Managing Editor’s note: all Contributing Scholars begin writing by answering the following question as their first post: Why are you committed to building relationships with those from different religious or ethical traditions? Their answer to this question is below.
Before coming to college, I knew I was called to love my neighbors and create community between the children of God. However, at that point in my life, I believed my neighbors and children of God were those who identified as Christians.
In college, I began taking religion classes, spending time with the faith communities in Franklin, and interacting with amazing individuals such as Eboo Patel and Marcus Borg on their visits to campus. I began to understand that my neighbors and the children of God were all of the people on this earth, not just my Christian brothers and sisters.
During my freshman year, I attended a lecture by my religion professor, Dr. David Carlson, and one of his Muslim colleagues. At the end of the lecture, I remember Dr. Carlson was teary-eyed as he told his colleague, “I need this friendship with you as a Muslim in order for me to be a better Christian.” This relationship strengthened rather than weakened Dr. Carlson’s Christianity. The deep bond between two friends of different religions struck a deep chord in me.
At this point, I realized interfaith work was not just essential for building community but was part of my Christian call. I started working with Interfaith Youth Core to establish an interfaith organization at my college. I also traveled to the Middle East with an interfaith peace delegation and participated in national interfaith conferences. Like Dr. Carlson, relationships I built through interfaith work strengthened my own faith.
Throughout college, I took part in interfaith gatherings called Shoulder to Shoulder events, organized by Dr. Carlson. People from different faith and non-faith backgrounds gathered and stood shoulder to shoulder in a public place after an event where religious violence occurred. We read an interfaith litany in which we denounced the use of religion for violence and prayed for peace. For me, this has always been a beautiful picture of how our future could be.
Gatherings like these helped me realize I needed to grow in what Brian McLaren terms “a strong, benevolent Christianity.” This is a view of Christianity in which we take our world community seriously, and we passionately push for peace and understanding between all people of all faiths.
More recently, I have traveled to, researched, and written about places where dialogue and understanding are urgently needed. As the world becomes more connected and our nations become more diverse, people of all faiths must see differences as strengths rather than causes for conflict. It is my hope to be a Christian leader who will continue building bridges of understanding between faiths.
We are all God’s children and our futures are wrapped up in each other’s futures. My freedom is tied to my Muslim friend’s freedom, my welfare is tied to my Buddhist friend’s welfare, and my peace is tied to my secular humanist friend’s peace. I am called to act as the hands and feet of Christ, and that does not end at the door of the church.