I work for a public university in Florida full-time in their Interfaith Center. I am the Programming Coordinator which means it is my job to put together programs and events for students in order to promote religious pluralism on campus. On a daily basis I engage with students of diverse religious and non-religious identities from Atheist to Baha’i, Christian to Jewish, Mystic to Muslim, Secular to Unaffiliated and everything in between.
Engaging with students of so many different religious and non-religious backgrounds and understandings is the most exciting part of my job. I learn something new every day about how young people understand themselves and the world around them: what’s more, I learn something new every day about how I understand myself and the world around me.
I also identify as an Evangelical Christian. And I’m not really that shy about sharing my religious identity with my students. I want them to be comfortable sharing themselves with me, so I try to model how to talk about their identity as a religious or non-religious identity by doing so myself.
Since I’m not shy about sharing my own religious identity, naturally a lot of question come up. In particular, I have been asked by many people…
How can you be a Christian and do full-time interfaith work?
Sometimes this is asked out of genuine curiosity, sometimes it’s asked more as an accusation than an actual question, and other times it’s asked by Christian students who genuinely want to participate in interfaith dialogue and cooperation while holding onto their Christian identities and need help understanding how to do so.
I don’t mind being asked this question. In fact, I’m grateful that I’ve been asked so many times since I started my job over a year ago. Being asked this question enables me to take a moment to stop, take a step back, and reflect. I use this question to keep myself accountable to Christ’s calling on my life. Is my work enabling me to act as Christ’s witness, or is it hindering me? How do I follow Christ and do my job? Or, what’s better – how do I follow Christ by doing my job.
You see, I take my Christian identity (or role as follower of Christ) very seriously. I like to consider it my first identity- more important than my identity as a wife, daughter, sister, female, etc. When engaging with the normalcy and routine of life, sometimes it’s easy to lose track of who we are in Christ; what God’s call on our lives has to do with the mundane; how our actions reflect something about who our God is – the list goes on. Interfaith work is my job. It has become a very normal part of what I do on a daily basis.
So it’s important for me to ask myself, as often as possible, “Why do I do what I do?”
Of course in every person’s life there is a series of events and relationships which creates a path, a journey, that leads them to where they are, wherever that is. And my case is no different.
So of course there is a story about how I got here.
Though when you walk into the church in which I grew up today, demographically (I emphasize “demographically!!”- not in substance) it’s very much like a saltine cracker – white and plain (with few exceptions)-it wasn’t always like that. When I was very young the church was a pretty international and diverse church (unless my memory serves me poorly). There were all sorts of different people – artists, scientists, musicians, black, white, asian. India, Uganda, China, Puerto Rico, England were all places people within our congregation called home. Five of the Seven Continents were represented, and I think this is, at least in part, what drew my parents to this place. I can’t help but think it was this early exposure to ethnic and international diversity that fostered a desire within myself to bridge gaps and understand difference – because I saw what a community can be capable of when difference (at least certain kinds of difference) is embraced rather than feared.
I didn’t always have such cushy feelings towards other religions. And of course certain relationships brought me to a place where I was able to start opening up to other faiths and to see them as an opportunity for learning and cultivating understanding rather than as a conflict or something to change to be more like me.
But the most important relationship I’ve had that brought me to a place where I saw this work as necessary, was my relationship with Jesus.
I know it sounds hokey-but I don’t believe that it is.
Jesus loved with everything; with his whole self. Jesus was (and I believe-is) the embodiment of love. I want to love others the way Jesus does; and though I know this is impossible, I want to spend my life striving to do so.
He said the two greatest commandments were to Love the Lord your God, and to love your neighbor.
I truly believe that by serving and loving my neighbor – Hindu, Jewish, Baha’i, Muslim and so on- I am loving God and serving Christ.
There’s a whole lot of ugly in this world, and often that violence and ugliness are created at the fault of the religious (and even at the fault of Christians – gasp!). As a religious person I want to bring people of different religious backgrounds together to serve the community, the country, and the world, rather than breaking it.
So I do this job as a Christian seeking a way to serve God and serve God’s children to the best of my ability.
And that’s how I do full time interfaith work as a Christian – by striving to love as Jesus loves me.
“So in Everything – Strive to Love,” I Corinthians 14:1