Faith Line Protestants is excited to feature a new voice in our discussion on Christians in the interfaith movement. Kyleen Burke is a senior Political Science/Philosophy major at Gordon College in Massachusetts. She has been involved in the leadership of a new interfaith club at Gordon, which she hopes will become a permanent part of the college ethos.
Over the course of my four years at Gordon I have devised a simple and succinct way to describe my school: It’s a “small, Christian, liberal arts college just north of Boston”. This is enough to pacify most, and is apt outline of what makes my college unique. I decided to go to Gordon the night before the decision deadline, thinking “if I’m going to call myself a Christian for the rest of my life, I should probably learn about Christianity”. As it turned out, Gordon was an excellent place for this sort of mission. Educating well-versed Christians is the driving philosophy of Gordon, and faith is integrated into every aspect of our learning. However, the Christian environment does come with a trade-off. While it is conducive to good, deep conversations about big questions, it is hard to consider the perspective of other faiths. We do not have Muslim, Jewish, or Secular Humanist peers to discuss issues with. It is also hard to learn about other religions and philosophical traditions when they are not represented on campus. Thankfully, Gordon has recently confronted this issue with a concerted effort connect our campus to the rich diversity of religious groups in the Boston area. Our hope is to pioneer a new way for Christian colleges to retain their unique community, without being closed-off to relationships with our religious neighbors.
Our project at Gordon began with the prodding of Josh Daneshforooz, an Evangelical Christian who had recently graduated from Harvard Divinity School. Having been raised in a multi-faith household, Josh was particularly passionate about connecting Christian and Muslim communities. He wrote a book called “Loving Our Religious Neighbors”, as a manual for Churches that want to connect with the Muslims in their area. The book outlines a fourteen-week program, in which Christian groups reflect on the Biblical mandates to love our neighbor, before engaging with their Muslim partners in community service and dialogue. In the summer of 2010, before the book had been published, Josh asked us if we could pilot the program at Gordon.
The opportunity to start a Loving Our Religious Neighbors campaign seemed like the perfect way to introduce interfaith engagement to our Evangelical campus. Like many students at Gordon, I had always been interested in learning about other religions, but hadn’t found a method that fit clearly within the school’s paradigm. So, a small group of us started meeting weekly, reading chapters from Loving Our Religious Neighbors and talking about religion and belief in general. We partnered with the Muslim Students Association at MIT to host a joint service project at a local NGO, and a Church/Mosque visit. By the end of our first semester we had facilitated exciting conversations and formed new friendships with peers we would not have met otherwise.
This year, the Loving Our Religious Neighbors project at Gordon has grown in numbers and support. More students are interested in learning about other faiths and engaging in our area. Faculty and administration have also encouraged our project and endorsed the effort to find a way to join the interfaith movement as Evangelicals. We continue to meet weekly for discussions about religion and faith. We also host a lecture series of visiting scholars who present on their belief, including Nuri Friedlander from the Harvard Islamic Society and Chris Stedman from the Harvard Humanist Chaplaincy. The most affecting aspect of our project, however, continues to be the partnership with our peers (which are the wonderful students at the Harvard Interfaith Council this year). By working with the HIC on service projects and special events, we are given opportunities that few Evangelical college students encounter. We are able to meet thoughtful and devout students our own age and develop relationships that broaden and challenge our comfortable lines of thinking. It is this type of growth that is necessary for the holistic education places like Gordon seek to provide. Without learning from, and engaging with, our religious neighbors, we neglect an important aspect how we might develop as students and as Evangelical Christians.