chase strongly opposed the statement and affirmed that has not been his experience. The person who made the comment later apologized to the host, and the University of Management and Technology eventually became a sponsor. Speaking on this, Reverend Chase stated that, “those are moments of potential growth.”
From his years of work, Reverend Chase has made the observation that people’s religious convictions are often at the core of their identity, making it difficult for people to navigate existing differences. Giving an example, Reverend Chase stated, “If someone says that they truly believe their views and their way is the only way, it is very hard to attack them on any rational, logical basis. It is important for people concerned about global peace to cut through that, to figure out how we can work together in light of that.” Having engaged with people of different faiths, Reverend Chase explained that for many people, their faith influences many of their decisions. However, he stressed the importance of exercising caution when it comes to religion.
“People of faith need to be careful and attentive to not use their religion to justify any private political agenda. It is very easy to do that, and we need to be careful that it does not become a form of idolatry. True religion should not be believed blindly to the extent that you harm other people. It should be a starting point for a dialogue about what is really important. I feel that we did that with UPIC.”
In regards to his views on how religion has shaped the U.S. 2020 presidential election, Reverend Chase stated that he believes there is a lot of fake news surrounding religion, which makes it even more important not to let one’s political views be shaped solely by religion. “In addition to having one hand on the Bible, we need to have one hand on today’s newspaper and be really attentive to not use religion to advance a private agenda.”
Before the election results came out, Reverend Chase stated in his weekly blog that whatever the outcome is, “we must commit ourselves to intentionally expanding our efforts to listen to one another and to understand each other. [This is an important effort to]move forward to end the pandemic, improve the economy, address systemic racism, fight climate change, and build up our credibility on the world stage.”