Growing up in rural Alabama, I never experienced people with different religious and ethical traditions from my own. I assumed that everyone was like me – protestant, evangelical, and conservative, but when I began to challenge previously held assumptions about my faith in high school, a whole new world began to open up. I simultaneously learned about new, progressive ways of being Christian and other religious and ethical traditions. Instead of one narrative, my world became filled with different, beautiful stories, each one different from the other. It is the sense of wonder that accompanied this realization that has led me to Harvard Divinity School, where I am a Master of Divinity candidate.
I am passionate about building relationships with those of other religious and ethical traditions because I believe that those relationships have the power to change the world in real, tangible ways. From my time working with the Massachusetts Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice, I have seen how people from different viewpoints, faith traditions, and perspective can come together around a common goal and advocate for change. Whether it is paid sick leave in Massachusetts, a national increase to the tipped minimum wage, or immigration reform, it is powerful to see a group of people draw upon the rich resources of their traditions to advocate for a more just world. Building interfaith relationships helps individuals and communities awaken to the fact that tolerance simply will not do. We must embrace each other’s lived traditions as an essential part of working for justice; we need as many voices at the table as possible.
But interfaith work is not only about the transformation of society, although that is a very important part of its impact. It is also about personal transformation. During my time at Harvard Divinity School I have seen how developing relationships with those who are different from me has deepened my understanding of my own religious tradition. In engaging with Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Humanists, Atheists, Agnostics, Unitarian Universalists, Protestants, and Catholics both inside and outside the classroom, my understanding of and commitment to my Baptist heritage has necessarily changed, and with it, my call to ministry. I have been pushed to articulate why Baptist principles like soul freedom, believer’s baptism, local church autonomy, and priesthood of all believers are important to me, and I have emerged with a greater sense of who I am as a progressive candidate for ordination in the American Baptist Churches USA. My colleagues and I very rarely completely agree with one another, but that is not the point. The point of our engagement is that, even though we disagree, we still find ourselves talking with each other, pushing each other, and helping each other discover what it means to be human.