Today’s post comes from my friend Hana Suckstorff. Hana is a Weinberg senior who’s a peer minister with the University Christian Ministry and was an intern with the Interfaith Youth Core. You can find Hana’s column, which is mostly on religion and politics in America in the Daily Northwestern. Today, Hana writes about the Christian calling to be a bridge-builder and peacemaker.
The word “interfaith” frightens off a fair number of people. Some think that interactions with people of other faiths will weaken their own religious identities, while others fear that any interreligious activity that isn’t focused solely on conversion will compromise deeply held exclusive truth claims. Personally, I have never worried about either possibility. While I do not feel the obligation to proselytize as strongly as some other Christians might, I see in interfaith work a fantastic platform for developing the kind of close personal relationships needed for effective witnessing, not to mention something constructive gets done in the process.
With regard to the first concern, the diversity of my hometown pretty much ensured that I’d have to be comfortable dealing with different religious perspectives if I wanted to maintain my own Christian identity. Since we attended church in a different town, none of my high school friends went to church with me, nor for that matter were they uniformly Christian. I remember being slightly flummoxed once in eighth grade when a friend of mine, who I knew had been raised Catholic, invited me to a Beltane celebration. While I had no interest in such festivities, I knew the offer had been made out of a spirit of kindness and hospitality, so I politely declined and shook off my shock that druidic rites were still practiced in suburbia.
It’s that same spirit of welcome, of openness and inclusion, which lies at the heart of my own faith and which compels me to seek out constructive interfaith activity. Genesis says that God created man in His own image—not just Christians, but all people, regardless of religious persuasion. The Bible also tells me that as a Christian I am called to work toward peace and understanding in the world. That means engaging not only those who come from my own faith background, but all other children of God, no matter how greatly their spiritual perspectives may differ from mine.
While my more abstract understanding of God’s love inspires my desire to work cooperatively with people of other faiths, my experience with interfaith work sustains that wish. In high school I interviewed a Hindu woman from the local temple about Diwali, a Hindu holiday, for an article for the school paper. As she patiently answered my elementary questions and explained that the lights of Diwali symbolized the triumph of good over evil, I thought back instantly to the Christian celebration of light, Advent, when we frequently read John 1:5: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Her faith commitment reminded me of my own. The palpable warmth with which she spoke to me embodied the very love, which I believe God calls me to exhibit. While her convictions were firmly Hindu, she was challenging me to be a better Christian by showing me what Christian love looked like.
In marked contrast to those who worry that interfaith work waters down an individual’s distinct religious faith, I have found that such work strengthens my faith. Interfaith work is, for me, a duty of faith and something which sustains it. And it reminds me, always, that everyone in this world, from my druidic friend to my Hindu interviewee to you and me, is made in the image of God.