This piece was originally posted on the Interfaith Youth Core website as a response to the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge. View the original entry here: http://www.ifyc.org/content/service-breaking-barriers.
Today, the President issued a challenge to pursue interfaith service and cooperation on our campuses. We are asked to think and dream: What if we all came together by the tens, hundreds, or thousands to fight poverty, stop hunger, or speak out on behalf of the marginalized? What if our colleges and universities raised leaders with a passion for interfaith cooperation?
In a time where, all too frequently, religion means difference and difference means conflict, this call to action is as timely as ever. And what better arena for response than the college campus? It is an experiment of cultures and traditions, perspectives and experiences – a focused reflection of broader America.
From my home at the University of Illinois, I have seen the power of interfaith service. I found it in the effort of 5,119 volunteers from Champaign-Urbana, IL who prepared 1,012,640 meals for people of Haiti last year through cooperative service in the wake of the earthquake catastrophe. I also found it in the hearts of the young leaders who were dedicated to creating this event, which we called “One Million Meals for Haiti,” and who continue today to inspire service learning on our campus.
We are Buddhist, Catholic, Hindu, Humanist, and Protestant, joining with Baha’i, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh. And when we serve together, we are free. Not free of our differences, but free from the barriers we had created from our differences.
When Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of freedom over 40 years ago, he advanced a notion that continues today. It continues in the lives of those who live in service, and it is a testament to the power of helping others. This is because freedom and service can be one in the same. When we serve together, we are breaking the barriers that drive us apart; we are drowning out the voices of intolerance that would rather destroy than construct.
As an Evangelical Christian, I believe in freedom. And I believe in freedom not just to preserve the ability of choice, but because I desire to live in a country that fosters understanding – understanding that is only achieved through breaking down the barriers that we have constructed out of our differences.
President Obama suggests that we are a nation that affirms the sort of cooperation and service that achieves understanding. As a student at the University of Illinois, as an American, and as a Christian, I am proud of this call to come together.
I am reminded of the words of President Washington, that we are a country “which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that those who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”
This is interfaith cooperation: that we may destroy the barriers of our differences and find good citizenship in serving together.