Discussion, dinner focuses on tolerance

Robert Hite

In a discussion hosted by Wichita State’s Global Faith in Action, community members swapped bread and religious beliefs Tuesday at the dinner table for a Beyond Tolerance Dinner and Dialogue in an effort to create greater social harmony.

Nine different groups of about 10 people met in private homes or at Wichita State to discuss issues of race and religion. Global Faith in Action held the faith dialogues for six years, and invited the Greater Ministerial League to co-sponsor the Beyond Tolerance movement dinner and dialogues.

The Beyond Tolerance movement was created after a shooting June 17 at Emmanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Dylann Roof, 21, a white man, pleaded not guilty to killing nine people during a Bible study in the basement of an historic church. Prosecutors are pursuing the death penalty. He also is charged with a hate crime, a federal offense, and obstructing religious practice, according to an Associated Press article.

Maci Ward, a 2014 WSU alumnus, hosted one of the dialogues Tuesday night and, along with Tom Murrillo, served spaghetti, toast and salad for the main meal.

“I want to have a good, honest discussion to create better understanding about each others’ beliefs and life perspectives and enjoy one another,” Ward said.

A group moderator asked everyone to introduce themselves by name and give religious affiliations they might have.

The group included a variety of religious affiliations, including Baptist, Catholic, Christian Scientist, Jewish, Mennonite, Methodist, Muslim, and an unaffiliated and a self-described “spiritual” person.

Doris Weller, who brought homemade bread for dessert, identified herself as Jewish.

“I grew up in a household where you didn’t trust people who were different than you,” she said.

Weller said she now believes in treating people the way she would like to be treated.

Ann Garvey said she has traveled around the world and summed up her expectations for the evening this way: “I think we are here to listen and learn.”

Participants could answer questions on cards prepared in advance. Many of the questions focused on human dignity, tolerance and personal beliefs.

Jo Mead, a pastor at United Methodist Church, said one of her most significant challenges came when her former husband sent her a friend request on Facebook.

She accepted.

“Yet, what is grace? It is letting go of things that happened to me?” Mead asked. “That became the moment when I said, ‘Yes, it’s gone.’”

Russian-born Natasha Buller answered the question, “How do you view human dignity? Is it given by God and how does it impact you?”

She said she thinks about respect and tolerance when thinking about dignity.

“I need to be reminded of dignity,” Natasha Buller said. “Sometimes the actions do not show that. I believe we all have it from God.”

Ward and Murrillo then served chocolate chip cookies and tea or coffee for desert, and then the group moved to the living room.

Dan Buller, who earned an undergraduate degree in philosophy from WSU, answered a question about being discriminated against. He said he has four siblings and is in his second career as a lawyer following his first in a small IT firm.

“The theme is a steep and treacherous learning curve,” he said about starting out in the new field of law. “Navigating human experience is about understanding what other people think you are.”

Jennifer Helfrich said she teaches elementary and special education in the Wichita School District.

She said love is her universal message.

“Love is one word, but it is very complex,” Helfrich said.