(RNS) Just because interfaith, interracial and varied ethnic groups share a common cause doesn’t mean a diverse coalition can hang together.

It often takes prayer. And not just a “Bless this group, Amen,” invocation.

A new study by three sociologists finds that three out of four interfaith civic coalitions turn to what the sociologists have dubbed “bridging prayer” — interactive, participatory and often innovative prayers and rituals that highlight their shared identity as people of faith.

Ruth Braunstein is one of the co-authors of the study, The Role of Bridging Cultural Practices in Racially and Socioeconomically Diverse Civic Organizations.

Ruth Braunstein is one of the co-authors of the study, The Role of Bridging Cultural Practices in Racially and Socioeconomically Diverse Civic Organizations. RNS photo courtesy Ruth Braunstein

“Shared issues alone don’t necessarily ensure cooperation,” said Ruth Braunstein, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut. “But groups that cannot build a shared culture could find it very difficult to succeed.”

Bridging prayers “build internal strength and give groups moral authority in the greater community,” said Braunstein, co-author of the study published this week in the online edition of American Sociological Review.

Duke University researcher Brad R. Fulton, another co-author, said the sociologists looked at 200 national civic coalitions to see how they glue together “rather than fragmenting and falling apart.”

“For all the talk about diversity, there hasn’t been much study of how groups navigate diversity,” he said.

According to the study, the researchers looked at complex groups such as “when Haitians from a Catholic church, Arab-Americans from a Muslim organization and Latinos from a Lutheran congregation work together to address issues facing immigrants in their community.”

Homogenous groups, where the need for practices that bridge differences was not seen as essential, also prayed, said Fulton. But these prayers were more like quick invocations delivered by one person before the group got down to the business of the day.

The interfaith, interracial civic coalition behind Moral Monday demonstrations was not one of the ones studied by sociologists but it exemplifies the finding in a new sociology study that shows how such groups unite with “bridging prayer” to work on common causes.

The interfaith, interracial civic coalition behind Moral Monday demonstrations was not one of the ones studied by sociologists, but it exemplifies the finding in a new sociology study that shows how such groups unite with “bridging prayer” to work on common causes. Creative Commons image by Ted

Most diverse groups, however, turned to participatory prayers, innovative blessings and teaching moments about each other’s beliefs to create a sense of commonality before moving forward on civic or secular issues, he said.

The study mentioned some ways that prayers became bridges across differences. For example, when one city’s Interfaith General Assembly held it’s annual gathering of the entire coalition, an Italian-American Catholic priest called everyone to prayer together saying,  “If you are Jewish, stand for Adonai. If you are Muslim, stand for Allah. If you are Christian like me, stand for Jesus.”

Other groups adapted religious and nonreligious texts such as news articles, poetry and social criticism to create prayers or teaching sessions.

The study did not establish whether these groups lasted longer or were more successful. The researchers also acknowledge that other practices beyond bridging prayers could be equally effective — sharing meals, singing, playing music or dancing, or any other practices that “highlight and celebrate commonality.”

By whatever bridge they construct, Fulton said, “Groups that engage their differences are able to reap the benefits of diversity in their reach and effectiveness.”

YS/MG END GROSSMAN

4 Comments

  1. “Groups that cannot build a shared culture find it very difficult to succeed.”

    Agreed. Its the same reason why america is failing.

    One side embraces all things secular. One does not. We can call a truce and split officially and legally and territorially…or we can stick it out, fight among ourselves and let the bankers win. They actually own the system currently. The whole red vs blue war are both losing….or past tense…lost

  2. Unless one considers prayer an expression of human hope and striving, I see no need for prayer. When attempting to bridge differences, people need to search their own resources, their study, their learning, their thoughts, their feelings, and employ all of them with honesty.

    When we work with any others in those ways, above all being honest, everything that is humanly possible can be achieved. There is nothing else. As Ethel Barrymore, the famous star of a famous entertainment family, once announced to a New York audience that would not stop applauding her for more curtain calls, “That’s all there is, there isn’t any more.”

    I dare to revise a claimed saying of Jesus that was no doubt revised many times by scribes over the centuries before it was included in the New Testament canon, “There are these four, faith, hope, charity, and honesty. And the greatest of these is honesty.”

    There can be no faith, there can be no hope, there can be no charity without honesty! Honesty is basic for goodness to be a part of any human endeavor.

  3. Prayer is an insult to human dignity.
    It is a disgrace, a shameful act and full of harm.

    Shame on those who pray. Especially those who do so with children present.

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