Can Interfaith Light a Spark on Christian Campuses? These 3 Students Say Yes.
February 17, 2022
Students from several Christian campuses — including Sterling College in Sterling, Kansas; Biola University in La Mirada, California; and George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon — recently participated in an interfaith curriculum created in partnership between the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and IFYC. Three Christian students offer the following reflections on their interfaith experiences. For more on this topic, see the recent study “Evangelicals and Interfaith Engagement: Assessing Evangelical Resources, Motivations, Hesitancies and Hopes” by Michael Wear and Melissa Wear.
A Greater Kind of Welcome: A Christian Approach to Interfaith Hospitality
By Abijah Crawford, Biola University
Love of neighbor is a lot harder when we realize that the opposite of love is not always hatred, but indifference. Acting in love towards our neighbors or even strangers demands our invested engagement with a generous reception of who they are as people made in the image of God. As I spent the last semester studying and reflecting on different Christian foundations for interfaith bridge building, I was especially struck by the biblical calling towards hospitality. ,
The story of Abraham greeting and hosting some travelers in Genesis 18:2-8 is one of the first examples of hospitality to the “stranger” shown in the Bible. I love this story because it illustrates how vast the act of hospitality can and should be. He is both generous and intentional and quick to move towards admitting and hosting the guests into his space. Even though he had the servants necessary to prepare the calf, he still selected it himself and even personally set before the men, the food being prepared. He was fully engaged as host as he stood by to wait on them.
Moreover, Abraham chose the best of what he had to offer to the guests. Our standards for biblical hospitality would be a lot different today and even understandably so if Abraham had just given what he had at hand. While maybe not condemnable by human standards, we know from the story of Cain and Abel, the significance of giving one’s first fruits—the best of what one has—especially to God. Whether or not Abraham knew he might have been “hosting angels unawares” in Hebrews 13:2, he chose to present his best and helped set an example for how we might treat the foreigner, stranger, or “other.” In Matthew 25:31-40, Jesus goes so far as to liken the serving of the naked, sick, hungry, and thirsty stranger, as hospitality showed to Himself. This affirms the sacred duty we have when it comes to displaying hospitality and further expresses how such a posture towards the other, becomes an act of worship to God.
Jesus sets the best example for what extending hospitality to the religious stranger/neighbor should look like. He knows how to be the best host and he is the best guest any human could ever have. This is seen not only in his exhortations to His followers but in the act of the Last Supper. Here, Jesus is sharing Himself, personally attending to His disciples, and giving them more than just material generosity, but the kind which will cost Him His life. This connection to sustenance is important.
Pre-Islamic Bedouin virtues of hospitality as expressed in harsh desert environments are a helpful example. When a stranger wandering through a desert is offered food and drink, the act of hospitality is communicating not just a welcome to the guest but a desire to see the guest live. For religious guests from such cultures and regions of the world, this might be a particularly relevant example. However, it extends to other faith communities as well.
When I think of hosting and loving my neighbors from other religious backgrounds, even something as simple as attending to their dietary restrictions can be an act of hospitality. Not only can I be generous in what I offer, and intentional about serving the best, but also in what it is I serve. When Jesus fed the five thousand, everyone ate their fill until they could eat no more. My guests should be able to do the same. But it goes beyond just making sure my Muslim guests are directed to the few halal dishes at the neighborhood barbecue. It could look like going so far as to make sure every meal there is appropriate and a blessing for them to consume.
And yet hospitality is not just how you serve and welcome someone’s physical presence but also their intellectual and spiritual being. Food may be a great avenue for hospitality, but real hospitality moves us towards a creation of or growth in the relationship between host and guest. It makes space and room for the other’s ideas, hopes, dreams, and image-bearing essence. As Miroslav Volf might say, it “embraces.” This does not mean that there needs to be a watering down of one’s own self or beliefs, but instead a greater understanding of the other before me. Hospitality offers both host and guest the opportunity to honor the dignity of the person before them, their thoughts, and who it is God has made them to be. It says, “I want you to not just live, but thrive as God’s creation, clothed in the dignity and image-bearing essence, bestowed upon you.”
Abijah Crawford is a senior at Biola University. where she is pursuing a degree in political science with minors in Middle East studies and Islamic studies. She is part of the Torrey Honors College and has spent the last semester in Jordan as a student with the Middle East Studies Program. She grew up in India, where she first cultivated a passion for interfaith dialogue and has continued to seek the strengthening of her interfaith leadership skills from a biblical perspective.
How Interfaith Taught Me to Value Other Perspectives
By Colin Thomas, George Fox University
I love board games, and the best board games have high interaction with other players — the best strategy depends on what strategy everyone else takes. This is like in our day-to-day lives where you not only need to know the rules for how the world works, but you also need to know what values the people around you place on the components of life in order to get anywhere. It is one thing to learn these values to learn the game better, and another thing to learn these values to play better with others.
What interfaith engagement and the IFYC Christian Leadership in a Multifaith World curriculum has taught me is that it can be helpful to engage with the values of others even if we believe them to be misplaced. Yes, there is often truth in another faith perspective that we can seek out in interfaith engagement, and certainly a benefit of interfaith engagement is strengthening the faith of those who participate. But what about the things we believe other faith traditions get wrong compared to our own? Are they only useful to helping convince us of our own position or can understanding them have intrinsic merit?
In one of my classes, we read “The Prince” By Niccolò Machiavelli, a work in which the author explains his belief that it is better for political leaders to be feared rather than loved due to the depravity of human nature. This book is a great place from which to measure how my value of peoples’ perspectives has grown. When I read it, I found I agreed with what Machiavelli writes about human nature: in general, we are pretty selfish. However, my view of the power of love was reinforced because Machiavelli was leaving God out of his reasoning; surely, love points to divine wisdom rather than human wisdom. I found the ideas that I liked and did not like, and I used them to flesh out my understanding of the world.
However, I had to learn a new perspective when I studied abroad in Jordan and engaged with Muslims for a class on Islamic thought and practice. We visited mosques, watched films and read books on Islam, and we talked to Muslims. What struck me was that the resources our professor (who was a Christian) used to teach us did not all speak with the same voice. Some would talk about having a personal relationship with God, while others avoided that language out of reverence. There was a goal the professor had that I had not considered before: understanding different views of what is true and valuable purely for the sake of understanding. In order to live well in the world, I do not just need to understand how it objectively operates, but also how people believe it operates. This is because the world is shaped by the decisions of people, based on their understanding of the world. Furthermore, I need to have this understanding if I am going to love people well. I can have more wisdom and compassion in my interactions with people if I understand the reasoning behind their beliefs.
I wish I had learned this earlier. I am now in the third year in a series of classes on the great books where we discuss influential ideas in history. I would have gotten much more out of my studies if I was seeking to apply my understanding of the idea rather than only my understanding of the truth in the idea. I think the classes tried to teach this to me, but only by actually interacting with real people of different faith backgrounds, and asking myself what it means to love them, did I learn this lesson. So now when encountering difference, I ask: what can I learn about living wisely in a world where this idea has influence, and then loving the people who live by it?
Colin Thomas is a junior international studies and peace studies student at George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon. He enjoys traveling, reading, cooking, playing board games, collecting ice-breaker questions and seeing God’s reconciliation play out in the world.
What I Found Outside the Comfort Zone
By Jillian Jenkins, Sterling College
Roy T. Bennett once said, “Change begins at the end of your comfort zone.” The world we live in today is filled with people who know what they are comfortable with and choose to stick with it without realizing everything they lose by doing so. I was recently given the opportunity to find the end of my comfort zone and make the leap into the unknown. When I received the email asking if I would like to be a part of an interfaith group, I was instantly intrigued. I have always been a shy person, but when it came to this group, I knew I had to break out of my shell and do something I was uncomfortable and nervous about so that I could grow.
In the first meeting, we got to know one another and began to discuss the power of bridge building. The idea is that when we create these “bridges” or connections from one person to another, we are able to gain, share and spread knowledge. The hardest part about this, though, was reaching out to begin the foundation for a bridge. The leader of our interfaith group, Estephany Moncada of Sterling College, did an amazing job of finding places for us to visit and people for us to meet, with a focus on learning and building connections. In our two months together, we visited a Catholic church, an Amish Mennonite church, a Mosque and a Monastery, and I shared what I learned with my school, my friends and family. Not only was I surprised by the amount of knowledge that I was able to gain during each visit, but I was also shocked when I realized the people around me knew very little about any religion or practice outside of Christianity.
My interest in other churches and religions grew tremendously. I now recognize all of these churches and places of worship around my city that I never noticed before, and I find myself curious as to what they do and how their faith works in their lives. Before joining this group, I would look and keep my thoughts to myself, but now I feel that I have the courage to reach out, explore and learn about these different places of faith.
In our second to last meeting, Ms. Moncada told us how hard it would be to become bridge builders. She compared us to strikers, the tool used to create a spark that helps ignite a flame. In this analogy, we are what is needed to create even the smallest spark so that a fire can be started. We must put in the work here and now so that bridges and connections can flow easier in the future. This is not an easy task and is not made for everybody. Now if I may bring that quote back from the beginning of the paper, “Change begins at the end of your comfort zone”, I felt the need to include this because it’s true. You cannot change within the limits of your comfort zone and I was taught this first hand in Interfaith Group. I made the choice to step out of what I knew and what I was comfortable with and I now see myself blossoming from it. This group thrived off of vulnerability and strength and there was true beauty within that. If given the opportunity again, I would without a doubt join this group.
Jillian Jenkins is a full-time college student at Sterling College, where she studies Criminal Justice and Psychology. Jillian also works in the library and the student union of Sterling College and works as a barista at Clive’s Coffee Shop in Sterling, Kansas. Jillian is originally from Wichita, Kansas.